Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Africa on my mind...

So, house church tonight got me thinking. I've talked with Clint about this a little bit, and he told me that I should blog it out. My concern is that it would make me look like a horrible person - but he said that it is honest and real, which is what I expect from others - and that many other people are probably struggling with these same feelings/thoughts.

I've prayed to be given a heart for Africa. I definitely see a need - there is no way to deny the NEEDS there. My problem is that I feel like if I were to serve there I would be going for the wrong reasons. I realize that perceptions change dramatically based on experience, and I have never experienced Africa first-hand. That being said...I have this warped image of Africa as being somewhere between the Sally Struthers "Feed the Children" sobumentaries where people are so destitute that they lack all hope and the homeless of the U.S. - who many although they don't have much are choosy about what they will accept.

Part of me wants to package up EVERYTHING and ship it to Africa to help several people. Part of me thinks...why would they want our stuff - it's not new and that is selfish. Clint argued that it was a bit selfish of me to think that they do not want/need my "stuff". He asked me if I would send my used tire? I said - no, I don't think I would. He asked "Why - that one used tire could provide shoes for 50+ people." I said...because that is demeaning - why wouldn't I just send shoes? He challenged me by saying - are you saying that their needs are not big enough to warrant your items that you are not even using? Believe me- I would not withold a tire if I knew it would help that many people - I guess part of me just doesn't want to be insulting to them - or demeaning. I guess Clint's point was that we as American's don't fully realize how great the need there is. This is definitely true of me. Why withhold something that will make a difference to someone else. Clint took it to the other extreme and said "What if you had a brand new pair of Prada pumps and you were faced with the choice - would you send those? I said - I guess so but What? They don't need $600.00 shoes - or pumps for that matter - that could feed 60 people or more! His point was that sending designer shoes to a village is nice, but doesn't really meet the people where there need is. If they need water and I send designer shoes - do they really appreciate that any more? no! You can't really rationalize giving....you just have to open your heart up to be willing to give....willing to serve....and get over your own inhibitions- not worrying that what you have to offer isn't good enough and not letting your perception of your socio-economic differences get in the way.

The other problem I'm encountering is the exact opposite of the other problem I just mentioned. I'm think at times that I do tend toward feelings of benevolence regarding Africa. I somehow separate myself from Africa's problem. I'm not sure if this is a result of being an American with little real experience with Africa, but I'm afraid that if I were there I would feel that way...and I hate that feeling. I know Africa deserves more than my pity. They deserve my heart.

I am a compassionate person - as I mentioned earlier I do think it would be impossible to ignore the needs in Africa - and I have heard compelling stories that really draw me to Africa - that lead me to pray for Africa's people, but so much of Africa is still a dream or a myth to me....lions, giraffes, wilderness, tribal life....these are images that come to mind....how do I move beyond this - beyond feeling so separate - to truly feeling connected?

I am praying for Africa - and I am praying for God to continue working on my heart. I am also praying for an opportunity for experience. To take me close enough to realize that Africa is more than a story....that it's not far from me...that it's people are real and in need and I can help.


Christie said...

I hear ya, Mandy. One of the things that I still struggle with is getting so overwhelmed by the crises in Africa, particularly with statistics in the hundreds of millions, and figuring there's not a whole lot I can do.

However, I do know that one dollar can give somebody clean water for a year. That's one person, but that's one more person with clean water than there was before.

I love that you and Clint dialogue like that, what a great challenge and encouragement! Also..if you haven't seen Invisible Children, or the Emmy video that we watched a few weeks ago (Josh and Amy have it) I thought it went a long way to give Africa a face and a name, a little boy named Emmy, rather than a conceptualization.

Thanks for the honesty, and you're not alone!

Amy said...

Mandy... This is so good. You are honest and thats great stuff!

You are more than welcome to borrow our Invisible Children videos like Christie mentioned...it does help to have a face and name to go with the continent.

Josh and I have talked much about how we were raised with the same ideas of africa that you mentioned...natives, tarzan, etc...

I think you are a PERFECT candidate for our alleged mission trip to Ethiopia!!!! :) YES!

Anonymous said...

Great post! Thanks for being so candid about how you feel. I'm sure many, many people feel the same but aren't brave enough to verbalize it. That's shows such humility and grace to be so honest, I'm blessed it. And I don't think it means you're selfish or unaffected at all, just human.
I agree that the problems can seem overwhelming and insurmountable, and in general Africa as a whole, and the people, become distant characters in our imagination. That is why one of my big pet peeves is when people use the term "Africa" to refer to the entire contenent and all people groups (not directing this at you or anyone in particular). Africa has so many different people groups, so many varied cultures and histories, that I think it does a huge injustice to the individuals there to just lump them into one term. In the U.S. we would certainly balk if someone tried to lump us in with Canadians and Mexicans, our backgrouds, histories, and people groups are different. In the same way, not all contries in Africa are rife with war and bloodshed, yes most are in physical poverty, but also all have so much beauty to contribute to the Body and the world. I think that lumping all the countries together causes us to view the problems there as insurmountable, and leads us away from understanding the lives and sufferings of our brothers and sisters as just regular people like ourselves.
One thing that I think would help immensely is to visit a country in Africa. One stereotype that seems to have held true for myself and others who've spent time in the different countries is that the people are so joyful. If you've ever been to a worship service in Kenya, or a tribal gathering, with the drums and voices it is unlike anything you'll find in America, I hear the same from people who've been to Liberia, Ethiopia, Uganda, or South Africa. Yes, you'll see street children and immense poverty, but you'll also see a strength of faith amoung believers that I rarely see in the U.S, and a totally abandon trust in Jesus. There are cultural differences, but in spending time with the mothers, fathers, and children they are just the same as us: broken people in need of a Savior, children created in the image of our God.
I think so often, we look to countries in Africa and see what we could offer, but the real truth is that we miss out on the depth faith that so many Americans know virtually nothing about, and could truly learn from. To know God and love God in a way that is stripped bare of all our materialism, pride,and self-proclaimed riches, would be truly humbling, which brings us near to our Savior. It reminds me so much of the verses in Rev. about the Laodacian church who believes themselves to be rich, but God calls them "wretched and poor".
All of that to say, yes, there are great needs in many of the countries, but we aren't meant to be the Savior of any of that, just to try in our broken way, to love them like He does, and point them to the only One who's big enough to handle it all.
Sorry, I didn't mean to blog on your blog, I just think you're difinitely on the right track here!

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