It is Saturday now and I find myself as being the only missionary left on the compound for a week. The other five had to go on various trips. All of my Sudanese family is here so it is not too quiet by far, just very quiet on my living area part of the compound. It’s actually pretty nice for a little while.
I have been spending each evening with our high school kids locked in at the director’s house for studies. There is good solar power and lighting there and the year end finals are here for them. I have laid out the African woven mats on the floor, adjusted the chair cushions, made juice each night and set out cookies. Our oldest girl said to me last night, “In all my years I have never had such a nice study time like this.” I told her that this is normal for American teenagers to have juice and snacks and a quiet place to study and they were amazed. Most children here have to study in the midst of siblings talking and playing and all sorts of activity around them and some even having to study by firelight, a small one at that to conserve wood. And if the moon is full, they study later into the night to catch the light it gives. This is life. So, I am locked in with them for a week from 6:30-11:30 pm each night.
Last year the rains stopped and dry season began on November 15th. This year we are still having rain every day. I think the ants are getting confused. Normally after a rain you will see long thick lines of ants moving about carrying pieces of jungle with them. The other night I was carrying Moses, our smallest baby, up to my room to get something. I stopped on the path to adjust him and what I was carrying. I only stopped for maybe 5 seconds. I continued walking and soon I began to feel tiny bites under my shirt. It was almost impossible to investigate while I was still holding Moses and toting stuff, in the dark even.
When I was finally able to put him down, I found that ants had crawled on me that fast in that 5 seconds I stopped. They covered my socks and some had made their way up to my shirt. When I came back up to my room the entire path was covered with ants, six feet across and about 20 feet long, the entire path, not just many lines! I stomped my way through them to get the heavy duty insect spray and used up half a can to kill them. Two days later the same thing happened near our latrine. Imagine the funny picture of me stomping around, trying to unlock the door and then trying to pee while doing a continuous dance with my feet in the air away from the floor as the ants followed me inside! One got a hold of my pinky toe and literally would not let go. I had to literally pull it off and when I did, my toe was bleeding!! Never have I seen ants that vicious. So now I look like I am recovering from a light case of chicken pocks as I itch and scratch these nasty little bites. GRrrrrrrrrr! Oh, and the Arabic word for ants is “mikene”. The little ones, the children not the ants, are always pointing and telling me “ainu mekene!”, look ants! Wish they could have told me that this last time – haha!
A friend of mine has a small hut behind our compound, which she built for her mother. Her mother won’t come because she doesn’t want to leave where she is currently living in another village, which is far down the road toward Congo. So when my friend comes to work her garden, many times for a week at a time, she stays in this hut, leaving her children in the good care of their oldest sister. I always go to greet my friend and even to help her work her land. Saturday I and two other mamas helped her dig for a couple of hours until we had cleared a field with her. Last night I went to check on her because she does stay by herself when she comes and I found that she had no lantern, no sleeping mat, nothing really of comfort, not even fresh water but river water.
1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God….the reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.
In verse 10 John admonishes us, “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother”.
My spiritual mom always reminded me about doing what is right, not because we should but because it is right to do it. In this culture life is all about giving. John asks us in verse 17, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”.
When you “loan” things to others in this culture, no one expects it to be returned. It’s the African way. Everything is a gift. If I bring you a blanket to use for the night, I don’t look for it in the morning. I don’t give it another thought. Maybe you will return it, maybe you won’t. I can go and ask if you have a blanket for me to borrow and maybe I will receive mine or maybe I will receive another. I have learned to let go of the material things in this life that would keep me from loving my brothers and sisters. These things you cannot take to heaven and so they are meaningless compared to our hearts “in” Christ. That includes keeping thoughts and emotions toward others, such as, “They never returned my blanket!”. I really try hard not to say, “That is mine” or “This is mine”.
When I walked down the little path to my friends house last night and I saw her gathering sticks and branches and clearing her field by herself, still late into the evening, I asked about her well being and invited myself inside her hut to see to it. I saw no sleeping mat or foam mattress or even a blanket anywhere, just a dirt floor. When I asked her where she sleeps, where is her mat, she said, “Oh no, I don’t have one. I just sleep on the floor on a sheet”. I know that she has chronic back pain and I almost cried when I imagined her lying in the dark of night on a dirt floor with not even a light to warm her heart. She did not even have a lantern of any sort, just a thin sheet between her and the dirt floor. It was too much for me to bear and bear it I would if I left her this way. My conscience would not let me rest because the love of God is in me and He was moving my heart to action, to do what is right and good.
