I stepped off the plane and my first thought was: “Whoa…This Ain’t Africa…” They shut the plane doors before I could re-board back to Uganda. Let me tell ya… the culture shock was much worse returning to America then it was arriving in Africa. I know, I know… that can’t possible make sense… until you go there and see her with your own eyes. I left thinking I knew what these beautiful people needed. I had no idea. We only think we know what they need and, being the arrogant American that I am, I actually thought I was going there to bring these people hope and salvation. Stupid “Mazungo.” (“Mazungo” means white!)
THAT’S… A STUPID… MAZUNGO…!
I didn’t really think I was going to save anyone. But I did think that I had an idea of the devastating needs of this country. I’ve seen the pictures, I’ve read the articles, and I’ve heard the stories. I was up on my Ugandan history. I thought I knew what we were walking into. Ten days later I discovered what “This Is Africa” really meant. I thought that was just some clever, catchy little phrase some wise-ass American came up with, but it’s no hip catch-phrase, it’s a culture; it’s a life-style and a mind-set that most Americans can’t even begin to relate to. Not even going to Africa, can a westerner fully grasp the African mind-set or ideology… though once you’ve been there and lived in it and seen it, you can begin to both appreciate who you are and better understand what African means and what she bleeds… hope and joy through poverty and despair…
THERE IS JOY AND POWER which screams through the hunger and starvation… how can a people seem so fragile AND powerful, all at once…within the very same moment? I seem to have what they need yet they have something that I want. And as Africa bleeds upon me I quietly wonder who comes away with more… them? Or me? There is no searching my personality or checking my character – I walked into a village church where they demanded that someone from our group preach. I must’ve been sleeping because I didn’t feel qualified to bring the good news to them. At one point, I may have even stated… “Your Joy moves me…” Or…maybe I just thought it, but that’s how I felt never the less. But this defining moment where spirit meets will and flesh sees that it hasn’t a chance to conquer obedience on this day and so the task becomes very simple: what can I do in ten days? The answer? Not enough. And so I must begin to reconcile that fact within my own heart.
“THIS AIN’T AFRICA…” MY MIND whispers. The frenetic pace has not been missed and I wonder, almost aloud, “Does anyone know what I’ve seen? Would they even care?” And there’s the trap, right there. God didn’t call the guy in the blue blazer to even give Ngariam a second thought. But He certainly had called me. Kim Gilliam said it best when she stated “We arrived thinking we’d could Americanize Africa and now we’ve returned fighting the urge to Africanize America.” This is where we are and this is where we must live, whether that be Africa or America. So what will you do with that? I can’t beat my children or my friends into this passionate submission! I can’t make you see or feel what I’ve just experienced… because this ain’t Africa! But how can I articulate such a dire need to those who’ve not experienced what I have? When we begin to seek God for His will that is the moment that we begin to reconcile our will to His…not just for our life but for the lives of people we do not even know whether they are across the street or across an ocean. And it is at that moment that God’s Holy Spirit finally seems given the green light to begin speaking to our hearts and pulling us across streets and continents.
I think of the first time I met Le and Lindsey Andrews. I had already begun dreaming of travelling to the Dark continent. Our church was currently supporting the water well projects in Rwanda. My family had given to this project the past two Decembers but I felt there was more that God wanted me to do. I couldn’t see what but in my prayers, I told God I’d do what ever He asked. I began praying that He could help me write some new song to maybe create a way to raise more money for the needs of this continent. It’s ridiculous, I knew that. I’ve never had a song on the radio that wasn’t a jingle, how did I think I could write songs people might actually buy where the proceeds could provide clean water or food for Africa? Still, that’s what I prayed. I felt stupid but really… this was all I could think of. I mean, that’s really all I had to offer God, was my music and a willingness to obey His unforeseen (and unrevealed) purpose! When Pastor Paul told us in a staff meeting about adopting this village, I suddenly began to see a clearer, much broader vision. A tangible avenue opened before my eyes in which I saw a way to not just do something significant but see it happen first hand. “Feed a village of orphans” ran through my mind. Then I met Le and Lindsey and after hearing them talk and share their passion for this region called Ngariam I caught that fever. I knew I had to get there. I knew we had to sponsor a child. I am forever grateful for Le and Lindsey’s faithfulness… my life has been forever changed. Two of the most genuine and amazing people I’ve ever met, the Andrews have inspired me to remember that God has created me to do more then I ever believed I was capable of. And that’s how God does it through us. We are faithful, we are stirred and it is that passionate fire within that stirs someone else to action and that stirs someone else to action and so it goes. Like a wild fire, it catches the soul and cannot be controlled. And that is all I can hope to do in somebody else’s life, all while continuing to follow obediently.
