Thursday, September 7, 2006

Snoring and Selfisness in Africa

I walked into the dark, fire smelling home wanting only to drop my belongings. A man I knew only as Pastor was my host and I greeted him upon arrival. Seated across from him on the couch was another African man. His complexion, size, age, fleeting gray hair, late 80s golden glasses, and suspenders made him a perfect double for Terence Mann, James Earl Jones’ character from Field of Dreams. Though the resemblance struck me, I greeted him with due respect. His reply was different, “A blessing to meet you Matthew, my name is Frederick.”

For the next 25 or so minutes we shared chai, laughs, and stories from years of ministry. I then learned that I would be sharing a room with Frederick that night and found myself looking forward to another conversation with him. After a few more questions, I politely excused myself to go discuss the following day’s events with my team. When I returned, Pastor was still awake and showed me to my room. To my disappointment, Frederick was sound asleep and obviously unavailable for further conversation. I quietly readied myself for bed and laid down without disturbing Frederick. I had nearly drifted off to sleep when I was startled by an amazingly loud snort. Sitting up, I concluded that either a giant pig was terrorizing this part of Kenya or Frederick was having a heart attack. Looking over at Frederick, I realized that he was sleeping peacefully and heart must have been working fine. As the horrific sound persisted, it slowly began to dawn on me that Frederick was snoring, and it was not going to stop...and I was not going to sleep. As moments became minutes and minutes became hours, my frustrations and weariness grew. Each of my efforts to suppress the sound (which ranged from burying my head in a pillow to removing my shirt, tying it around my head, and twisting the ends to fit in my ears) were abject failures. Nearly four hours after my struggle for slumber began, I finally found it by making enough noise to awaken Frederick. My manufactured coughing spell was enough to quiet him long enough for me to fall asleep.

At the desolate hour of 5:30 (only 2 hours after I had fallen asleep), Frederick woke me with loud morning greetings. Startled by my new found consciousness and angered by the same, I bristled at his words. I suppressed angry thoughts and resentment and mustered a half-hearted reply. Fully dressed in his business attire, Frederick was about to leave. I was expecting a simple goodbye, but instead he asked to pray for me. When first proposed with this I was appalled by his nerve of asking for more of my time, after occupying it for so long the previous night. Again, I mustered a half hearted reply. What followed was one of the most heart-felt, genuine, and articulate prayers for blessing I had ever received. Despite my wooden heart and angry spirit, Frederick refreshed, blessed, and restored me through his prayer.

When I first woke up, I saw him as selfish and rude. His prayer alerted me to his true Godliness and humility. I was judging this man’s heart for something he had done literal unconsciousness. As he got up to leave, I was again struggling for a proper response. My thanks and goodbye probably seemed less genuine the my previous utterances that morning, but it was the most sincere. My struggle for words this time was due to a pierced heart instead of a hardened one. Selfishness is easily imposed on another when you suffer from the same. Frederick, wherever you are, God bless you.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Teaching 6th Grade in Kenya

Dozens of inquisitive brown eyes were fixed upon me, a clueless, solitary, Caucasian man. Struggling to find words appropriate to the situation, I merely said, “hi, I’m Matt.” Moments earlier I had been thrust into a standard 6 (6th grade) classroom in the village of Elengatta, Kenya. Having never taught anything more advanced than subtraction in any school setting, I was hoping for a bit of instruction. Unfortunately, my instructions were as underwhelming as my opening words: “Ask them questions, and they will ask you questions.” Attempting to follow these instructions, I asked the class, “What would you like to know about me?” I received nothing but stares as blank as the chalkboard behind me. I began to wonder how on earth I was going to be able to fill a day’s worth of class time. My only idea was to petition God for some kind of breakthrough to at least interact with these children. The awkward silence was broken by my haphazard explanation of America and its characteristics. After drawing a map that bore a closer resemblance to a flounder than to America, I sheepishly asked the class if they had any questions. To my delight, one boy raised his hand. He then said, “We are not getting you.” Turns out my Southern US brand of English is a far cry from the Kenyan version. Kenyans speak in a choppy, unsure sounding manner. With my drawn out vowels and shortened suffixes, I may as well have been speaking in Korean. After adjusting my speech to their understanding we had a great time with one another.

Through this instance I realized something profound. My communication to the children was out of my selfish desire for progress and for time to pass. Nothing was accomplished until I grasped that my teaching was fully for them. Our efforts to help, teach, or instruct others are completely futile when we have ourselves in mind. In removing yourself from consideration, you are allowed to wholly serve others. Even if we’re speaking the same language, a selfish motivation provides a barrier greater than any language can create.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The day I left college for good

The Montero made its smooth, familiar whirr as I carefully pulled away from the U-Haul dealership. As the thick May air blew against my face, I began to congratulate myself for finishing college. Four years ago, I had arrived a green, passionate 18 year old, dying to get started in the ministry. My ambition outweighed my naivety and I was excited to watch my future unfold. “Oh, how different I am from then,” I thought. That streak of naivety was gone and I had matured spiritually. Things were so different now. Feeling good about my progress in life, I turned up the radio. “Take it Easy,” by the Eagles (one of my all-time favorites) played on the classic rock station, and by “...lighten up if ya still can,” I was immersed in singing along. As suddenly as I started enjoying it, I was swept away by memories that accompany the song. I found myself 7 years old with Dad in his MG going to soccer practice, 12, with Mom cleaning my room in Alabama, 16, driving home after a football game, and 18, driving to college. That last one remained in my mind…

Four years before, I had driven the same car, full of the same stuff, on the same roads, having the same quixotic expectations of my future, while listening to the same song. This realization crept from my brain and down my spine to my stomach, unsettling it. Thus, I asked myself, “Was anything really different from 2002?” I had several years worth of great experiences and abundance of amazing new friends, but was I different? I had taken 47 classes, possessed a mini library, and a degree that proved it all, but did it do any good? I had spent 3 of my 4 years working as a youth minister at a church, but was that church any different? I had worked endless hours maintaining the grounds on campus, but did that really benefit me...or anyone else? Is it possible that the past the past four years could be reduced to a solitary piece of paper? Utterly puzzled and slightly depressed, I continued down that same road and cranked up the radio until the sound of Glenn Frey’s advice drowned out my thoughts.