Tag Archives: africa

A Deeper Longing

deeper longingDo you ever have one of those days when your soul longs to be someplace else? When, no matter how hard you try to assimilate, there remains a disconnect between you and the place you are?

Maybe you’ve moved to a new house or a new city.

Maybe your ideals and values have changed and so you’re struggling to connect with a former group of friends.

Or perhaps your church is morphing and even though you’re in the same place, the body of believers is in constant flux.

Today has been one of those days where I long to be back in Congo. Although the reverse culture shock comes and goes in waves, there is one constant feeling which never seems to dissipate.

It is an unrelenting nagging which reminds me that I’m a stranger in America, this land I call home.

I wonder if this isn’t God’s nudging. A gentle whisper reaffirming that my soul was never designed to live in America. Nor was it designed to live in Africa, Argentina or Southeast Asia.

This world, as I know it, was never meant to feel like home. This land is temporary and I’m a stranger here.

I was meant for so much more. I was created with a longing to live in God’s kingdom. And only with Him will my heart finally feel satisfied because my citizenship is in Heaven.

So until that day comes, I struggle to fit in. But if I desire to see His kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven, I must figure out how to live for the sake of God’s glory whether in America or in Africa.

I must figure out how to live in the now and not yet.

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Purpose Driven Job

woman windowAuthenticity has become a buzzword in the business community. Authenticity is the new black.

But I’m discovering that in America, genuine authenticity is hard to find.

Part of my struggle since leaving Africa and returning to America has been discovering my mission here. What is my purpose?

How do I unite the lessons I’ve learned with the passions of my heart while residing in America?

But most of the job opportunities I’ve received over the past several weeks have left me dismayed.

▪ Dismayed because the goals and missions of many companies don’t align with my purpose and passion.
▪ Dismayed because the few companies with which I might align well don’t achieve alignment with their own stated goals and mission.
▪ Dismayed because the companies which tout authenticity don’t actually practice what they preach.

Yet amidst all the rubble, there seems to be a gem.

From the first time Performa Higher Education contacted me and began the recruiting process, they cast their vision…a meaningful mission: helping small, private colleges and universities become healthy

One way they do this is by ensuring student success. If students thrive, the university thrives. I was introduced to the four stages of student success: attraction, belonging, engagement, community.

In a similar manner to how a college might recruit a new student, Performa began wooing me. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself emerging through those same four stages.

1. Attraction

Please consider meeting us to discuss the opportunity at a quaint cafe not far from Milwaukee.

Caffiene and a convo? I can do that.

Over a hot cup of coffee, they inquired about my passions, interests, and goals. They helped me conceptualize how I could utilize those passions with Performa.

I was intrigued. Eager to see how this could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Attracted enough to visit thier Green Bay office the following week.

2. Belonging

Come spend a day at our office. Join us for a workshop with innovative consultant and pioneer of residential colleges, Frank Shushok.

During introductions, I was presented as Performa’s new recruit. But rather than a bystander content to watch from the sidelines, I found myself quite vocal in the consulting sessions, brainstorming ways to translate research findings into architectural solutions.

I could see myself fitting in with Performa and providing meaningful contributions to their work.

3. Engagement

Travel with us to a job site. Observe what we do. Interact with students. Offer insight and suggest a few practical design solutions.

At a reputable college in Iowa, I was introduced not as a recruit, but as a consultant. Even more, I felt like a team member. Touring the campus and chatting leisurely with students, I listened to their stories that I might speak on their behalf to resolve some of the campus issues. My mind continued to ponder concepts which would promote the goals of this college for several days following my visit.

Fully engaged, I was ready to come on board.

4. Community

Come and work for us. Use your talents at Performa and help influence the world by impacting higher education.

Before long, I had become a case example of student success.

So in just a few days I’ll be joining Performa Higher Ed as a campus planner and designer working to enhance environments and hopefully, affect lives. Ready, set, go! 

Ideally, this opportunity might merge my two worlds (Africa/America).

And I wonder, could we at Performa provide an even greater impact by sharing our knowledge and success with higher ed institutions in the developing world?

Maybe someday we’ll help institutions in Africa. Institutions with an incredible potential to produce students who desire to be transformed and in turn, will transform the world around them. Institutions like Congo Initiative’s UCBC. Maybe someday…

Disjointed Thoughts

My mind has been reeling with a steady stream of incomplete thoughts waiting for further development.

