“We used to be afraid of white people…”
By MedSend physician E.K. and his wife, M.K.*
E.K.: We were invited to visit the family of one of our good friends, who live in a nomadic village. After our second and last day of visiting, the boys really wanted to see the camp with camels and cows. We were told the camp “wasn’t far” so we thought that the hour of sunlight remaining would be enough to see the animals and then return to sleep in our tent.
One hour later, I began to think we had made a mistake. We were still blazing a fresh path through a millet field (think corn field with standing, dry stalks) with the Land Cruiser. We then found ourselves weaving between thorny bushes (fingers on a chalkboard as the thorns brush by the windows) while simultaneously attempting to avoid small, sharp, broken-off stumps that excel at piercing tires. The boys were on the roof rack until Nicholas was nicked by thorns, which were only becoming thicker, and we decided it best for them to walk ahead of the truck. They followed a nomadic woman who, who with much force and determination, was trying to clear a path for us by pushing aside large thorn bushes with her bare hands… impressive to say the least and incredibly humbling and endearing.
“So we are sleeping here tonight, right?”
We arrived in the dark, forested camp joining an assembly of cows quietly milling about. Both boys were near tears after the chaotic journey, minor injury, fatigue, hunger, chill, and the bizarre, almost surreal, circumstances we found ourselves in. We had arrived where we wanted to be, but without a clear opportunity to experience what we “came” for. Expectations can be hazardous.
It was then that our host turned to me and asked, “So we are sleeping here tonight, right?” That about put the boys over the edge. It was the last thing they wanted to hear. Through the marvel of modern technology, a place with no electricity, no near source of water and no permanent housing, I had cell coverage and sent out texts asking for prayer for wisdom, provision and peace.
Shortly, the state of affairs seemed to reverse. A goat was quickly slaughtered, heavy blankets were placed over the boys, a fire was started next to our mat, and hot tea and cow’s milk (that’s about as fresh as it gets!) was served. The warm reception from a very poor community was astonishing. The boys turned to the fire, watched them prepare the goat, and their outlook improved. Even stranger, was turning to see them playing “snake” on one of the nomad boys’ phones. As is customary, upon arrival, the men and women had been separated. How was my wife carrying on?
“A look from afar… if only we’d look closer…
the riches we’d find”
M.K.: As I sat next to the campfire in front of small, nomadic hut made from brush and covered with a black tarp and with a million stars above, a herd of cattle passed by only ten feet from the mat. I felt so grateful to be exactly where I was, a lifestyle so different than my own. The ladies of all ages and I were enjoying pleasant conversation and laughter when one of the older ladies (surely in her 70s — but difficult to say as their lives are so rugged that their bodies become the same) told me, “Before today, when I would see white people in the distance I would be afraid. But today, you have come through thorns and our dirt, and I am no longer afraid. Thank you for coming, please come again and stay longer.”
I was humbled and grateful. What an incredible privilege to be a part of bringing peace and taking fear out of someone’s heart. And she was not the only one who said it, another older woman said the same thing. Did they all have the same fear? How much of the world feels that way about each other? Is this where hate and destruction find some of their traction – fear of the unknown? How easily do we look just from afar, afraid to get closer… even to those who live just next door? We take the outer appearance and make our own assumptions. If only we’d step closer, take time to really see, understand, discover… What beauty might we find? Ashamedly, I realized I myself had done the same many times… even just a few hours earlier.
During a brief visit to the market earlier in the day, a woman had approached to greet our small group of ladies. She didn’t smile much, seemed to avoid eye contact, and her greeting sounded dry, uninviting, and lacked emotion or warmth. I didn’t think much of her. But that night, as we bushwhacked through thorns, bushes, and millet stalks, it was she who led the way. As she walked ahead of our truck, she pushed, pulled, stomped and ripped at thorny branches that blocked the way… as though she was invincible to their piercing… adamant that she would create a path. Then again, the next morning, she led us to a second nomadic camp where a woman had just given birth. As I sat next to her, I had a chance to really see her – the beauty in her kindness and humble strength. In the depths of my heart, I felt a strong connection to her and love for her. I felt her love for me as well. Thank you, God, for not allowing me to rest in my false assumptions about her. Thank you for allowing me to see her up close, without the cast shadows… in the light of the love of you, our Creator God.
By entering in, I found that we had much more in common, than that which separated us. By entering in, approaching in love, we seek to follow the example of Jesus who came through our “thorns,” and into our dirt… that the gap between us and the divine might be breached.
- MedSend physician E.K. and his wife M.K. serve in Central Africa, along with their children. Their names are withheld due to security concerns.
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