Back again from photographing in Kigali.
I have to be honest, the hardest part of doing this kind of work is coming back to the states. This is not because I don’t miss people or am not ready for my own bed….because believe me….I miss both equally! This is partly because I never feel like it's quite long enough and partly due to what I can only describe as culture shock. This is something I can remember experiencing for the first time when I came back from a trip to Mexico my first year of college. I was only there a week. I spent time in huts with people who had diseases that would likely never be healed. My job was to assist the doctors there by taking vitals. The doctors did what they could to make these folks “comfortable” and occasionally provided the necessary medicine or procedure that would take them out of the state they were living in each day. After a week of working with these doctors, sleeping on the floor, and showering outside, I remember riding back to LSU trying to process what I had seen and realizing I didn't have many answers to the questions I was asking. I had only seen or heard of mud huts on t.v. with images of malnourished kids. I had only imagined such living conditions as I had seen that one week and didn’t like to think that life like that existed out there. I remember our van pulling up to LSU’s campus and through exhausted eyes, I turned and looked at something I had seen day in and day out but this time it looked very different. All of a sudden, the clock tower on campus seemed so huge to me. I remember thinking “that tower is so big!” and then I remember having a legitimately confusing thought…”Is it necessary to have such big buildings? Everything is so tall here!”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking large buildings and anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t knock just about anything on LSU’s campus as it quickly became a second home to me during my time there. (Not to mention it’s the most wonderful campus and school there is but I digress).
The point is….when I go to other countries... developing, third world countries….when I see how, honestly, the majority of the world outside of America lives...when I experience the immediate slowing of time, priorities, values, and status... when I see hurting or see the effective way that other cultures live…I have a hard time coming back to the states. The states and western culture are fast-paced in a way I can’t really describe. The emphasis on success, money, fame and finding oneself is so overwhelmingly preached in every aspect of our culture that I have to be honest and say that it takes quite a few days to jump back in..and to fight a confusing cynicism.
Last week I spent a few days in Africa. I spent time with a group of 12 women at a little co-op in its own corner of Kigali, Rwanda. I saw a work ethic much like, yet so different from ours in the states in order to provide for families that had been ripped apart by war-torn nearby countries and by Rwanda’s own experience with genocide 20 years ago. I experienced confusion in trying to not only communicate with those in the culture, but understand the differences in them and in our life experiences. I spent the day with women in mud huts who live off the land, have no idea what time it is throughout the day, and who I could bet have never seen a building as tall as LSU’s Memorial Tower.
I experienced all these things and how do I feel now?...more confused than when I left! I feel more closely now the frustrations that there are millions out there who suffer every day. More than ever I am angry that poverty exists, uncertain why God put me where I am with what I have, and more joyful than I could have expected that he truly does comfort and care for his people. I could sit here and write about all the things that I learned…and I will :)….or act like I understand why cultures are the way they are and what goes into them…or even pretend to define one as better than the other. The truth is…it’s times like this that the only definition or label I can put on any of it is that I only know a tiny fraction of how God is at work in this world, what he’s doing to “make all things new,” and the way that sin has complicated all of it. I don’t have all or even many of the answers and I so easily feel the effects of that when I try to jump back into our culture or as I attempt to answer others’ questions about my trip and time in these places. I don’t know how to answer many questions…but I am going to attempt to tell whatever stories God has for me to tell through my time there and anywhere else he takes me. Hopefully throughout the process whoever reads this will learn a few things about what God is doing in their own lives, understand the world a little better, and maybe even purchase some items made by folks on the other side of the world who because of reasons we can't know will never know life like we experience here.
For the next couple of weeks I will post once a week on our time in Africa, the people we met, the stories we heard, the joys and struggles that I or those I love experience there, and how you can help. This is not to pretend I have answers or to condemn our own culture or where God has each of us. It’s in order to answer the call to speak about the only one who has the answers and what he’s, for whatever reason, sent me in the world to do for such a time as this. So if you think to, please stay tuned and return to see photos and stories. This as always is a process full of uncertainty and more questions asked with every perceived answer.
What a joy to have been given the freedom and invitation to ask.