26 November 2008

I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

"It is Africa that has taught me that possessions in my hands
will never be as valuable as peace in my heart.
It’s just one of this continent’s many lessons.
I came here to serve and yet I’ve found that I have so much to learn,
and Africa, with all its need, has much to teach me."

At an orphanage in nowhere, Uganda, I fell in love with a girl named Margret Harriet. From the moment we arrived, she found a home on my lap, and there she stayed for almost 4 straight days. Her answer to pretty much any question was "Jesus". There was a current of peace (and a little bit of shyness) running through this child. During a scary thunderstorm one night, she found me in a crowd of children and took my hand with a strength you should not find in a child.

When I left the orphanage on our last day, Margret gave me this letter. Printed on the envelope, it said "To Christine. Jesus is good all the time." The letter read:
Dear Christine,

How are you? Are you fine? For me am not fine because I miss you so much because your going back. I pray for you Christine. I love you so much and I pray for you every day and every night. I love you in Jesus name. I love Africa. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

Good bye, good bye Christine.

Margret Harriet
That letter is one of my prized possessions, and I still cannot get Margret's face or sweet voice out of my mind...because it took a child at an orphanage somewhere in Uganda to remind me that God is good. Even through losing your parents and having one pair of shoes and eating the exact same meal of maize three times a day and sleeping in a concrete room. He is good. If that is the only reason I went to Africa, it would be enough.

I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

Three years ago, I decided to be a part of Mocha Club and African Leadership because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something outwardly significant with my 40 work hours a week. And have there been lives saved, children fed, wells dug, schools built? Yes...but beneath all my to-do lists, conference calls, and emails, a stark truth has undoubtedly risen to the surface: God does not need me to save Africa.

How self-centered, how prideful of me to think otherwise.

God will carry out His purpose for Africa, and I have the privilege of being a part of it. Once I embraced this freeing truth, something happened in my heart - and I saw that Africa was actually changing me.

My work is more joyful now, and I find myself looking fervently for the beauty and wisdom of the African people, rather than seeing them as people who deserve my pity.

When I traveled to Kenya and Uganda in the fall of 2006, the time when I met Margret Harriet, I thought I was going to serve and love the African people in a way they'd never seen. But after stepping foot on that continent's soil, the raw reality of humanity stared me in the face. I looked into its eyes, and it was oddly beautiful. I walked through places like the Kibera slums, one of the filthiest, most shocking places I had ever been in my entire life, and at the end of each day, all I wanted to do was go back. I had already forgotten the putrid smells, the human waste running down the street and the piles of burning trash....and all I could remember were the children who loved going to school and played joyfully in the schoolyard...the men and women who served their communities faithfully...the HIV-positive ladies who sold their handmade jewelry to make even the smallest amount of income.

The people I encountered in Africa experienced intense challenges, loss, and pain, yet they demonstrated even more intense courage, hope, and joy. By all logical reasons, they shouldn't have. I thought I was going to teach them, but they taught me. They are triumphant. They are heroes. I want to be like them.

So why do I need Africa?

Without Africa, I act as if I am the author of my own life. I need Africa to teach me surrender.

Without Africa, I feel I deserve certain "things" - a wonderful house, a big happy family, freedom, and enough money to buy whatever I want. I need Africa to teach me that possessions do not equal happiness, as I so often want them to.

Without Africa, it's easy for me to be selfish with my time. I need Africa to soften my stone heart - not just to those across the ocean, but to those in my own community.

Does Africa still need our efforts, our time, our money, our service? Absolutely. It is a continent in need - politically, socially, and economically. There are sickening, unfathomable things that happen there everyday. But to think that's all Africa is, is a tragedy. To think that we in America "are so much better off" is a tragedy. Africa is not just a place of despair - Africa is JOY. Africa is HOPE. Africa is Margret Harriet and Prince and Peter Diing and beautiful Portia…

"Portia" by Jeremy Cowart

You don't have to go to Africa to see it. Read the stories on our blog. Look at the photos. In these places, you will experience people who do not have much, but who have everything.

You can also start a new conversation about Africa. Share your comments, and even blog about it yourself - why do you need Africa more than Africa needs you?

And then come back here December 1st to see what's next...

22 November 2008

Embracing 31.

