The African Way

“What did you learn?”

It’s a question I love to ask following a big event. Mainly because I don't want to miss the main thing God meant for me to learn. I believe we can certainly learn something from everyday experiences but there are major events that are designed--some may even say destined- by God to deeply impact our transformational process. This was one of those experiences for me.

“What did you learn?” 

I smiled and waited like a dog anticipating a bone. The sound technician adjusted the audio recorder Radio Joy used to record each of the jam-packed leadership sessions of the four-day event we hosted. I could sense his internal wheels were turning. I wondered if there was something wrong with the equipment. My curiosity quickly gave way to concern. He seemed to be deep in thought. Was he searching for an answer? Would he offer a simple one-word answer that would please me or would it be authentic and honest. He chose the latter.

Without looking directly at me his words simply floated in the space between us, “Your question has many levels, Pastor.” He peered through this Ben Franklin style spectacles at the audio recorder still determined and focused as he tinkered with it perched at the top of its stand. I was hoping for a quick polite answer. A session I was scheduled to teach was about to begin. Delegates were already streaming into the Community Center. Some were already seated excitedly chatting in groups of three or four. I hoped he would reveal the Radio Joy audio team learned some great insight into sound design or how they could implement a new piece of equipment.

“If you're asking me if we learned something we can use at Radio Joy--then, yes. We learn a great deal every time we do events like this. But, I don't think you're asking me that question.”

I suddenly got the overwhelming feeling like I had unexpectedly waded into the weeds. I felt like I was getting sucked into something. I was clearly unprepared. I truly did not want to engage in a sublime intellectual conversation minutes before my next talk. I simply wanted a one-word, high-five answer and move on. The sound technician lowered his arms from the recorder and turned toward me after he accomplished his task. The same intense precision now fully focused on me. His patient gentle demeanor was disarming. He was genuinely ready and willing to engage. But, I backed away and tried to backpedal out of what became an awkward situation for me.

I quickly glanced at the clock and noted we were about to begin my next session. I nervously thanked him and excused myself from the conversation. His countenance fell. He appeared to be disappointed. I suspect he knew he hit the mark. The radio technician was also a great journalist. Later that same week I witnessed how far he would go for a great story. He seized the opportunity to get a great interview with a village elder during one of our mission expeditions. The man is clearly in his sweet spot and is willing to do great things for God in miraculous ways.

I'm not always ready to be generous with my internal world let alone reveal my idiosyncrasies. I’m far more stingy, especially when someone can see right through me and has detected there is something worth excavating. I noticed most of my African friends have this unique discernment quality. I found it alarmingly easy to be open, present and generous with them mostly because of their sincere authenticity. They were first generous toward me. They made the best of things and seized an opportunity when it was presented. They invest in meaningful conversation. I'd like to imagine I’ve stumbled onto something I will call ‘the African way.’ It's very different from the ‘American Way.’ It’s impossible to remain superficial or disconnected when someone you barely know can read your soul and help you discover your true self by simply asking a question.

Let’s talk more about generosity. I’m working on accepting generosity as a lifestyle not simply an adjective describing a feeling, event or person. Sunday we will have some ideas we want to share with you. Come to worship. Let’s start something that will make my African friends smile.

I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. Philippians 4:11-12 The Message

-Pastor Jen