Sunday, November 23, 2008

Conversations with Peter-part 1

*I think I need to give fair warning to those of you who read our blog. In the past I have refrained from bringing up topics of controversy or sharing thoughts on deeper issues, not necessarily on purpose, but because this blog was started as a "family fun" blog. I wanted it to be a family blog filled with our fun life stories. But the reality is…we are in Africa now and what we see on a daily basis is not exactly “fun”. And although we will continue to share family news and stories, which I hope will remain amusing and interesting; we will also be sharing more transparently about issues that we are wrestling with in our own hearts.

Okay, so since it’s been two months since we left Fort Collins Colorado I feel like I need to backtrack a bit and share a little more of what’s happened in the last 8 weeks. We landed on the red earth of Africa on Sept. 19th. It was a good flight. The kids slept through most of the flights in between eating, and watching some flicks. We managed to acquire 6 of our 7 bags in Entebbe…not bad!! On our last flight from Amsterdam to Uganda, Jeff took charge of the kids and allowed me a break to sit on my own. I had the greatest privilege of sitting next to a gentleman named Peter. Peter was the first Ugandan to greet us as we all sat waiting in Amsterdam for our flight. I have to admit it was difficult to walk around the airport where there is a great number of Africans meandering around catching flights and such. This was our first “experience” as a mixed family in a very African dominated area and I have to admit I was quite nervous about how we would be received. In fact, the main question people asked us before we left was “How will you be received in the African community as Mazungo’s (white folks/foreigner) with African children?” We had no answer. We are used to the stares back in the States and almost oblivious to them now, unless a rude or wonderful comment is made that awakens me to the fact that we are “different” looking. It’s true, you really do forget this. You really forget that your children are African because they are your children period. It’s beautiful really when you think about it. God supernaturally deposits a love that sees your child not as an adopted child, not as brown, but as your child, given to us as Gods gift. Not that we are blind to our color differences or ignore our children’s heritage but none of this comes first, first comes love and family.

Anyway, back to my story of Peter. We had stood around the waiting area for several hours swallowed in stoic faces and blank stares. Peter, a Ugandan man, was the first person who approached us with a gentle greeting. He told us our children were beautiful as he greeted them. We chatted briefly and my anxious heart was soon comforted by Peter’s kindness and acceptance of our family. He had left Uganda 2 years ago on a scholarship to study in New York City and now he was returning home to his family. He was probably in his forties, married with 4 children, working in his village in Lira. This was his reunion trip back to his mother land, friends, and family after being away for 2 years. Can you imagine, of all the places to land for your first visit to America, New York City??? Wow!! Talk about a culture shock.
As we took our seats on the airplane Peter sat down next to me. My dreaded 9 hour flight took a turn for the better as it was filled with rich conversations with Peter. Peter was a man in love with Jesus, with words of wisdom flowing from his mouth. I do believe that this seat, 28F, was divinely chosen. We shared the stories of our lives; we talked about parenting, culture, music and the Word. I have come to realize something about myself which I don’t think I’ve thought much about. I am a very open and bold person. Now I’m not saying this to brag. I am just seeing myself in a new light. When I say bold, I use it very loosely and lightly because it’s only when I am in certain circumstances in which I can be bold. As a sociology major I am very intrigued and interested in people, culture, societies, the why’s of life. So, as we got to know one another, I began to ask those bold questions. We spoke at length about one another’s cultures and why we as Americans behave and live the way we do. I also asked about Africans, about their cultural dos and don’ts. I asked questions that could have offended any other African but Peter was a kind hearted man, open, honest, and longing to answer my questions just as I answered his. What I learned is that sometimes we need to step out in boldness and ask the hard uncomfortable questions. We need to open our lives and hearts to another. We need to extend grace in the midst of searching for answers and in our desires to learn about one another. If I had not taken a risk of openness and honesty, I never would have received the gems of understanding and wisdom from Peter’s heart. I learned so much from those hours of talking. There was a beautiful exchange of our struggles, our victories, and our defeats. He shared some profound insight and observations with me that struck my heart.
One of his topics of discussion was how Americans spend their money. Now, just as a word of warning, I do not write any of this as a judgment on anyone, nor did Peter speak of these issues in judgment or bitterness towards people. He spoke in love and out of his longing to understand. I also do not write this in anyway to guilt anyone, not even myself. I am sharing this because it has challenged my heart and caused me to think.
While Peter was in NYC he was befriended by many American families that are now his life long friends. But what he wondered about…What he sat up at night pondering about….was……How does an American spend $10,000 (could be way more or much less) on a weekend vacation? Or a family vacation? He had heard story after story of families’ vacations to the Caribbean, S. America, Europe, or where ever and he picked up on the cost of such trips. He sat through power point slides shows in people’s dining rooms while sipping tea, and flipped through photo album after photo album of beautiful landscapes and sun drenched smiling faces. And he wondered……Did they not know? Were they not aware of the suffering in other countries? Did they not know about all the AIDS orphans unable to afford ARV’s? Were they not aware of the famines? Had they not heard about the starvation and the displaced people groups living in refugee camps? Did they miss the news of thousands of children dying from malaria? Were they not informed about the lack of clean drinking water for so many of their brothers and sisters? Did they not know? Were they not told? Because surely if they knew, they would do something about it,…. right? Surely they would not turn their backs on them? Could not mere ten American dollars save the life of a child who does not have a mosquito net? Couldn’t a few hundred dollars help change the lives of many? Peter truly believed that these people must really not know. His heart is comforted in believing this. Because surely Americans, surely we wouldn’t choose to let people suffer and starve while we para-sail in the Caribbean, feast on buffets, and sip margaritas on exotic beaches.

Would we?

Would I?'s something to think about. Its interesting how other cultures perceive our choices and our lifestyles (the other thing he spoke about was how people love their pets better than they love other people). Part of the reason I share this is not because I think family vacations are wrong, but because I think it helps us see into our own culture. One thing Jeff and I learned in some of our mission's training is that before you can be a student of other cultures, you need to be a student of your own. These are wise words and it's helped me to see and consider how others see our culture - and view me for that matter. Check out the following website Though we were not surprised, Jeff and I fell out of our chairs, when we saw where we fit in the worlds economy.


Brandi said...

Thanks, Katie. I'm excited for your new stories and thoughts on things, keep them coming. This is what I read blogs for!

could I post this story as well? I would give credit and link back here, but I want people to really read it!


Tina said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts. They are so true. I am saddened by the way we are here in this beautiful, yet materialistic country. May the Lord help us, change us, and have mercy upon us.