Writing is the way I typically process, but lately the words no longer flow.

Several thoughts remain stranded. This is a feeble attempt to begin the process of reconciling my heart with my mind.

NUMB.

As I unpack my heart I find a deep ache in my soul. A longing without knowing what it longs for.

And the location where my heart currently resides resembles the dentist’s office.

Numbness. Indifference. Apathy.

I don’t quite know the root of the numbness, but I imagine it must be something along the lines of protection, self-preservation, a coping mechanism.

Perhaps if I allow myself to feel the emotions, my soul will succumb to despair.

One of these days, I know that the anesthetic will wear off.

In fact, I can already sense my heart beginning to thaw; I just hope I’m ready to deal with it when it starts to melt.

Bridge Over [Africa’s] Troubled Waters

Two weeks ago my journey through Africa concluded as I returned to America. Two weeks I’ve been back in the Midwest adjusting to a society of convenience, overstimulation, impersonal exchanges, and hectic living. Two weeks since I last put pen to paper in an effort to document my thoughts and feelings during this new phase of transition.

Today I muster up courage to write even though I’m still processing. Today I break the silence to tell you about some good news and bad news.

The bad news?

  1. Today 1 billion people without access to water. Clean, safe water.
  2. This week 38,000 children under age 5 will die from unsafe drinking water and unsanitary living conditions.
  3. This year African women will walk over 40 billion hours, carrying over 40lbs of water. Water which is usually still not safe to drink.

This issue violates the basic human right to clean water and sanitation.

clean water africa

photo courtesy of Living Water International: http://www.water.cc

This issue hits close to home…
Because in the village I called home, I watched my neighbors drink water from the same creek in which they washed clothes, bathed children, and dumped waste.

Because most days someone I knew was hospitalized, suffering from any number of diseases spread through unsanitary water.

Because even though I was diligent about boiling and filtering water, I still contracted typhoid fever, amoebic dysentery, among other parasitic infections. May I never again take clean water for granted.

This issue has changed me. I’m trying to stop wasting water…
Before I went to Africa, I used to take long, hot showers.

Before I went to Africa, I used to leave the faucet running while brushing my teeth.

Before I went to Africa, I used to throw clothes in the washing machine even when they weren’t visibly or smellably dirty.

The good news?

This issue can be changed. And YOU can help change it…

  1. Educate yourself. Learn the facts.
  2. Find out how much water you use and discover ways to conserve water. Calculate your water footprint. Use the Web calculator or download the iPhone app
  3. Follow San Francisco’s lead and stop drinking bottled water (1/3 of which is actually tap water).
  4. Clean up our water. Dispose of hazardous products correctly.
  5. Consider making a donation to a reputable water project like Charity: water or Living Water International.

FYI: Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event which unites bloggers worldwide. By focusing on the same issue, blogs are able to generate discussion and encourage social action. Its a wonderfully noble, forward-thinking concept, put forth by change.org. Today the global conversation is centered on water. Clean, safe water.

Animal Planet

Before Africa, the only type of animals I knew where either caged creatures at the local zoo or domesticated pets. No comparison.

mama ostrich and her babies

You don’t talk during a safari. You become mute like a giraffe because your mouth just hangs open, speechless at the sights.

what does a giraffe say? nothing…it makes no sound. giraffes communicate entirely through gestures.

Guess this is why they call it wildlife. How does one control a herd of elephants like this? They don’t. They get out of the way.

stampede of elephants

zebra, eland, impala

When You Should Be Unfriendly

In Luke 10:4, Jesus sends out his disciples ahead of Him, urging them not to stop and greet anyone along the way. Not to greet anyone along the way?

At first glance, I thought this was a bogus request.

  • Didn’t Jesus’ ministry emphasize building relationships? You know, take time for people. Share a meal together. Have compassion on the children.
  • Didn’t He do miracles by the side of the road? Give sight to the blind man. Clease the one with leprosy. Heal the sick.

But then, God gave me new insight into this passage.

Jesus told them not to greet anyone because He knew they’d get distracted or unfocused and they may never reach the final destination.

So how did I manage to figure that out?

