What I Know for Sure

Posted on: September 12, 2012 Written by
What I Know for Sure
      Photography by: Jordi SolA Marimon from iStock    

In 1987, my husband, Jerry, and I watched the newly-released movie, Out of Africa, with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. We had a dream of Africa that was about to become a reality. It was a culmination of many years of prayer and longing to “go.”  Our ideas were so romantic. In fact, I was Meryl and Jerry was Robert and together, we set off for Africa.

We wanted to go Africa to make a difference, to shake a nation. Like the great evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke says while shaking his fist in the air with resolute declaration, “Africa shall be saved!”

I have lived in Africa for almost 25 years now, experiencing the richness of a culture and its people. I know that we really have not changed anything much. But one thing I do know, Africa has changed us. We are different people now than when we arrived. The Africans have taught and shown me about being a person of honor and respect; this is the foundation and fabric of their culture. People come first. Period. My fast-paced, introspective, American lifestyle, my small mindedness, and my lack of a world view limited me as a life-long learner on the field.

I even thought God was American—not literally, but certainly in my perception of how I thought He thought. It has taken years for me to understand that the things that were ingrained in me from my American culture are not necessarily the “right” way at all. It’s all I knew. In Botswana, to greet someone is fundamental to any encounter and conversation. If I greet you, I respect you. If I forgo that formality, simply because I am in a hurry (guilty!), then I may as well turn around and leave, because I won’t get very far.

We are sometimes embarrassed by our younger days in Botswana, and by our expatriate counterparts who come over with the idea that we are better than someone because they can’t speak English, don’t dress as nice, or live in a hut. I learned not to be fooled by humble circumstances. You never know whom you will find in that hut or in the yard: PhD’s, Ministers of Parliament, diplomats. It could be an elderly person looking after up to 12 children because their parents have passed away. Or a woman who lives with abuse. Judgments and prejudices are in my life as ugly reminders of my inability to embrace, unconditionally, those I encounter every day of my life.

What makes a person worthy of my attention?  I’ve learned to let down my guard to love the lovely and the seemingly unlovely. Compassion is the essence of life. When Christ is the ruler of my heart, He gives me the ability to see the person, to really SEE the person, as He sees him. That’s what it means to be His hands and His feet.

I wouldn’t trade a day I have lived in Africa for all the highways in Houston. These things I know for sure. Slow down.  Take it all in— the people around you, the task you thought you had to do at that moment. Savor the sweetness of another person for they deserve as much dignity and respect as you do.


© 2012 Women of the Harvest.

Questions to Consider: In what ways has serving God in a non-native culture opened your eyes to things you now hold dear?

About the author

Jana Lackey is the co-Founder of Love Botswana Outreach Mission www.lovebotswana.org. Jana is a missionary, speaker and writer. She and her husband, Jerry have been serving in Maun, Botswana for 25 years. They have 3 sons, ages 22, 21 and 15 and have adopted a beautiful daughter from Botswana, who is now 8. Their Faith Based Mission mission develops Christian leaders in Africa through Education, Community Outreach and Church Planting.

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  • You experience a paradigm shift. The first thing is what is USA and what is Bible. It seems odd, but you have to ‘weed’ through the things you believe and ask yourself what can apply to every culture. If there is no water, then what does baptism look like? If people do not read, then what does their ‘personal relationship with God’ look like? What is prosperity? What is healing.
    Another thing is giving: when does it help and when does it hurt. Do you really ‘give’ every time someone asks or does that create an unhealthy dependency and even entitlement attitude? I have a love-hate relationship with what my eyes have been opened to.
    Another thing is the effectiveness of short term teams. I have seen evangelism teams and brigade teams and… you name it. Where is the sustainability? Is it doing more harm than good? What are the long term benefits? We have come to the conclusion that short term teams are about the people coming and serving from the USA and not about the natives. Hopefully, the trip will help team members return to the USA with a renewed passion.
    There’s so much to this question!

    • Amy


    • Yikes, the first problem is calling anyone a “Native”. That’s pretty primitive as well as insulting. “non native culture” might be more politically correct to say “cross cultural” or perhaps ex-patriot, which is one working in a country that is not their country of birth. All in overseas work, whether short or long-term, are lifelong learners of another culture. Just when I think I have a grasp of it, I realize how much more there is to learn!

      Marcy, your insights are so good! The giving one is so true! To give to empower rather than creating a dependency. We have some people we help that we have a one year contract with. Throughout the year, we assess how the help is going and in most cases, we can see an improvement with this method. First, we let local social workers (who we employ) assess to see the real need before we offer too much help. This weeds some real needs from the not so real ones.

      As an American Missionary, it has taken years to get the “USA” picture of Christianity out of my head. And it is still a process. I love your point on someone who can’t read! Better still, maybe a people group does not even have scriptures yet in their language. Thank God that the new covenant is one of grace and that provision is made for salvation to those who will simply repent and believe. What a joy and honor to serve as a minister of reconciliation!
      Bless you!

  • Sue

    YES, YES, YES!! I say amen to all you have written. After 20+ years in Kenya, I have learned so much. Just because I am an mzungu and have a college education does not mean that I have anything relevant to teach Africa. Just because I am a Christian, however, I have much to learn from those fellow Christians who have been a long time in the school of hardship and forgiveness and endurance and powerlessness. What an amazing thing to see African women believers and the JOY of the Lord on their faces! THe unselfconsciousness of thier praises.

    It took me quite some time to discover that “efficiency” is actually not a commandment nor is it mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, it may contribute to my own sinfulness and offensiveness toward others! Surprising, I know.

    And don’t get me started on short term teams! Just think if Paul and Silar had limited their missionary objectives to putting a new roof on the synagogues. It requires time to learn the language AND the cculture. There can be no short cuts.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Maybe short term teams and “career” missionaries alike just need to have the same mindset — that God is as much about changing us as about using us to change anyone else. (And somehow as we are changed, others are, too!)

    • I agree. We have learned more than we have ever given on the mission field. We welcome short term for what it does in their own lives and try by all means to use the teams to add value and multiply our efforts on the ground. We incorporate the short termers into what we are already doing. In the early days of our ministry, the teams helped to multiply our efforts through evangelism and then as a result of that, church planting and discipleship. Now, the need for short term teams in those areas are less, since there are churches now. But when they do come, we plug them into what is already going on. It is a lot of work, but it pays off in them having a good experience and possibly returning, or influencing those around them to serve in some capacity in cross-cultural missions around the world.

  • Sherry

    We are on home assignment after nearly 20 years in W Africa and I find it so frustrating that people/supporters don’t have time for us. They are too busy. I am learning to appreciate more and more that in W Africa and much of the world people are more important and taking the time to greet and talk with others sure beats the rush of American life. Thanks for your perspective.

    • Sherry, Thanks for sharing your feelings on furlough/home assignment. We have also experienced this and it seems to be a lot more magnified in one’s home town with the people closest to you. Its pretty painful for sure. Life in the fast lane-even when you try to plan ahead, no one could know how tight a missionary’s schedule is and how little time there is to fit all the visits in. And most of the time, people seem to wait until just before you leave to make the time. Then its just plain hard.

      We have started doing something a little different. We pick a restaurant and a time in each town or area of town over some weeks, and invite friends in that area to “come and go”. This helps out a lot. Its not near as good as quality time with one or two but it does help cover more bases.

      I wouldn’t trade the quality time valued in Africa for anything though.
      Bless you! Jana