They say that patience is a virtue.DSC_3310

I think it’s one of those virtues that isn’t always at the top of our lists.

We like things fast.  We want things now. 

When we order food, we want it promptly so we can gobble it up and move on with our day.

This is my final post from Africa.  I’ll board my plane tonight and head back to America.  America, where we can see new homes and strip malls pop up like weeds.  America, where get annoyed when a friend is late to a meeting or a job takes longer than planned or a text message takes more than a few seconds to reach its destination.

The glacial pace of this earth does not suit our whims and timetables.

And when it comes to problems, we want the solutions now.  We wonder what is taking so long.  We complain because there is still poverty, there is still corruption, there is still evil in the world, and we want the job to be done today.

But what I have seen in Uganda and Rwanda is that if we want to be a part of the solution, we have to be willing to not even see the fruits of our labor.  Because it takes a very long time for the fruit to grow.

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You know, poverty is not a new topic of discussion.DSC_2574

Jesus said that the poor will always be with us.  I’m not sure if he was just stating the facts or if he was making a subtle condemnation, but either way, he has been right so far.

And poverty is almost a daily point of discussion in American culture and politics.  Poverty touches every area of American life, from education to insurance to public health.  Every politician wants to talk about the poor.  Every talking head on TV wants to talk about the poor.

And most of us, myself included, have made our own set of assumptions about what causes poverty.

In short, many of us believe (even if we do not say it quite this way) that poverty is a character flaw.

And what is so stunning to me is the discovery that every assumption I have about poverty at home does not apply in these far away places.

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“Story” is a big idea right now.DSC_1274

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.

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In our American culture, children are everything.IMG_4954

You can simply drop children into the conversation and suddenly it changes everything.  Every motive, every angle, every action revolves around kids.

“Is it good for the children,” we ask.

We have all kinds of laws and protections that surround our kids, because we love them so much.  We want the best for them.  We want them to grow up, to be safe, to be happy, to have big dreams.

But as I wander around Africa, I am realizing that these questions are not enough.

Because when we ask “Is it good for the children?” we of course mean our children.  We mean our own kids. We mean American children.  We mean the kids on our block or the kids in our church.

And plenty of children are lost in that question.

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All my life, I feel I’ve been taught how to think.

There is a right way to think, a logical way to think, an efficient or true or noble way to think.

And the thinking goes that emotion is the “enemy” of thought.  Emotions are not rational or logical.  They cloud our judgment, make us do crazy things, override our better instincts.  We marginalize people who are “too emotional.”  We are embarrassed by public displays of emotion, as if feelings were something which we should have evolved out of by now.

I’ve always been kind of a stoic, guarded my feelings a bit, held them tightly to my chest.  Sometimes, I don’t even know how to express my emotions.

My short time in Africa has been an outpouring of emotion, sometimes so large I do not know what to do with it.

These children live in the slums with half a million other people.  That girl's smile was incredible.

These children live in the slums with half a million other people. That girl’s smile was incredible.

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In America, we are a people of first world problems.  African Farm Boy

So many first world problems that we even have a hashtag to keep track of all of our #firstworldproblems.

And even though I know that first world problems are tongue in cheek, are not real problems, I so often live my life as if my first world problems are real life problems.  

Today, I’m heading over to Uganda, a land that does not know any first world problems.  Uganda is a place where people do not complain that their iPhones are broken or their bus was late.  Uganda is a land filled with real world problems.  Hunger is a real world problem.  Disease is a real world problem.  Prostitution, rape, addiction, abandonment, poverty, desperation are all real world problems.

But you know what? This trip is not about problems.

I’m not going to inundate you with sob stories. I’m not going to go to the other side of the world to parade people around like they are zoo animals in a commercial.

I’m not going on a guilt trip and I’m not going to send you on one.

Why?

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