Ahhh, I immediately went to my room and gathered my extra sleeping mat, my good thick blanket for some cushion, I heated some hot water to pour into my good thermos for tea, tea for three days, bread and biscuits, a battery powered lantern, sugar, a spoon and cup, and soap for her bathing. Then this morning I boiled some hot water and brought her coffee. I slept peacefully knowing that the Lord was with her. We bring Jesus in more reality by our actions than by anything we can say. If we aren’t ever moved to action then the love of God is not in us and He is not a reality to the people we interact with each day. I want to be known as a “son” of God. I also want these little ones to grow up to be givers and lovers of God and man. Yesterday they received my love in the package of 140 oranges from the market – haha!
I have often wondered why the continent of Africa, most of the nations of Africa, have always been poor in material wealth. In my three and a half years of living with these precious people I have gained a better understanding I think of this dilemma. Sure there is a lot of corruption and greed and misuse of funds. There is also no industry and crops live and die by the current weather patterns. But besides all this, it is about culture, a culture of honor and hospitality. Friends, family, guests, they are all treated the same when it involves giving. If you visit an African home, you can expect a meal, for someone to run to the nearest market and buy cokes and for them to slaughter their fattest chicken for your meal. They literally give their very last bit of money to help with funeral or marriage expenses or to help with another’s school fees. It is more common than not to spend everything on another who is in need because at that time they have and the other has not, has nothing.
I went to visit a friend on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, my friend who has been so sick. When I arrived she ushered me into her hut and offered me a chair. She disappeared and another lady came in and brought me a coke and a bottle of water. After a time, I began to wonder why my friend was delaying. I went to investigate and found her plucking the feathers from a chicken in order to cook me a meal! I was only coming for a very short visit and now found myself being there for hours. I could not tell her, “Oh, you don’t have to do that” and thank her anyway and leave as scheduled and she would have appeared fine with this. She was so sick and yet she wanted to do this for me. How do we keep our hearts from breaking at the precious hearts of these ones?
Even though she wouldn’t show it, if I had left because of another commitment her heart would have been grieved, not because she had wasted a chicken, which she could not afford to kill in the first place, but because I had turned down her gift and hospitality. I have seen people here so many times, more often than not, give every last bit of money they have to a relative in need and then not have enough to pay the school fees for their children or have any money left for medicine or whatever else they might need. Honor and hospitality is by far more important here than material goods. Honor and hospitality are the true gifts among these people. I never even got to visit with my friend because she spent the entire time cooking. Another two people came while I was there and they stayed to visit with me. My friend then served each of us huge portions and would not eat until we had had our fill, even if she were to have none left for herself she would have been truly happy because it warmed her heart to see our happiness in her gift.
Another friend of mine came yesterday to dig in her garden, which is near my room. When she was done digging her potatoes she came over and selected the biggest potatoes in her sack and offered them to me. She did not save the best ones for herself but gave them to me. It reminded me of the mangoes the children gave me two years ago when we were throwing sticks and trying to knock them down. It would be considered rude and hurtful to turn away the gift so later I chopped them and sliced them and made a big batch of French fries and shared them with all the mamas. This was a way of honoring her even more.
I never ever, ever eat something in front of other children unless I am willing to share it with them. It’s probably a big reason I am so skinny. Living this lifestyle I find myself not able to enjoy my snack or meal if someone is just staring at me because they have none. I truly take great joy to see a child’s face light up when I offer some of my food to them, many times sharing with 5-6 or 7, meaning a lot less for me. This is how this culture is. It is life here.
This morning as I headed out the door to church I grabbed one of my pretty skirts and heard the Lord ask me to give it to someone this day. I really like all my skirts and it was hard to know which one but I picked one and left the room. I gave it to one of the mamas, a friend also, and she was so blessed that she did something I have never seen before in this culture. She acted like she was spitting on my dress and then raised it to God and then acted like she was spitting on me and hugged me and told me she loved me. This is how they bless you here! Haha, makes me want to give even more, haha!
I will end this by saying that God truly meets and even exceeds all my needs. I am never in want and am truly satisfied with what I have. I am not tied to anything but Him. Such amazing freedom!