Toward Wholeness Blog

Climbing Kilimanjaro step by step – Lessons for America from Africa


We encountered so much in the previous 8 days that it seems like a lifetime ago when last I was in Seattle.  Before we leave, I wanted to gather my thoughts for a brief few minutes and share them with you.  Woven into the fabric of this trip there have been cords have new friendships, amazing conversations, wrenching poverty, and infectious joy.  I hope to share much more from these categories in the days ahead.  But above all else, this has been a trip of receiving, learning, and being challenged.

1. Development is different than Relief – Our team read the book “When Helping Hurts”, and learned, even before landing, of the substantial distinction between relief and development.  Development consists of initiatives which will move people towards sustainability and independence.  Relief is an intervention to stem a crisis.  This is an important distinction and conversation, because as the book “Dead Aid” addresses, too much relief creates a dependency mentality and can ultimately have the effect paralyzing communities rather than empowering them. Armed with this simple principle it was tremendous to see local initiatives, supported by local village churches (usually working together ecumenically), to change the culture, leading their communities in next steps, not towards entrenched dependency, but empowerment.  This doesn’t make relief an unimportant matter, but it’s vital, whether working on Aurora are in Rwanda, to see that the ultimate goal is empowerment.

2. Poverty is complex – One village stopped drinking from their new well because their poop suddenly became solid.  For the first time in their lives they didn’t have diarrhea, but since diarrhea was their “normal”, the new normal was perceived as wrong.  Getting to the “New Normal”, whether that means fidelity in marriage, drinking healthy water, brushing one’s teeth, practicing genuine democracy, or moving from self-interests and independence (our American normal) to interdependence and communitarian values, doesn’t just happen with a snap of the fingers.  Whether it’s the poverty of relationships in our own country, or the material poverty we’ve seen these past days, it’s vital to understand that many factors have created the culture, that long term solutions take some time, that change is challenging.

3. Joy is available everywhere.  In the midst of poverty beyond description, our team gathered for worship this past Sunday.  After the offering, some began singing and within minutes most of the congregation was up dancing including me.  Three little boys, less than 7 years old, made their way over to me and we danced together – pure joy on their faces as they lived in the only moment they know or care about – this one.  Without the trinkets of civilization, I’m guessing billions know what we have a hard time perceiving, let alone believing; that joy comes from relationships.  Without skiis or bikini waxes, without even a bicycle for transport, without sanitation or infrastructure, joy’s still available.   Every time I travel outside the US I’m reminded of the truth that my material wealth blinds me to the reality of my relational poverty, and I’ve a feeling I’m not alone.

4. Step by step – The complexity of it, the immensity of it, the slowness of progress, the powerful interests that are threatened by movements towards wholeness combine to potentially paralyze our hearts.  Yesterday I, and the rest of our team, were sitting on the platform with the 1st lady of Uganda (another story for later) and while she gave her speech (which included a thank you to Bethany Community Church for the wells we’ve provided) I was able to look, behind a thousand African faces, out to the hillsides beyond, where my eye caught two women walking, with loads on their heads.  In all likelihood, they’ll never see anything within more than a five mile radius of their huts, maybe ten.  As they walked with their loads, patiently, step by step, I realized that whether you are addressing global poverty, trying to live more simply yourself,  seeking deeper friendships, or simply trying to pray five minutes a day, nothing happens fast!

There’s a saying: Americans are on time.  Africans have time.  Indeed – they’ve time to laugh, dance, sing their hearts out in joy, time to live.  Movement and progress require patience.  They’ve got it.  I need it, maybe you do too.

See you, hopefully, soon.

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