It's been a memorable 31st birthday so far, and it's only 11:30am. To me, a perfect birthday includes wonderful things like a trip to the farm... a new comfy tshirt...a bouquet of coral and magenta roses...and homemade pumpkin pie for breakfast. Hmm, pumpkin pie for breakfast? Don't mind if I do!

I awoke this morning, the first of my 32nd year, wrapped like a cocoon inside my down comforter. My husband had already risen, turned on the space heater, and was clinking things around in the kitchen. That's one of my favorite feelings...waking up early and hearing activity in the kitchen, the rustling of socks on the hardwood floors. As I rolled out of bed with eyes still plastered shut, I pondered the first important question of the day, Is my flat-ironed hair from my two-day-old haircut still salvageable? I walked groggily to the bathroom mirror to examine. Cowlick-free? CHECK. Kink-free? CHECK. Still shiny, yet not greasy? CHECK. I fluffed it a little and headed for the kitchen. It's going to be a good day.

Steven had already whipped up some eggs with ground turkey and brewed us some steaming hot Enfusia in the French Press. Ahhh. You probably never thought you'd hear this from the Baileys, but we haven't brewed coffee in months. Enfusia is now our comforting drink of choice...in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening. We can't get enough of it, especially with a bit of Vanilla Creme Stevia and coconut milk. Mmmm.

Armed with travel mugs, we left the house at 7:30am to embrace the chilly morning and head out to the farm where we go every Saturday to pick up fresh eggs, cream, milk, and other goodies like lettuce so beautiful it could be a bouquet. Full Quiver Farm is about an hour outside of Dallas in the small town of Kemp, TX...which is really not much of a town unless you count the smattering of antique shacks on the side of the road, "Hotties Tanning Salon," a Pennsylvania Dutch store, and some gas stations. But I so look forward to this mini-road trip each week, because it always teaches me more about simplicity...priorities...perspective...all things I'd like to learn more about as I celebrate another year of life.

The farm is operated by a sweet Mennonite family - a mother, Debbie, a father, Mike, and their nine children. Needless to say, with having such a large family and living off whatever they can grow on their patch of Texas land, they know a little bit about the simple life.

As soon as we pull up the gravel drive, Debbie always emerges out of her little farmhouse in her long dress, hair tied back simply in a covered bun, the wooden screen door clapping behind her. She is always full of vibrancy and joy as she talks about her family and the farm. For example, I've learned that their only reason to go to the grocery store is for salt, pepper, and oatmeal. And that they tried to go on a family vacation once, but they all couldn't wait to get back home to their farm and sit together in the pasture around a warm fire. This morning, she told me about her family's upcoming Thanksgiving feast (the same exact menu every year) and that there will be 37 guests with all her children and grandchildren. I love how I always leave the farm with more of a desire to live simply and confidently. And don't get me wrong, I love her happy chickens and their happy eggs, too.

Steven and I loaded up the coolers with all the farm-fresh goodies and headed home. We drove back holding hands with my head on his shoulder, and we talked about the cookout we're having tonight with some friends that will include the first backyard bonfire of the season. It's 45 degrees and overcast in Dallas and we're taking advantage of it. As we drove, I thought about all I had already experienced this day. What more could I want? I have everything I need.

When we returned home, the morning was still young, and I talked on the phone to my dear Suz, who sent me a book of inspirational quotes called Live Good for my birthday. I've been reading many of them over and over, but this one will not leave me:

"I am not afraid...I was born to do this."
~ Joan of Arc

There is so much more I want to say about this quote, but for now, I'll just say I've been pondering it, and it's deeply challenged me. What was I born to do? Today at 31, I feel as young as I did at 21. I feel energized when I think about the future and the days ahead. And more and more, as God shows me my purpose here, I'm shedding some of that fear. I'm more willing to live simply because it's not as scary to give things up. I'm finding that as I embrace the years, the years embrace me.

06 November 2008

Autumn path.

For anyone who ever thought New Jersey was the "armpit of America," take a look at this...

Ken Lockwood Gorge in Clinton, NJ

05 November 2008

Autumn steps.

We just returned from a delightful trip to enjoy autumn in the northeast. I can't wait to share more about the trip! But until then, here are a few places my feet have touched...