Friday, July 3, 2009

One Day Left

For almost two weeks these pages have laid dormant. So much swirling around in my head, and so much making into my personal journal entries...what to share with the public world? What could I say that could compete with the welcoming song of Bubanza, the dance of Mukike, and the fire at Matara? I haven't picked up my camera since the COF group flew home to Texas - what could I possibly have to share?

And now I come to the sobering realization that (at the mercy of Kenya Airways), I will be ascending above Bujumbura on my own journey home in less than 36 hours. The experience is nearing an end.

I want so badly to report back with some sort of closure to my adventure. I want to be able to tell you this is why God called me to Africa and this is what I'm going to be doing with it when I get home. This was my epiphany - now watch as I roll off into the sunset of absolute understanding and knowledge of my life's direction and live happily ever after...the end.

But the "ah-ha" moments I've had have not been this profound. They've been moments of humility, and moments of simple joy. I can't share with you a grand epiphany, but I can share the gifts and clarity I've received in an effort to stay constant in faith.

1. God brought me to Africa to take a Trip to Texas
As a California resident, my political views tend to align left along with most in my environment. I mention this, not to engage in political debate, but to as a frame of reference for how you might guess I felt when I heard I was going to be photographing a group from Texas during a celebration of the Batwa of Burundi. Based on nothing more than my assumptions of a theology and political ideology I associated with Texas, I made a judgment.

But, by the loving grace of God, this group received me as part of their team. In the abundance and warmness of their presence and my openness to welcome and receive them, friendships sprouted. It wasn't until after they left that I realized we never discussed our personal theologies or political views. Whether or not their spiritual journey looked the same as mine or whether they would accept or reject my current philosophy never became an issue. Even now I'm not sure why it would even matter...seems silly even to bring it up!

So, I experienced a new kind of friendship, not only with the Batwa, but with the Texans as well. We were friends because we practiced love, respect, and acceptance together. We were friends beause we shared an adventure and new experience. We were friends because our specific theologogy or ideology wasn't part of the conscious decision to accept eachother exactly as we came. We didn't become friends because we talked about Jesus, we became friends in the spirit of Jesus.

2. My Life is Small
During a trip through the country, our group stopped for one night in Gitega and one night in Ngozi. At both locations, we stayed at the nicest hotels in town. But, the rooms were 1/2 star by American standards at best. There was no running water and, when finally fixed, hot water was a pipedream. The floors were dirty and the linens were worn. There were bugs on the floor and the towels were dirty. Many, including me, murmured among ourselves a longing for home.

But, I began to wonder, a longing for what? For crisp linens and modern drapes? For remodeled bathrooms and fancy soaps? Okay, maybe running water and no bugs seems like it isn't too much to ask...but for most of Burundi it is. Both hotels were situated in a compound bordered by tall walls and barbed wire to deter theft and violence. And, outside those tall walls, were small homes with conditions clearly much worse than the hotel. I watched from my second floor room as a neighbor child cooked dinner in his backyard. No, it wasn't a barbeque, it was their kitchen. From the open door to the house, I saw only dirt floors. This little boy, I thought to myself, will likely never know a hot shower.

In Bubanza and Mukike, roofs leak in the rain. It's possible gifts of blankets or pillows might be sold for food. Their priorities are (1) food and (2) shelter. These aren't even on my priority list, they are involuntary basics - like a breath or a heartbeat - of my blessed American culture.

Later, my friend Teri said something beautiful to compare the time the Batwa spent at the fancy hotel in Bujumbura with our stays in Gitega and Ngozi, "The Batwa got to learn how to live with running water and we got to learn how to live without it."

3. Love and Grace Above all Else
While my personal religion and ideology continues to undergo some dissection and routine maintenance, the concepts of love, grace and acceptance continue to stand strong. In coming to understand Jesus as Love - and I mean a love that is abundant and omnipresent for all...for all - I'm learning that there really is no discrimination. Not for the poor, and not for the rich. Not for the Evangelical, and not for the aetheist. So, out of this, I desire to be a place of freedom for others; where they are safe to believe whatever they will because I understand it is not my duty to "fix" them or change their mind. It doesn't mean not talking about or sharing in my journey, it just means being careful to frame it as an absolute. It doesn't mean I won't disagree (I am human afterall), it just means not allowing one aspect of a person's belief system frame a judgement in my mind about their character.

I am free to sway like coral in the swell of his abundant presence and grace, soaking in a love that rises above knowledge or discovery of any absolute truth.

And I am free to come home to you with more questions and fewer answers than I left with. Of course, life must go on. I have many decisions to make as I enter in a new chapter and season of my life. But, by that grace, I am less concerned with making "good" decisions or "bad" decisions. I am less concerned with having complete confidence and control over the grand master plan that is my life.

My Aunt Linda paints a picture of Jesus' love like a meandering river on which we are all floating. We may watch as certain things go by - moments of joy, sucess, decision, worry, bad choices - but these are all things just floating with us. None of them can disrupt the constant flow of that river...of Jesus' love.

So, as I come home to you, I am conscious of my inntertube.

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