THERE IS TOTALITY WHEN WE ARE IMMERSED in something beyond ourselves, something so great and powerful that God has engineered. We are moved to action, as Pastor Kevin told me this morning, not just moved. The seeds of change are laid by the passions of others, like what the Lindsey’s passion for Ngariam did to me. I’m praying that my passion will be as affective as their passion was. We are moved to action but our first action must be one to pray. God forces our spirits to confront a haunting reality and a brutal truth when He reveals a need that He wants to see met. By human nature, when our hearts are moved to compassion by someone else’s passion, we often rise up to face the need and seek to fix it. Yet we still have no idea where to go or how to meet it so in we go, blindly and stupidly without any direction or thought. Our intentions are valiant and noble but we become embittered, frustrated, overly anxious when nothing appears to be happening. We spin our wheels in frustration and cannot understand why nobody else can see what God has shown us…it seems so obvious to us, doesn’t it?! “How” no longer seems relevant because we can’t get beyond “Now”. Yet God sits by quietly and waits for us to draw back unto Him. He is preparing His way and His “How” for His perfect timing. And this is the place where many willing people fade away…because we cannot seem to wait patiently on the Lord. 12 months ago, I wanted to go to Africa. What I thought I’d do once I got there was anybody’s guess. Desire had nothing to do with it – I certainly had that. But I didn’t even know Ngariam existed 12 months ago. I could’ve never accomplished anything without the nine other people that I traveled to Ngariam with – even now, I can’t fathom making that trip without any one of those awesome people. I believe God specifically chose each one of us for that trip precisely for each individuals special gifts and talents. 12 months ago, none of us was really prepared to travel to Ngariam and even BE of any use to God, there. We’ve been programmed to believe that we can only do so much but just as Pastor Paul preached a few weeks before we left for Ngariam, “Jesus uses our little to do a lot for others.” We just gotta give God something to work with even if it’s no more then an open heart and a willing body. There is nothing about any of us that is extraordinary… until we begin to obey and follow Him.
THERE IS A MAGICAL TRANSFORMATION which comes about in our (not so) blind obedience: the ordinary begin doing extra – ordinary things. Oh, we stay ordinary, we remain flawed, we struggle as we’ve always struggled before, and yet… bit by bit, slowly and steadily all selfishness is stripped away as we begin to witness the bare fragility of humanity colliding with the providence and supplication of God’s raw and mighty power. We are not partakers in this occurrence, merely spectators in an empty auditorium which should be filled to capacity. We have nothing to do with this display before us. We are simply awed by His beauty and humbled by their Joy. And we are consumed by His Grace, feeling a love we only thought we understood before. The way of the cross is simple to understand but a difficult path to pursue, NOT because of it’s difficulty but because of our own fragile humanity. I think poverty breaks the pride in most human beings and maybe that’s why it takes such extraordinary measures for God’s Holy Spirit to bring us to this place. It could be Ngariam, it could be Haiti or India, or somewhere in Asia or Russia. It could even be downtown at the Jesus House or across the street at the Nursing Home. But make no mistake: God is drawing you somewhere today to witness this same occurrence. He is bringing people across your path constantly in an effort to move you beyond compassion and into action. I am so thankful for my church for having a heart to pursue and support these kinds of Christ – Centered ideals and visions and ministries. I am blessed to follow a man like my pastor who is willing to stand up and say “It’s no longer about us, it’s about us following Christ to these places!” I am thankful for the amazing faithfulness that Hope Chest cultivates in facing such an overwhelming challenge and refusing to back down even an inch. I thank God for