As I continue to participate in African culture, God is giving me new understanding into His Word. Here’s how it went down:

  • Tuesday morning, after breakfast, I leave the house with my hosts at 8:15am, heading into work.
  • 8:16 − 8:20 Just outside the gate, we stop to chat with the neighbors who live across the road.
  • 8:22 − 8:25 Three houses down a construction crew is building a new home. Greetings ensue.
  • 8:28 − 8:34 Political representative for the subdivision is standing at the corner. Salutations. Introductions. Discussion about local elections.
  • 8:35 − 8:42 A friend is washing clothes outside her home. How is she? How is her family? her children? her house? her church? her health?

Now nearly 30 minutes later, we’ve traveled less than 2 km.

Fortunately, work is less than 6 km from the house.

Unfortunately, we haven’t even reached the main road yet. At this rate, we won’t arrive till 10am.

As it turns out, we make several more stops and run a few errands in town. Eventually, we arrived at the office, ready to begin the day at 11:20am.

Have I mentioned that God is teaching this impatient girl the virtue of patience?

In America, I’m classified as type A.

I abide by schedules. I follow agendas. I like arriving on time. No, I like arriving early.

And that’s just one way Africa is changing me…

Here is the church, minus a steeple…

Ever since Solomon built the first temple, places of worship have been important landmarks. The design enthusiast within me has long appreciated liturgical architecture. Some of my favorite structures are churches: St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Most sacred buildings of the Western world are intricately designed, opulent, grandiose structures. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the religious architecture of Africa. I haven’t yet figured out why, but Africa has never excelled to the architectural standards of Europe, Asia, or America.

African Liturgical Construction
Church buildings in East Africa are all of a similar model. If they came as customizable standards from a development company, the product description would read:

New and Improved Protestant Church Model
Long, rectilinear box. Four mud brick walls with irregular and intermittent punched openings to provide light and airflow. Honoring simplicity, this design has just one entry door by which everyone will come and go.

New model includes a tin metal roof to make the atmosphere extra warm and cozy. More than merely a sauna, this roof will make church an oven. Congregants will bake to a crisp. Nonetheless, the celebration happening inside will be so captivating that none can resist entering this cooker.

Aesthetically speaking, the color scheme is an unembellished, endless sea of brown which allows each congregation to add a personal flair, adorning the drabness with the bright colors of their clothing.

Bonus: For a limited time, this layout comes fully furnished with rough-sawn wooden benches and pulpit.

Perhaps poverty is the reason for Africa’s rudimentary building design.

But maybe its not.

Maybe construction is basic and spartan because they realize that church is less about building size, acoustics, or furnishings and more about unity among believers. From what I’ve observed, there are only two major Christian churches here: Catholic and Protestant. Other than that, little distinction exists between denominations. You attend the church to which you can travel easily.

burundi churchWelcome to the long eternity of an African Sunday…Last week I attended this rural Burundian church.

Church begins when the pastor and choir arrive. Church ends when the congregation has exhausted their voices from singing and shouting, “Hallelujah! Amen”.

You think pews are uncomfortable? Try sitting on a backless, wooden, unstable bench for five hours.

The place has nothing extravagant about it, yet the atmosphere was far from bare.

A Cornucopia of Contributions
The tithes and offerings given by this impoverished people nearly brought me to tears. On a reed mat near the front of the sanctuary, alongside a woven money basket were various items which had been offered to the Lord during service, ranging from fabric to a live chicken to beans.

Oh, how rich these people were in their giving. May I never forget that visual display which redefined my limited understanding of an offering.

During the message I gazed out the windows, marveling at the beauty of this landscape. To my left, the shores of Lake Tanganyika. To my right, the great hills and mountains.

After service, the pastor and elders present me with a gift on behalf of the congregation, expressing their thankfulness for my presence.

Honestly, I still don’t know what, exactly the gift is.

My host family told me we’ll eat it.

I told them they’ll eat it. I’m not putting that thing within 2 feet of my mouth! Okay, I didn’t say it quite like that, but that’s how it went down in my mind.

So, any guesses as to what it might be? I’ll give you a few clues:

m

  • its roughly 16″l x 10″w x 8″d
  • it weighs about 6 kilos
  • shape is amorphic, but reminiscent of a baby seal with a large appendage in front
  • color is brown, skin is coarse and covered with…hair?

A Birthday Sikukuu (see-koo-koo)

To my knowledge, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’. Imagine that. Throughout much of Africa, the anniversary of one’s birth is not really a Hallmark celebration.

