Monthly Archives: July 2010

Dealing With Climate Change

I left Congo sooner than expected. Along the journey from Congo to Kenya, I scribbled down a few thoughts about dealing with this change.

Fumbling Through Transition

Feeling feelings isn’t always easy;
Raw emotions are painful when they emerge.
Times of uncertainty usher out that rawness,
Out from hiding where it was safely stored.

Its scary starting something new, abandoning the familiar;
Transition returns me to a sticky swamp of emotions.
Not wanting to get stuck again, I’d rather stay where I’m at.
The ensuing fear taunts me; I’m sinking in the quicksand of “what ifs”.

Doubt plagues my mind, unbelief overwhelms my heart;
Questions remain unanswered, tomorrow is yet uncertain.
Unsure of where I’m headed, but throwing everything to the wind
I embark on a new adventure, trusting despite the unknowns.

Finding fresh perspective and daring to discover
I’m embracing this next season, moving forward slowly.
The page now turns; a new chapter unfolds.
Almost there but no where near it, all that matters is I’m going.

I know this next stage will be hard. But so is anything that’s worth doing, right?

From my heart to yours:

Dear Readers,

I believe an apology is necessary. Forgive me for not informing you sooner. Entering this season of transition, time evades me. Contrary to corporate america, Congo has taught this full-velocity, efficiency-focused, time-driven, multi-tasking mind to let go of the agenda and abandon the timetable. And as I stopped worrying about getting things done I began to focus on allowing relationships to happen. Being fully present is an art entirely foreign to America, but fully engrained in Africa. But somehow as I was embracing the moment, enjoying slower and simpler life, time must have slipped through my fingers. Better late than never, I’m just now informing you about major changes which are about to ensue.

Here’s the scoop…

With the end of the semester fast-approaching, I have been reassessing my position with Congo Initiative and evaluating the effectiveness of my role. The majority of expats have already returned to the States to spend time raising awareness, support, and renewing their energy. Many former Congo Initiative staff will return in October for the start of the new academic year at UCBC and the official launch of our Women’s Center.

For numerous reasons including physical safety, living conditions, and mental health, I will be leaving DR Congo on August 1st.

Rather than return to America, God has provided a unique opportunity for me to continue serving in East Africa for another two months. I have been invited to work with Amani ya Juu, a reconciliation program devoted to training marginalized women in sewing and marketing.

african woman sewing
Amani ya Juu, whose name means “higher peace” in Swahili, is a thirteen-year-old micro-enterprise teaching that true peace and healing comes from Christ. Implementing holistic development, Amani is transforming women’s lives through economic, spiritual, emotional, and community support. Amani includes training facilities in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi as well as a retail boutique in Washington D.C.

My role will be working with Amani in Bujumbura, Burundi, the youngest of the three centers. Specifically, I will bring my artistic western eye to assist with product design, fabric selection, quality control, and product exportation. Congo Initiative believes this program is good fit and has approved the use of remaining funds for my volunteer work with Amani.

While I’m looking forward to this new season, truthfully I’m a bit apprehensive about all the unknowns. Please pray for increased trust and continued perseverance. I know that God’s not finished with me yet…

Mental Floss 005 – Instruments of change

Sometimes the knowledge of our own unworthiness causes us to resist being used by God. No matter what your weakness is, never doubt that God can use you as His instrument if you are willing.

UCBC students during worship

To those who have lost their way, let me restore it to them.

To those who are aimless, let me bring purpose.

To those who do not know who they are, let me teach them that they are children of God and can be used as instruments in the never-ending work of healing and redemption.

-Alan Paton

Fashion Advice from my Financial Guy

Before I left for Congo, my financial adviser offered me some advice, the nature of which had nothing to do with finances. His suggestion?

People of other cultures are more eager to embrace you as a foreigner if you dress as the locals do. So when you go to Congo, make sure you don the African style.

Naturally, I thanked him for the suggestion, but in my heart I scoffed at such a notion. I believe he was genuine in wanting to share valuable advice, however, I doubted the validity of it. He has never been to Africa, let alone Congo, so how would he know?

Fast-forward nine months to an event which proves his advice

During a conversation with my stylish friend Tete, I mentioned how I love the creativity and design of African hairstyles. Changing month-to-month, the hair of these women can completely alter their appearance. Long, short. Dark, light. Maybe even colored accents. Curly, straight, crimped. Braided, twisted, rolled. The possibilities are endless.

The following day, Tete and her hairdresser came to get the party started braid my hair. Had known what I was getting into, I doubt I would’ve agreed to it. The process lasted over 6 hours and cost a mere $10 to transformthis American into a true Congolese…well, my hair, at least.

hair weave mesh

Did I mention it hurt? Cause it did. Immensely. Slightly less painful than being stabbed to death with a blunt object, I imagine.

