I was sitting in an airport in of all places, Florida, when I saw a man across the room of the waiting area. I knew as soon as I saw him that he was from South Sudan. I was so sure, in fact, that I walked across the room and introduced myself, then asked if he was from South Sudan. He said yes. I asked if he was a Dinka. Affirmative again. I asked if he was heading to Juba. “How you know these things?” he asked.
The fact is that the South Sudanese have such a distinctive look, that if you’ve ever been there, you can’t miss them. But it’s not just the South Sudanese. There are so many distinctive cultures in Africa. In three days I leave for Ethiopia. They have facial features that are totally different from anyone else in Africa. We have friends that adopted children from Ethiopia, and once again, I could tell you from across a crowded room that they’re from Ethiopia even if you didn’t tell me. The point is, people talk about Africa like it’s one place. It’s not though. Africa is dozens of countries, each with its own character, language, customs, and even huge differences in the way people look. Referring to Africa as one place is like saying you know what Mexico is like because you’ve been to Seattle.
The other thing that strikes me is what people THINK they know about this place or the other. When I show people pictures of Nairobi, Kenya, one of the reactions I get is, “That’s in Africa? It looks so modern.” Well, yes. It’s a modern city. When I go to South Sudan, a lot of people just don’t have enough of a frame of reference to even know what to think. I get everything from, “Do you want to borrow a bullet-proof vest?” to “Are you bringing your wife and kids along?” For Ethiopia, most people only know what they remember from the late 1980s, when kids carried UNICEF boxes around on halloween to collect pennies for the kids effected by civil war and famine. I’m frequently getting comments like, “Oh, dear God. Please be careful!” The other one I get is, “Don’t get ebola.” There’s a whole other blog post about that comment, so I won’t get into that one now.
I haven’t been to Ethiopia yet, but I do know enough about it to know that a lot has changed in the last 25 years. If not for peoples’ perceptions, Ethiopia would probably be a top tourist destination. There are a lot of natural, cultural and historic sights to see. Frankly I’m both thrilled and honored to be able to go, and to use the gifts God has given me to help other missionaries already working there. Shortly I’ll be able to send back my thoughts and pictures about Ethiopia. I will be with the Petros Network, where they will be training 250 new pastors to go to villages where there is no church. They will also be doing medical, widow, and orphan missions. Here’s a link to their page about what they do.
I will only have internet on the first and last days in Ethiopia, so there will be a gap in my blog posts, but please feel free to subscribe if you’d like to hear more about this trip, as well as others, and about what God is doing in Africa.