I met Whitney in Kibera. Spending the summer in Africa, she flew in from Uganda and joined us at New Hope to work with Manna for a couple weeks. We quickly became friends. One of my favorite memories is sharing stories over Ethiopian food. It's obvious to anyone who comes in contact with Whitney that she's directly in the middle of where God wants her. Her story she shares is unbelievable. [Read the first part to this post here.]
The following summer, God told me to go to Africa.
I know it sounds a bit strange, but it’s the truth. I listened to these people’s stories. I rocked their babies to sleep. I looked AIDS straight in the face. We laughed together, and we cried together. Sometimes, the realities of my friends' lives were ugly and hard to look at. Many times, it was painful. But it was also beautiful.
No, I didn’t come with a solution to fix the government corruption. I had no cure for every illness or disease. I could not take home each orphaned child. But I came with an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. I taught the skills I had, and most importantly, I shared God’s story of redemption in my life, and watched it overflow into others.
I watched myself come alive.
Three years after my first experience in Africa, I found myself in that slum in Uganda. I was working for a Christian organization where a large part of my focus was on community development, working mainly with widows and orphans. We had several projects across Uganda I was able to visit and check up on. A big part of that involved me sitting down with our different partners and listening. I loved learning about how their families were doing and getting an education on Ugandan culture and customs.
But, as one of the women began to tell her story on this day, I felt myself wanting to back away. It was all I could do to not plug up my ears.
She was from the Acholi tribe. Ten years ago, a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army attacked her village. Most of the men - husbands and fathers - were brutally killed, while the women(including herself) were raped and tortured in front of their kids. Many of the children were taken hostage to become child soldiers, but not all of their lives were spared.
Her nephew was one of the unfortunate ones. He was boiled alive, while they were forced to watch. As if that weren’t traumatic enough, they were told they had two options- “Eat this boy’s boiled flesh, or be killed”.
Many of the women from her village escaped the violence and moved south to the slum where we were now gathered. A local ministry who we partnered with was teaching them how to make jewelry from recycled paper, and helping them create their own businesses. I’d come that day to see their progress first hand, but I was not prepared for stories like this one.
As I sat in stunned silence, trying to think of something worth saying, the woman spoke for me. Placing her hand on my knee she said, “I am so thankful to God because he brought you, a mzungu (white woman) all the way from the United States! What are the chances of that? You came today to simply listen to our stories, and remind us that we are not forgotten. It has meant so much to us. Thank you.”
I am fully aware not everyone shares the same burden as me, and I’ve learned to be ok with this. But, if you are a follower of Jesus, the fact of the matter is that you are called to respond to this hurting world.
Each one of us has an “Africa”.
The thing sitting heavy on your heart - it’s the burden you can’t shake, the thing your hands are clinging to that you know God is asking you to surrender. It will require all of you. It scares you to death. I get it. Trust me, I understand. I’ve been there, and I still find myself there quite often, if not daily!
But, I’m realizing that the things in my life I thought I would despise the most, have become my greatest treasures. The things I thought I didn’t want, I now wonder how I would live without. I’m beginning to understand I do not know what I really want or need. The One who created me knows me far better than myself!
I now see the moments of rejoicing are all the more sweet after sharing the painful moments with others. Often, we can’t appreciate the beauty without first experiencing the ugliness. So, I’m learning to feel the hard feelings, to engage, to be real with people. Through it all, I can confidentially say the trails He is blazing are far better than any route I drew on my life’s map. While it’s a little messier than I envisioned, the life He offers is so much better than the one I was clinging to.