So why then, in America, do we make such a big deal about birthdays? Maybe to make us feel significant, esteemed, loved…

In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper opened my eyes to realize that our Western culture has a distorted view of love which tells us that to be loved is to be made much of. And making much of ourselves seems to be our specialty.

It makes perfect sense then, that we raise the roof on occasions such as birthdays. We don that golden Burger King crown, announcing that the world ought to serve us on OUR special day.

Think about it. When was the last time you attended a child’s birthday party? On that day, life revolves around them. They run the show.

I wonder, are we not perpetuating selfishness and materialism at these birthday hooplas?

We start this training early on by throwing a bash before the child can even talk…Happy 1st Birthday, Baby!

As the child grows, so grows the party. Not to mention, the quantity and quality of presents. Soon enough, parents are spending exorbitant amounts, hosting extravagant parties at expensive venues. Don’t even get me started ranting about those Super Sweet 16 birthdays.

For the record, my favorite birthday was 1988, the year I turned six. Mom made a She-Ra birthday cake and all my friends gathered at the local swimming pool. (Not sure how those two were even related, but Mom did her best to fulfill my every bizarre request…why wouldn’t she, it was MY special day?)

I suppose if we’ve fallen into our culture’s notion that to be loved is to be made much of, than why wouldn’t we want to use a day to improve our children’s self-esteem and make them feel good about themselves?

    Happy Birthday to Me

    A few days ago it was my birthday. And to be brutally honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Its not that I feared turning another year older, in spite of the fact that I’m now 28. The reason I wasn’t eagerly anticipating my birthday was because I had no one around to make much of me. I longed for fellowship with family and friends, yet here I was in a brand new country, alone.

    I feared that without cake, candles, or song—not to mention the absence of friends and family—I would feel unloved, worthless, unappreciated. Would I even hear one live voice wish me a happy birthday?

    A subtle reminder

    On that day, I awoke early to the sound of the children singing. I can’t yet understand Kirundi, but the familiar tune brought the lyrics to mind.”This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In His grace, God reminded me that its not about me. Lord, this is Your day. Its not my day. Help me to decrease so that you might increase. Thank you for giving me life through your Son. May I delight in Your love today.

    And much to my surprise, God gave me a birthday sikukuu. (As I mentioned, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’, but it certainly was a sikukuu = festive and eventful day; contraction of two Swahili words: ‘siku’, meaning ‘day’ and ‘kubwa’ meaning ‘big’.)

    Here’s how the day transpired:

    • In the morning, I sat with Goreth as she hand-washed mounds of dirty clothes. Yes Mom, I watched Goreth wash. Please don’t be too disappointed. Numerous times I offered to help, but she wouldn’t allow it. So I sat beside her. And as we sang hymns together in perfect harmony, God washed over my heart and saturated it with peace.
    • Arriving at Amahoro, the remainder of my morning was spent combining fabrics for new handbags. My presence and advice brought reassurance to these women who have longed for design direction. Seeing the delight in their faces was mental encouragement which energized my creative spirit.
    • Returning home in the afternoon, I snacked on fried plantains and pineapple juice. Goreth’s children insisted that we dance to African music videos and in doing so, they gave life to my weary body and planted joy deep in my heart. Such laughter. Such good dancing…those kids got rhythm.

    If I had it my way…

    …I would’ve been in America, celebrating with friends and family. Even here in Burundi, I was tempted to take the day for myself. Enjoy some ME time.

    But by allowing God to use me on that day—though I would’ve much preferred to stay in bed, curled up with a book—He showed me that “the really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but of self-forgetfulness.” (John Piper)

    Mental Floss 006 – Slow Down Your Life

    One of my favorite swahili sayings is:

    “Haraka, haraka haina baraka.”

    (literal translation: hurry, hurry has no blessing)

    running man

    photo credit: vegadsl

    There is a strange disease in America which doesn’t seem to exist in Africa…a hurried life. My initial reflection from Nairobi was written during my first few days in which I was a bit jaded. Fortunately, I quickly found that apart from the paved roads, city traffic, and electricity, Nairobi is not so different from Beni…

    African cultures are all distinct and I’m certainly not trying to say otherwise. There is, however, one commonality I’ve observed among various places throughout East Africa: the concept of TIME

    • In Africa, time is relaxed, elastic, open. Africans view time as flexible. Time is dependent upon man. *In practical terms, this means that if you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled for the afternoon but find no one at the appointed spot, asking, “When will the meeting take place?” makes no sense. You know the answer. “It will take place when people come.”