breaking my heart one night so that I might hear a beautiful young couple share their hearts which moved me beyond compassion and into action. And I am humbled to have such an amazing family that would be so excited to see me travel half a world away, even at the cost of a front yard tree and a missed birthday party. I’m glad that I don’t have to be worthy of all this and so much more, found in the friends and the friends of friends who simply wrote me checks and stuffed cash into my hands and just said: “Go for me, too, okay?” I left praying I wouldn’t screw up, that I’d make people proud. I returned unable to remember what that even meant anymore, so devastated by what my eyes had seen I could never feel proud again…least of all, anything that I may have done. It is forever burned into my eyes and will stay within my mind for a long time to come. It’s difficult to sleep some nights. The memories are relenting, though not as if they behave as nightmares. They are more like dreams… dreams where I see the tattered clothes hanging off hungry faces and still, they cry out His name with Joy, greeting me with praises of Him, whom they seem so well to know. I awake from the dream determined to see it become a reality… not so I may sleep once more, but so that they might one day awake…and NOT be hungry.
IT SEARS YOUR HEART. IT CLUTCHES your soul. “This IS Africa” my mind screams at each memory of every outstretched hand. “This is Africa” my eyes remind me with every picture I copy onto my computer. “THIS is Africa” my heart cries recalling hundreds of hungry children laughing and playing, screaming at the tops of their voices “Mazungo! Mazungo! Mazungo!” “This is Africa” I quietly whisper so that no one will think I’ve gone in sane, every so often, just because I’m afraid to forget even though deep down I understand… that’s not very likely. A picture is always one click away… but there remains a fence between us: my willingness to look away. And perhaps, more then anything, that has been the greatest triumph for me on this trip – that fence has been ripped down and I won’t ever be able to look away again.
1000 words later, I can’t begin to explain all I feel at this moment and… at nearly 3000 words I’m still no closer then when I began and yet despite the late hour I just can’t stop trying to tell you how I feel... I don’t want to stop looking at the pictures… my heart is broken and I’m glad, for I’ve never felt more Joy and peace in my life – such purpose, such clarity and vision and understanding of what I must do… not out of obligation. I – just – simply no longer have a choice. You can never go back… at least, not spiritually. Stepping off the plane I understand that I cannot make a change… though I am changed… and though this ain’t Africa, this is home. “I can’t even make a dent how can I make a difference?” I start to protest when a quiet peace washes over me. God’s soft voice speaks to my soul “That’s not your job, it’s mine…”
And finally… I get it.
I WANT to make a difference; I WANT to see a change in this place; I am no longer satisfied to sit by idly while children starve and people sit in their mud huts waiting to die. So what CAN I do? I can come back. Then I can come back again… and again and again until people are sick and tired of me asking them for money for air-fare or underwear or soccer balls or McDonald toys and hot wheels. I can keep doing benefit concerts to raise ground money to purchase food for kids who need to eat until people stop showing up to hear me play because their tired of my music. I CAN keep coming back to Ngariam until I no longer have breath in my own body. And as I step off the soap- box I’ve been preaching from to, well… myself – I start laughing. Because I can feel the warmth of God’s smile. It’s the desire of Christ that has finally penetrated the hard shell of my own will, making His desire my own… to see the least of these tended to and cared for. The rest is in His hands as I am doing all that He asks: to just simply stand up in my desire to say “Here I am, send me” then GO, where ever that may be, in absolute and unquestionable obedience… one drop at a time, one life at a time…one step at a time.
Sean Gutteridge – June, 2010
OUR AMAZING TEAM FROM WESTMOORE COMMUNITY CHURCH IN OKC.