I have been spending time lately thinking about our lives here in Africa. Maybe it’s my age; I find myself being increasingly introspective. Most of my adult life has now been spent here serving the people of this continent. What we have experienced, what we have felt, those we have met and grown to love, have all changed our understanding of how our lives were meant to be spent.
When we began our journey, we were young, full of energy and vision (we’re not as young but still have energy and vision) for the future. We knew we would “make a mark” on the world for our wonderful Lord! What we didn’t understand that this work would first make its mark on us.
Africa is a continent of great contradiction. Some of the most amazing sights in the world can be found here: from the pyramids of Egypt in North Africa, to Eastern Africa where one can see a snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and then all the way to Table Mountain in South Africa. I’ve had the great blessing to see 2 of 3 – one day I will see the pyramids of Egypt. There are great riches here: from diamond mines in the DRC to amazing wildlife in Kenya. Then, there is the other side of this beautiful place, the contradictory side where immeasurable pain and poverty hold most of the population. Here in Malawi where I now live, recently listed as the world’s poorest nation, most of the population lives on an equivalent of about .62 cents per day. Infant mortality due to malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases eclipses anything experienced in the developed world. What possible effect could we have in the face of a tsunami of hopelessness?
If money were the solution to Africa’s problems then after many generations of social work and donor grants all over the continent, things should be well on the way to being resolved. From our perspective of having worked at length with relief efforts here, we understand that the challenges we face here are much deeper than what can be seen in the desperate eyes of the hungry child or in the empty eyes of the child soldier. The heart of Africa has been attacked and has ravaged generations of people – how can a person who was raised to steal in order to eat be expected to hope for better things for the next generation? The challenge for them remains the same: when and where will be their next meal?
Children have borne the greater part of this unimaginable burden and all the while we wonder why things continue the way they have here. It’s no secret; if you want to cripple a nation, cripple her children with poverty, lack of education, lack of proper medical care, and the basic necessities of life such as security and running water. Most children here face hunger, little or no education, difficulty in obtaining basic medical care, access to potable water, and are insecure, they are often the object of child trafficking being sold into slavery often by friends or family members.
Another contradiction in Africa is the inner and outer beauty of her people in the face of such pain. Some years ago when we served in the DRC (formerly Zaire), we would spend almost every Sunday speaking at different churches. The settings were rarely comfortable and easily accessed. I remember one Sunday in particular when we went to a church that was situated on a high hill that was accessible only by foot. We left the car a good distance from the church and made our way to the dilapidated building where we were given a warm welcome of hugs, smiles, and the best seats the place had to offer. There were hours (yes, hours) of different choir numbers followed by several speakers, the last one being my husband who preached his heart out. All the while, I struggled with a toddler on my lap and agonized over the fact that I forgot to bring water. When the very long meetings were over, we were ushered into a simple room in a mud brick house where a table was set and we were fed a meal along the lines of what those preparing the meal would eat only very occasionally. This scenario has been repeated many times over in the 30 some years I’ve lived here and it always amazes me – out of their deep poverty, they always find something beautiful to offer me.
Now, sitting here in my living room after a long workday, I am confronted once again with the thought, “What do you possibly have to offer that can help here?” Daily I see firsthand much of what I’ve described in the paragraphs above. I’ve battled with these thoughts often through the years – but I have to believe that the same God whose first disciples “turned the world upside down” still has the power to do the same (see Acts 17:6). He can still turn the world on its ear if He can find someone that He can work through (see Ezekiel 22:30) so here I am. I don’t have what great organizations have to offer, but they don’t have what I have. I carry within me the One who can bring true hope to an apparently hopeless situation.
Many years ago I committed to serving, to doing what I could with my husband here and we have been through wonderful, difficult, joyous, and excruciating times. We have seen churches born, children fed, clothed, and educated and we have seen many times when finances were so tight that our ability to help was extremely limited. We have lived through civil war and then experienced the hope when peace treaties were signed. The common denominator throughout all of those times, good and not so good, was the fact that God’s grace carried us through.
And here we are. Older, I don’t know how much wiser, but still hoping against hope for miracles together with those who dare to believe with us that God can and will work again. Knowing how impossible our situation is, that we have nothing, gives me courage for God takes nothing and makes miracles from it. So, we have decided to give Him our nothing and watch Him work.
I’ve been marked, you see, by what initially seems unremarkable. Africa, with all of her pain and suffering, has marked me and made me believe that miracles do come when we have the courage just to believe.
Take courage, if it seems as if you have nothing, then you are in the perfect place where God can work. Once we have nothing else to turn to, it seems we remember Him and He, in His love and grace, turns toward us and makes something from nothing.