If I had to pick one word, one adjective to describe this Africa trip, it would be this one:
Not for all the stereotypical reasons people think of missions trips being life-changing. Yes, I've seen a lot of poverty. People sleeping on the streets. People who have much less than I do. Certainly, I'm learning how to be less wasteful, and to be grateful for what I have.
But the humbling nature of this life runs much deeper than those things.
It'd be easy to come away from a trip, particularly a short-term trip, with a "new mindset" on life. Certainly, one could say, "My trip was so incredible, I'm humbled by how much God has blessed me and how little these people have compared to me."
(So God hasn't blessed them in many ways? Just something to think about.)
Call me if I'm wrong on that, but I think there is a danger in that - a pride that says, "Wow, *I* am the blessed one. I have so much more than them - I must be the privileged one." (What soon follows this is "America is the best place ever!" Well, it is my homeland and I love it dearly, and there are many, many awesome things about it, but it's not the "best!") There is a danger in this thinking that tends to widen the gap between Christian brothers and sisters from different cultures and makes us want to go in and help them (not always bad in and of itself) and "fix" them and their problems (not so great).
What I've learned about that? (And basically what God teaches anyone who's as BLESSED as I am to spend so much time living in community... =) ) I've learned that well, they're family. There is no "us" and "them" (except in superficial things, like their intense desire to consume insects, etc!)...there is just "us." All of us as a family in Christ, living life together, alternately loving and offending one another, and learning to deal with MANY cultural differences - oy vey are those differences ever there - TOGETHER.
So, that all was kind of a tangent. I was going to tell you what's been hard, what's been humbling about this "living with people" thing.
(Oops, one more side note. I say "humbling" because it's not something I've done to myself, rather, things God has thrown in my lap.)
One of the FIRST things I noticed was how many things (especially little things) were ingrained in me as the "right" way to do something. People graciously pointed out that this was actually the "American" way to do something. Often a good way, but certainly not the only way.
No! No! This is the right way! I'm clearly right!
Another thing that was tough to swallow? That I am bumbling and clueless when it comes to dealing with so many cultural issues. The missionaries would tell me, "No, this is how this works here."
No! No! You are crazy, and I, in my whole week of experience, am clearly right!
(Not so much.)
Another thing? Actually putting into practice cultural things that the people around me expected me to do. For example, greeting each person by name in the morning (no matter my state of morning zombieness).
Why are they offended? I don't mean to be rude. They need to stop being offended!
(Or, maybe I need to deal with my own heart.)
Or, being told something that would be really offensive in our culture, but is a compliment in African culture.
(Sometimes this still stings. But, they are complimenting me....right?)
Realizing that I'm not all love and fluff when it comes to taking care of helpless, defenseless orphan babies.
You mean this baby is up for the fifth time tonight? What is wrong with this child? I can't stand this child. They clearly need to sleep.
(Oh, the anger in my heart at 2 in the morning.)
Or, the in-general Living With People thing that I do. People who sin. People whose behavior (good or bad) shows me how much *I* sin. People who don't adhere to my standards. People who "aren't making sense." People who do harmless but annoying things. People who do perfectly ok things that just happen to inconvenience me.
No, I clearly have the right to be passive-aggressive in this case. It's fine to gossip about them because I just need to vent. If I didn't come straight out and say something hurtful to them, there are no problems in our relationship. I don't need to learn vital communication skills, everything is just fine.
(Or, in other words, let's let sin sit in my heart for three months before I really repent of it.)
Or, I need to be accountable to other people. Confess to them what I'm struggling with. Ask them if I'm doing things I'm not aware of. Actually listen to the answers.
No! That hurts. It's too overwhelming.
(But it's exactly what God uses to show me grace and deepen relationships.)
Or, just the little ways I offend people. Mannerisms and habits and breaking unspoken cultural rules.
I don't need to change. This is just me. I don't know why they have a problem.
(Or, maybe I need to stop thinking of myself first. I've gotten really good at apologizing to people, probably because I have to do it an average of at least two times a week. At least. That's probably a low estimate. And not just "Oops, I'm sorry I bumped into you" but "I'm really sorry, I was not thinking of you when I did that/angry/gossiping/whatever.") I read this sentence on a blog a few weeks ago - it went something like this.
"When in a new culture, we tend to see ourselves as having arrived. We surely have arrived - at new conclusions of how desperately we need Jesus."
Yeah, that's my life. But you know what? That's a great place to be (short of heaven where you don't have all these problems and are perfect).
Life can be hard. I really don't expect the "needing to apologize at least twice a week" to slow down anytime soon. I'm just so obliviously creative in the many different ways I find to offend people. Or, I'm not oblivious, just refusing to deal with heart issues that later come out in my actions if not my words. Y'all may not realize this (unless you live with me or know me well or just believe strongly in humans having a sin nature) but I'm discovering I have an incredible capacity to hurt people. I don't want to, I just want to do what *I* want! Working here with orphans does not make me "an amazing person" or anything like that. If anything, I mess up MORE here, or maybe I just see it more!
But, God's grace. Oh, man, I love it.
My eyes have been opened to so much more of the Gospel here. It's not just elementary. It applies to everything in our lives. He loves me so much. He changes me.
And people - the other side of the relationship equation. I knew I'd make friends here. I never expected the ties to run so deep. I never expected to be so close to people I DIDN'T expect to love so much. And although I certainly didn't foresee the long string of apologies, neither did I foresee the grace everyone would have for me.
It's hard. But I love this life. <3