Tag Archives: African culture

Leaving Home.

In four days I leave for Ethiopia. This will be my third trip to Ethiopia. I’ve also been to South Sudan four times, and I’m not even sure how many times I’ve been to Kenya. Every country I’ve been to, and every city, and every village has been different in some way or another. Cultures are different. Tribes are different. Nations that border each other have vastly different characters and cultures. I’m only talking about East Africa. I haven’t even been to central or West Africa, and only passed through South Africa.

I sincerely wish everyone could do what I do, at least once. I wish everyone could uproot and leave home, truly leave home and go somewhere so far out of their comfort zone that you couldn’t stand on a stool and see where your comfort zone is.

I hear so many people say, “We are so blessed here. We have so much we take for granted.”  Having traveled to the places I’ve been, I know how true that statement is. I also realize how little the people saying it realize what they’re saying. If you take something for granted, then by definition you do not understand what it is that you either have or do not have. It’s easy to say, “We have so much,” because that’s the more obvious observation one can make, but it doesn’t mean you understand poverty. There is so much depth to what we don’t understand that I can’t describe it without taking someone with me and letting them experience it for themselves. There is so much more than, “We have so much.” There are cultural things we have so engrained within us that we have no understanding of how other cultures think. Each time I go, I understand a little more, and I realize more how much I don’t understand.

The observation of “We have so much” also belies our idea that our culture is somehow superior to other cultures, because we see them as having so little, while having little understanding of what we lack within our own culture. What are the divorce rates within American culture? How much of this “We have so much” is actually things we don’t need that get in the way of family relationships and friendships? How many families have been broken up because we had a choice of either building a legacy with our spouse or children, but we chose instead that a career was important and having a nicer car than our neighbor? How many of us have heart disease, cancer, gout, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity because we are “rich”? While most Africans would be considered poor in our eyes, it’s not always because they lack basic necessities. Rather it’s because our idea of “richness” is so monetarily based that we fail to see our own poverty. I know many Africans that have a legacy that I can only dream of.

There are so many other things we take for granted that I could get into, but I fear that it would only evoke a deer-in-the-headlights look in many readers. I say this not to be demeaning or to look down on people. It’s because I’ve been there.  It’s fairly easy to describe some ways of doing things that are different, but it’s virtually impossible to describe the different ways people think. Which brings me back to the beginning. If you ever have the chance to do missions, by all means go. Get to know the people one on one. Build relationships. You’ll find you learn just as much what you didn’t know about yourself as you do about them.

People walking along an open sewer in a slum in Africa

“Where’s He Going?” “Uh, I Don’t Know. Africa.”

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.

A South Sudanese Dinka.
A South Sudanese Dinka.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

A Maasai man in Kenya
A Maasai man in Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

http://petrosnetwork.org/what-we-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.

A South Sudanese man.
A South Sudanese man.