It really is as if we are experiencing a renaissance when it comes to personal narratives. There are so many people, myself included, concerned with helping people craft a narrative out of their lives. Whole blogs and books and conferences dedicated to turning our ordinary lives into extraordinary stories.
We all want our lives to have a story, a narrative, a legacy.
We want our lives to have meaning and purpose.
We want to be remembered for something.
And what I’m discovering in Africa, amongst the ashes and the poverty is an absolute wealth of stories just waiting to be told.
Here’s the thing. These stories can’t be told in the way we are used to as Americans.
It seems like we have heard nothing but stories since we got off the plane here in Africa.
There is Evah, the incredibly strong woman who runs the children’s rescue home, who opens her own home to ten kids at a time because there are far more children than the rescue center can contain. (Not to mention it took ten years to build her own home.) And she’s just now getting a water well at her home.
There are the women like sweet, soft-spoken Juliette who literally say they were nothing before coming into contact with the vocational school that World Help built. Now they know how to sew or bake wedding cakes or work as cosmetologists and are somebody.
Nobody to Somebody.
There is Jimmy who was so proud to tell us how he used to make just about five shillings a day doing menial work, not nearly enough to live on. But the vocational school rescued him, taught him how to weld and now he makes 50,000 to 100,000 shillings a day ($20-$40), enough to save up to get married. He beamed proudly as he told a group of Americans how unbelievably rich he was.
There are the children who were rescued and are now grown, going to college, and have built a church from scratch. Their singing and dancing rang loudly inside a tent while next door, a foundation sits, waiting for a building to sit atop it. There was worship and joy in their hearts.
And the children all have dreams far bigger than their surroundings. Like young John at the children’s home who dreams of being an eye doctor.
The thing about these stories is that they are years in the making. This week, I have been privvy to seeing the fruition of two decades of hard labor. There were special people twenty years ago who saw the potential and have worked, largely unnoticed by the rest of us to write these stories. When we turn on the local news, the reporters sum up the events in the world in sixty seconds. How can real stories be told in sixty seconds? We never heard about the hundreds of Rwandan women and children who barricaded themselves inside a church and then were burned alive and never buried. We also never heard any of the innumerable stories of redemption and hope either.
The thing is we want stories, but we don’t have the patience for real stories. We want stories that can be summed up in a few seconds or a tweet. And real stories just cannot be told that way. The world cannot be contained in sixty seconds. A life cannot be summed up in a tweet.
We Americans have been raised to believe from the beginning that we are special, can do anything, and have a divine right to do so. But there are still millions of stories in Africa that will never be told because the stories will never be lived. There are children who will not be rescued. There are people who will not be remembered. There are children who will die believing they are nothing or that God does not love them.
If you are interested in stories, interested in people, interested in giving people platforms to tell their stories, then you couldn’t find a better place to invest than Africa. I cannot wait to come back to Africa in ten years and see what happened to some of the kids I have met this week.
As I’ve said before, our focus is building infant rescue centers here in Uganda. We are nearly to our goal of building a whole new center which will take kids off the streets and start writing their redemption stories. Perhaps you can help us rewrite the story of a continent.