    The great benefit to this concept is that Africans embrace each moment. When they are with you, they’re really with you, focused on you, listening. Africans invest in people.

    • In America, time is absolute, fixed, inflexible. Americans are enslaved by it and subject to it. Man is dependent upon time. Life revolves around schedules, deadlines, dates, hours. *An unresolvable conflict exists between man and time, one that always ends with man’s defeat—time annihilates him.

    The great tragedy to this concept is that Americans cannot find time for people. They cannot truly enjoy building relationships because they are always distracted by the next item on their agenda, the task they forgot to do, or the networking opportunity about to unfold.

    Please, I implore you to start fighting the disease of busyness, hurried lives, and rigid schedules.

    Begin today by going slow. When you find yourself hurrying, stop and take a deep breath. Savor every moment. Forget about what you’re doing next, enjoy what you’re doing now.

    * Quoted from The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski


    Going in Reverse

    Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

    Traveling eastward from Congo to Kenya, there is a steady progression towards westernized civilization. As the bus approached Nairobi, my eyes widened at the sight of city lights and traffic jams. My journey from Beni to Nairobi lasted just three days, yet somehow I’d been timewarped 100 years into the future.

    During my final month in Congo, I began anticipating the reverse culture shock and re-entry issues I might experience upon returning to America.

    Who would’ve guessed that I could experience reverse culture shock while still in East Africa?

    My first few days in Nairobi have been spent with a most-gracious, newly-married expat couple, Phil and Mel. They live in a high-rise building similar to the condo towers of downtown Milwaukee. Their home is spartan by American standards, but equipped with many luxuries I’ve lived without for the past 9 months in Congo…electricity, hot water, television, gas stove, refrigerator, oven, washing machine. They have re-introduced my tastebuds to omelets, pancakes, deli sandwiches, korean barbecue, indian curries, and chocolate ice cream.

    nairobi skylineDespite the presence of modern conveniences and the abundance of good food, I find myself feeling uncomfortable and disillusioned. Each passing hour during the first few days seems to come with another realization about the differences between these cultures. The first day I awake to the sounds of Nairobi: honking cars and construction work. I’m not convinced those are any worse than the sounds of Beni: tropical birds chirping incessantly, roosters crowing, guards singing, and bleating goats (which I often confused for crying children). Driving through the city that day, I notice that very few people travel by foot. Fewer still are those riding bicycles or motorcycles.

    Throughout the city there are other anomalies…

    Babies aren’t strapped to their mothers’ backs but rather perched on hips or riding in strollers. Women don’t use their heads to carry items, opting for plastic shopping bags or hand totes instead. Dirt roads are the exception rather than the rule…most everything here is paved. Other things non-existent in Beni: credit cards and ATMs, skyscrapers, racial diversity, shopping malls, rush-hour traffic, fast-food restaurants.

    The intangible contrast

    The material differences between the two cultures is easy to identify and describe, but the larger differences exist in the abstract concept of culture. Community, as I’ve seen thus far, exists not with the locals, but with other expats. Overstimulation is at its prime. A steady stream of background noise is provided by the television or radio, which are always on—whether or not anyone is actively watching or listening. Purchasing and preparing food lacks the social and interactive aspect of bartering at the market. The grocery store and take-out restaurants require little-to-no human interaction.

    The things which I will miss the most about Congolese culture seem to transcend the material things…

    I long for quiet afternoon naps, hours spent reading good books, playing card games with my housemates on the porch. I miss the random, unannounced visits to drink tea together and chat about life. I miss greeting and being greeted by all who pass me by as I’m walking through town. I miss the smell of Mama Furaha’s home-cooked meals…even if it’s boiled plantains for the third day in a row. I miss the deep and stimulating conversations with my roommates in which we debated the spiritual, strategized about bringing change, analyzed the value of foreign aid, discussed lessons found in classic literature or laughed about the perplexities and misunderstandings of language learning.

    We’ve only just begun...

    Something tells me this is just the beginning and a transient stage of culture shock. My training in Kenya lasts just 10 days and soon I will depart for Burundi (in a less-developed city). I anticipate a more intensive adjustment and lengthy period upon returning to the States in October.

    So can you offer any advice? Have you been to Africa? Another third world country? Did you study abroad and experience any re-entry issues? I’d love to hear words of wisdom or nuggets of advice…