I’ve thought I knew a lot about Africa. Studied it in geography. Read about it in the papers. Heard stories from people who had been there.
I could find it on a map.
Nothing could prepare me for what I saw when I deplaned in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. (It took me a bit to find that on a map.)
High 90’s in the middle of their winter. Red dust everywhere. (It’s the dry season.) At least 15 to 20 motorbikes for every car on the road. Really bad roads.
And people who cared more about relationships than things.
I was there for almost two weeks with my youngest daughter. A medical mission trip. Debbie actually needed this to satisfy a requirement for graduation from college. (The medical part? Not so much my thing. My greatest contribution was comic intervention.)
We worked in a particular area on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. Burkina itself is a very poor country. The villages had no running water and very little electricity. Not everyone had shoes. Debbie, I and some others would play with the kids while parents and siblings were being seen by the doctors and medical students. What was being done in the dusty little clinic was nothing short of amazing. Cataracts were being removed. Children with hearing losses were being fitted with hearing aids. (Meningitis and malaria are common–hearing is often affected.) General physical problems were being treated.
And the people waited patiently to be seen. Often waiting hours. Chatting among themselves. Smiling. Laughing. Children everywhere.
I would have been looking at my cell phone (don’t own a watch–needed one there–or not), crabbing about the slow service. How would I be compensated for my wait time? I have a life, too. Right?
What I saw were people with patience. And gratitude for the chance to finally see a doctor. Embracing the moment with hope. And a smile.
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt like such an entitled American. Not too proud of that.
I saw people who had little being glad we showed up. Being grateful for what little we could do. A smile came with the holding of a hand. A hug. Finding a reason to laugh in silly little things I know I’d have overlooked.
It was a privilege to be there. To be reminded of what’s really important.
It’s not stuff and clutter. It’s people.
Jesus knows we all have needs. Fears. Pains. Losses. He wants us to see that having more things won’t bring us the joy we desire. The peace we need. The hope.
We all need Him.
“The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:11
I remember hearing Africa called the Dark Continent. That wasn’t my experience.
There’s light in that darkness.
It’s the gleam of their smiles.
What do you have to smile about?
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