Slowly, but surely, the pain subsided.

Slowly, but surely, the attention I received increased.

Week 1, I questioned myself. Was this really a wise decision, considering I am already a spectacle with my shockingly pale, glow-in-the-dark skin? Frequently, I feel like the lone white-chocolate morsel which got mixed in with the bag of dark chocolate chips. I stick out like a sore thumb.

By week 2, I was convinced that my financial adviser was correct. Granted, I had already observed that the people in the community love it when I wear my kikwembe (Conoglese skirt), but that has never caused such extreme excitement as my hair.

I’ve just now found the secret to unlocking the door of relationship building

  • Walking through the market, women no longer jeer at me, shout muzungu, or ask for money. Rather, my hair seems to bridge the gap between our difference in skin color. Somehow it has leveled the playing field. The same women who used to jeer are now discussing my hair, remarking on my beauty, and sharing how glad they are to see me embracing their style.
  • Walking around the university, students giggle from excitement. They pull out their camera phones, requesting to be photographed with me. The women offer advice about how to maintain and care for it, what products to use, how and when to wash it. The men thank me for my commitment to becoming Congolese.
  • Walking around the Women’s Center, everyone wants to engage me in conversation. “Who braided it?” “Is it your natural hair or is it mesh?” “Please let me braid it next time. When you’re ready for a new style, you must come and see me.”
  • Walking in my neighborhood, the children finally remember my name and run to greet me  when they see me coming. They want to touch my hair instead of my white skin. One woman has invited me to join her for lunch next week and offered to sew me an African style outfit to complement my African hair.

Saying farewell to the hair

By the end of week 3, it was time to bid farewell to my Congolese locks.

Mama Furaha and her daughter Brigette helped me to remove the braids. Noticing that my natural hair had developed major crimping, they declared that I have now become Congolese for good. Sad to disappoint, I informed them that the crimps would release when my hair became wet. They begged me to refrain from washing it, insisting that my students would LOVE to see it crimped.

(Personally, it reminded me of a bad 1980’s hairstyle. At this point though, I’m much less concerned about my appearance than you might imagine. I lasted 3 weeks without washing my hair…why shouldn’t I wait just one more day?)

So, here are a few pics showcasing the various styles and the life of my hair over the past few months.

braided mesh african hair

1. short, cropped, everyday style 2. hair braided with mesh 3. crimped hair after removing braids 4. for in-between, lazy days

Lesson learned. Next time, I’ll think twice before I dismiss advice from my finance guy.

Don’t Waste Your Life

Often people tell me that they wish they could do what I’m doing, that they long to do something significant. That by coming to East Africa, I am living out a dream. I am making a difference. And quite frankly, I’m encouraged to know that people other than my mom think I’m special.

Humbled by this affirmation, I feel an ever-increasing responsibility to make my life count. Its as if I have been given a charge, entrusted not to mess up this opportunity of being young, adventurous, and ambitious.

But here’s where that responsibility is skewed.

The opportunity to live a meaningful life is not offered solely to those who are young, adventurous, and ambitious. The opportunity—or rather, responsibility—to live a great life doesn’t discriminate by age, personality, or geographic location.

In Christ, we have ALL been called to abundant, effective lives.

So if we’ve all been called to live great lives, why aren’t we doing so?

If we all have a longing to make our lives count, what prevents us from achieving great things? Why do so many of us live with regrets? Perhaps our own desire for greatness hinders the greatness we are pursuing. Beth Moore, in her study on Esther, suggests that “seeking to be extraordinary isn’t the answer [to our regular, mundane lives] because great lives are never achieved by making greatness the goal”.

Consider people such as Abraham, Moses, Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther, William Wilburforce, or Mother Teresa. Do you think they ever thought their lives were great while they were living them? I doubt it. I think they were simply doing ordinary things for the sake of God’s glory which became extraordinary as a result of Him. Its the small acts of courage, the steady pursuit of possibility, the ordinary things done with conviction which change the course of history.

Do you want to live an effective life? Do you want your life to matter?

Don’t neglect to do something good because you’re waiting to do something great. And that which is done in Christ’s name can be transformed from unremarkable to remarkable, monotonous to monumental, ordinary to extraordinary.

That may sound idealistic and unrealistic, but I have to believe that each of us has a purpose here on earth. I want to achieve my God-given destiny.

That said, in the coming days I’m going to shelf my perfectionist, high-achiever mentality. I vow to write even if the story doesn’t seem worthwhile or life-changing. I pray that by enjoying God’s glory and finding complete satisfaction in Him, He will bring glory to Himself, changing my ordinary things into that which is extraordinary. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t let fear prevent you from pursuing a purposeful life.

“What I do you cannot do; but what you do, I cannot do. The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Mother Teresa

*Many of these thoughts were prompted by the book, “Don’t Waste Your Life”, by John Piper.