My thoughts on Africa

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A "NO" uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a "YES" merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. - Mahatma Ghandi

I have a hard time saying no. Set up a lemonade stand, offer to sell me a raffle ticket, suggest a committee I should sign up for and I am like those old cartoons with the candy on top of the body and the words above it reading "sucker". I don't want to miss any exciting events and I hate the idea of people having fun without me. I married someone who is exactly like me in that respect. "No" is not an easy word for either one of us. So when I heard about this trip to Ethiopia I was so proud of myself for saying we loved the idea, but we could not feasibly go at this time. In fact I gave a long and drawn out explanation of why this was the least responsible thing I could do right now. But the story leading up to this trip is truly the stuff movies are made about so I should have known I would get sucked in at some point. When we moved to Arlington from Dallas we were lucky to have a fantastic group of people living within a one mile radius. We moved next door to the Saxons who couldn't be more fun, dependable and enjoyable to be with if we got to carve them out of puddy ourselves. With the Saxons came a circle of Arlingtonians lead by my choice for Mayor and First Lady Moody and Emily Alexander (technically they live in Pantego which is the only thing keeping them from taking complete control of the city). Our kids love hanging out with the Alexanders and we are excited every time we get invited to join them so when they said they were considering adopting we were thrilled because we thought our family of four would fit perfectly into their family of six. Being adopted by the Alexanders was a very exciting prospect for us. Imagine the disappointment when they told us they hadn't considered us, but rather a child from Africa. Some people just aren't open minded. In all seriousness, as an adoptee and a lover of Africa I was more than elated. There was a part of my soul that was so joyful for them that they would get to experience, even though in a different part of the continent, the indescribable spirit of the people and the beauty that surrounds them. Their trip to adopt one son turned into multiple trips and the adoption of another son. It also stirred a passion for a people and an insatiable desire to meet their needs. And so they had a vision. A vision to take 10 dentist on a trip to serve the people of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the way Jesus would have. To use the gifts they have, specifically dental training, to help change the lives of some folks. I stayed up one night moving around money in my head trying to figure out what I would have to do to be a part of the trip. My initial practical response was overcome by my desire to be part of something truly amazing. Chris knew from the beginning that I would want to go and gave me his blessing, but told me he just didn't know how it was going to be financially possible given the plans we already had for the year. So, I resigned myself to the idea that it just wasn't the time. I was going to honor our family and not press he issue - i would just be supportive of the people who were going and hope there would be another chance. Then one conversation completely wiped away any self-control I might have had. Over the past few months I have gotten to know the wife of the pastor at our church and she has been gracious to listen to me carry on about why I feel the way I do about Africa. So, she asked me if I'd heard about the trip and I tell her I had but I just couldn't see myself going right now. After more follow up questions I told her I couldn't justify spending that kind of money and then she did the one thing I fear the most. She asked if she could pray that the Lord would provide the funds. How do you say no to a preachers wife? I mean that just might get you turned into a pillar of salt on the spot or worse get you kicked out of the women's ministry. So I said yes and went on my way. What made matters worse is that she actually did it. I got follow up messages letting me know that she was discussing the whole matter with the Lord. She even offered to let me share a garage sale day with her to raise the extra money. I mentioned this to Emily and she was no better. She told me, "He will fund those whom He calls". Another conversation and concession on my husbands part and my schemes started to solidify in my mind about how the money was going to come. Little did I know that the solution was being worked on before I ever knew there was a problem.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Africa has her mysteries, and even a wise man cannot understand them. But a wise man respects them.
- Miriam Makeba

I believe we all have one thing that stirs our hearts. Good or bad, every person has an activity, a hobby, maybe a location that gets them excited just by the mere mention of it. That thing for me is Africa. To say my thing is "Africa" is pretty broad, especially since I think the majority of people have major misconceptions about Africa. For many people Africa is just one big place, a homogeneous mass of land half a world away. The majority of the U.S. population doesn't delineate between Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan. Ask the average person to name 5 countries in Africa and most would be hard-pressed. I don't say all of this to sound critical. It would be impossible for me to tell you where Sierra Leone is on a map or which countries boarder Ghana (believe you me I've tried on that Internet test....it's shameful). I have come to observe that a lot of Westerners glom people from Africa in one big group and when we do this we might as well be saying people from Fort Worth are exactly like people from Dallas. I mean PULEEEZE. We know 30 miles doesn't seem that far, but it's more the state of mind than the geography. For some reason we don't apply this philosophy to people who come from completely different countries with totally unrelated languages, traditions and customs. But I have always been drawn to the continent as a whole. I don't know what exactly began the interest for me, but I do know when it solidified. In 7th grade I had a social studies teacher who came to the United States from Cape Town, South Africa to escape the oppression of Aparthied. At the ripe age of 12 I couldn't comprehend when he told me how beautiful his homeland was and how he would never be able to see it again. Why wouldn't he just hop on a plane and visit his family there? I couldn't imagine how he had to leave behind EVERYTHING because the color of his skin made him a target. I was so affected by his story I started to study about South Africa. By this time I had already created deep seeded feelings about racism. I was raised by two people who had zero tolerance for discrimination in any form. I was a child in a world where segregation was not too far in the past, and the scars were still very fresh. At a young age my sense of justice was very strong and my desire to protect the underdog was reinforced on a regular basis by my parents. I was encouraged by my teacher to watch the movie "Cry Freedom". There are very few stories that have changed the course of my life as this one did. The film is based on the story of Steve Biko, a freedom fighter in South Africa who was martyred for his stand against Aparthied. In the movie he speaks of a man named "Mandela" who is imprisoned for his beliefs. As I got older Aparthied became more of a global issue. Our country imposed economic sanctions on South Africa and called for Mandela to be freed. I began to read Mandela's writings in college and was amazed at his vision and compassion. I watched every minute the day the South Africa president announced to the world that he was to release Mandela and saw that great man walk free in the streets for the first time in 27 years. I'd already decided to pursue a career in law. I loved how the great leaders in history used the law, rather than violence, to gain equality. In 1998 I was given the opportunity to travel with Howard University to Cape Town where we spent a semester studying abroad. It was as if everything in my life before was leading up to this opportunity. I'll have to write separately about that experience, but what it did was deepen my sense of adoration for the great continent of Africa and it's people. So, given the chance to return (even if it is further North than where my deepest passion lies) I couldn't sleep thinking about what i needed to do to go. And so....my journey back begins!