I had been warned before heading to Africa that the pale color of my skin would stand out. In fact, my usual method of socialization– blending in and being a wallflower, would not be permitted by our hosts. It was true. For a week I had to acclimate to being put in the front row and having our presence announce with exuberance, “Mzungu!!”
It would be natural for an extrovert to get caught up in their excitement because they tend to recharge in situations such as this. I think I might have mentioned a few times, I’m an introvert. As our short bus rolled around Kigali, we could blend into the bustle of the urban setting. Once we left town and traveled slowly down the eroded roads to Mugina, our presence was more obvious.
Waving to the people sitting outside their homes or walking along the road was delightful. It wasn’t the pageantry of our arrival that I enjoyed, it was simply the smiles and waves in return. Often times they wave with both hands in the air, fully surrendered to the joy of having visitors. It reminded me of life in our small northern Wisconsin town and the Friday evening arrival of the weekend tourists. We often stood along Highway 32, waving and welcoming folks ‘up north’.
As we returned to Mugina for our second visit during our short trip to Rwanda, I was able to capture a video of the children running to meet our bus. A video seemed to be the only way to catch the energy to share with friends and supporters back home. Many people support global missions but are unable to travel; they need to feel the love too. I am not sharing this to demonstrate our popularity but to emphasize the importance of returning. Watch and be inspired to go if it is your calling. I encourage you to send others if it isn’t your calling. Together we can do good things for the kingdom in this world and into the next life.
The day after my return to the States, a special young man invited me to Starbucks. His perspective on mission life is very important to us as his family serves the people of Indonesia as full-time missionaries and he has captured the heart of our only child. We care deeply for him and his family and I respect his opinion. Our conversation solidified my belief that returning is key, staying is crucial, but knowing why your going and how you can help is imperative.
One of the ways funding for the this trip came about was through my Stampin’ Up! business. I held card making events with the sole purpose of building funds. During the events I had time to visit with those attending to learn about their experiences. One woman in particular returns frequently to Belize for medical mission work. Because the people have formed a relationship with her, they have shared that her teams return visits are crucial to the long-term improvements and relationships. It is obvious to those in host communities that some respond to a calling because it is a check on their bucket list more that a tug on their heart, or to see exotic lands, or for self-promotion.
What I am going to say next might raise an eyebrow or cause a stir. I don’t mean to offend those who have done this as I share my take on short-term mission work, volunteerism, or charitable work. This is merely the root of my thoughts and the reason my mind churns the way that it does. I speak as someone who was addicted to self-affirming acts of kindness and a need to constantly justify myself to prove my value to friends and family. I burned myself out trying to please people and build my self-confidence, only to end up a stub of wax with burned-out wicks on both ends.
I haven’t posted the traditional selfie with my pale skin amongst the beautiful hues of brown. I likely won’t. I realize there is a fondness for loved ones to see visible evidence of a presence in the community but posting photos such as these nags on my former addition for self-affirmation. I would make a lousy PR rep.
Why? Matthew 6
“But when you do these righteous acts, do not do them in front of spectators. Don’t do them where you can be seen, let alone lauded, by others. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to the poor, do not boast about it, announcing your donations with blaring trumpets as the play actors do. Do not brazenly give your charity in the synagogues and on the streets; indeed, do not give at all if you are giving because you want to be praised by your neighbors. Those people who give in order to reap praise have already received their reward. When you give to the needy, do it in secret—even your left hand should not know what your right hand is doing. Then your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”
Much of my life I fought to be affirmed, to be respected, to be noticed. Once I settled in to a comfortable place in solitude, I saw a beautiful perspective from the back row. I do realize different people have different motivators and sources of energy. The words above are from Christ himself. I take them seriously. I am more fulfilled seeing the world through His eyes than words can describe. I will try to write about my experiences with a humbled heart, not for my glory but for God alone. Please know this to be true.
It is very important for us to be in tune with our heart, soul, and spirit when it comes to serving others. This is applicable in our daily lives, in our volunteer efforts, and in more monumental undertakings. I struggled with the idea of a short-term mission trip for years and will write about this in future articles. I believe I have a lot yet to communicate, a lot to learn, and many places to go around the world. I only wish the color of my skin enabled me to blend in easier so I could truly mix in with the people here and abroad.
The post is running long once again. I thank you for sticking with me to this point where I get to my point…
The painful part of the work I do in my own community and abroad has to do with the association of my skin color and what I have to offer. I don’t want to be a perpetual Santa Claus to my mentor child. I want her to see my heart and be inspired to overcome her circumstances. I don’t want throngs of people swarming around me to see if I have something tangible to give. I want to share time with them, to listen to their hearts, listen to their stories, cleanse their experiences with the love of God I hold in my own heart, and offer words of encouragement so they too can know the God of our universe cares for them deeply. They too can overcome their circumstances. If a team brings tangible goods to help a community, they must know it is from God by His providence, not to glorify those who bear the gifts. That is what it’s all about.
It’s not about me.
It is never about me.