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.