The “Chicken” In Me!

This is part of a story that was published a few months ago in a book of Anthologies called, Watershed Moments, compiled by Kathryn M Holmes. It is a book of dramatic stories from people experiencing faith based changes in their life. I was asked if I would be willing to contribute two stories and here is the first one of those stories. 

As you read it, I hope it will prompt you to think about your own life and the experiences that have changed your perspective. If you would like to share, I would love to hear, and you can just reply to this email.  Enjoy!

Who knew that a chicken, a real live one, would prove to be a pivotal moment in my life? Of course there is more than simply the chicken, so the story goes like this…

The Minneapolis/St. Paul area synod and the Iringa Diocese of Tanzania, along with many other churches, are part of a internship called Bega Kwa Bega. This is Swahili for “Shoulder to Shoulder,” which is the basis for our working together; we work side by side. Our church had a partnership with this program for many years, and felt strongly that to have this kind of relationship it meant we had to visit Tanzania.

I was sitting in a pew listening to three women speak who had recently came back from their first-ever trip to visit this remote village. I knew in an instant that I would be on that next trip. Becasue my husband could see I knew that in every part of my body, he leaned over and said, ” You are going, and there is nothing I can do to stop you, right?” Yes, indeed, I was going even if I could not articulate why.

Here is where it gets interesting. I had never been out of the U.S. I’m not an adventurer. I don’t like to be out of my comfort zone. Now I’m going to a third-world country for three weeks? Oh, did I mention I did not have the money, and my family was not thrilled with this idea?

I sat around a table with eight others, who were also interested in going the next year, in order to hear the details of what this experience would be like. We heard about the roads we would travel on, the remoteness  of the village, the bathroom facilities or lack thereof, and what everyday like would be like once we got there. All if a sudden it sank in, and I got really frightened. As I voiced my concern, and admitted that I did not know if I could manage it, a good friend pit his thumbs under his arm pits and started to squawk like a chicken. I was horrified. My friend had confronted me on my fear – and in hindsight I am glad he did.

What would happen if we never get out of our comfort zones? Thank you, dear friend. My hope is we all have people who will do this for us.

As scared as I was, I knew that I needed to be on that trip. It was a discernment process and prayer that actually helped me define more clearly what his trip was about for me. Clearly we were going there to build a relationship between us, break down the barriers that separated us and live into the truth that we are all the same, no matter if we live here or across the globe. One question I asked myself was this: Would I open my eyes and my heart to all I saw, heard and experienced in Tanzania and allow that to change me? I still was not sure what was there for me to learn but I knew it would be life altering. So I did all the things I needed to do to be sure I could go, fear and all.

We did a lot of group building activities to get ready to travel together for three weeks, collected medical supplies for the dispensary and small toys we could take to the children. Soon enough with visa’s secured and passport in hand our group headed off for three weeks in Tanzania.

It was an 18-hour trip to get to Dar Salaam and then we had to travel all day to get to our base in Iringa Town. From the moment we walked out of the airport our Tanzanian friends were there to welcome us. This was just the beginning of the hospitality and focus on relationship that we would receive. Our first day in Iringa was a Sunday and we were going to church. As Americans we were concerned about getting there on time and expressed our concern to our hosts.  They laughed and said you worry too much about time and told us that church starts when we get there. I guess they meant it because not only did we think we were late we stopped several times on the route, each time all of us getting out of the van and introducing ourselves. Our new friends wanted to know about our families. There was concern for those of us traveling without our husbands. They wanted to make sure we would be safe and our safari, the Swahili word for journey, to be a good one.

They understood that everything about their way of life was totally different than any of us had experienced.  They wanted to show us they very much cared for us. In fact, they had been praying for us ever since they got word, over a year ago, we would be coming to meet them.  This was my first experience with the unconditional love they continually showed us. They valued the relationship, even though we had just met. This honoring of the relationship was played out every interaction we had from just sharing a conversation to buying something at the market or just walking down the street.

We were quite a distance from the village where we were attending church when we could hear singing. A large group of people, adults and children, had started to follow our van singing and escorting us into their village as a sign of welcome. Once in the village, the singing continued for at least a half hour. The music was heart felt and stirred our soul, even though we did not understand a word of it. Tears fell from our eyes and none of us had ever felt so welcomed with love and joy across the globe and in a land where we did not even speak the language. This was just the beginning of the hospitality and it continued as we got to know one another over tea and boiled eggs. We were escorted to a place of honor in the service, and experienced the most moving service I had ever experienced. Lunch followed and it was well into the afternoon before we said our goodbyes. That day I learned the true meaning of hospitality and the value of relationship. Every day I try to practice this genuine love and joy to each person I meet and to always put relationship first. There are days I fall short but I do my best.

In this trip I saw the simplicity of life and all the excess we live with; it made me think twice about the things I own and the impact they have on the earth.  I learned that my focus had been on all the work I needed to do rather than to slow down to be present in the now. I watched families take in children that were related or often times not, when their parents died of malaria or AIDS. Families there could not afford to do this but they did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. But mostly I saw that the quality of the relationships they have is a central part of life. They refuse to hang on to hurt, anger and disagreements and work to resolve problems together as a community. It is still very difficult to articulate the changes in me, but something changed at the heart level. There is not a day that does not go by that I do not think about and apply what Africa taught me.

You might wonder if my fear subsided. The answer is yes. But just in case, there was always a reminder. It turns out that chickens are often given as gifts. When they are, they ride with you in the van. It seemed the chickens liked to rest at my feet.  Since then I have had the privilege to be invited back. I cannot wait to be there among these amazing people.  Until then, I practice unconditional love, hospitality to strangers and make relationship a central part of everything I do. God sent me on this journey to change how I live my life.

 

 

 

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