Differences between America and Africa, in pictures

I enjoyed spending some of our first few days in Africa talking with our neighbor, Patrick, and his wife, Lois. During one conversation, Marc and I were sharing with Patrick about the wonders of dishwashers (yes, just put the dishes in, press a few buttons, and they’re clean!) and clothes washers. He was amazed that such things were possible. Indeed, the many differences between America and Africa are striking. I was amused to see a pictoral representation of this in a grade-school workbook that we are currently using in our Swahili studies:



Although here in Africa our family has a home and some amenities that are not typical of the native Kenyan, at the same time we are striving to integrate into the community such that we are not obviously “set apart.”

Though one might be tempted to feel sorry for these folks, that they can’t enjoy so many of the conveniences that we have as Americans, I actually think that a simple life of non-accumulation is to be envied. After all, Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Likewise, I believe that worldly attractions often blind us to the blessing of Kingdom simplicity. Unfortunately, from what I perceive of Africans thus far, they instead covet the American life and strive to imitate it in as many ways as possible.

Lord, give us eyes to see and hearts to receive the Gospel of Your Kingdom. Let us enter by the narrow way and help us to willingly set aside all those things which hinder us.







Thoughts on our Moving Sale

We had a massive moving sale this weekend. It was amazing to see how much stuff we have accumulated over the past couple of years of being at this house, even though we have purposefully streamlined our possessions and tried to align our lives with Jesus’ teachings on non-accumulation.

It was hard to see some things go. I still had quite a few baby outfits from when our twelve year-old was born, which have been handed down to each of his siblings in turn. I can remember how he looked in them. They are gone–not sold, but given away at the end to a guy from town who offered to do a “clean-up” for us.

My mom tenderly saved so many of the baby doll clothes I played with as a child. They were hand-made by my mom, who is an excellent seamstress. They were so detailed and beautiful….many hours of labor in that bag of clothes. They sat in her cedar chest during my teenage years and she couldn’t wait to give them to my daughters after me. Now they’re gone. Given away, too. Maybe another little girl will appreciate them as we did.

My sister and I spent many happy hours “playing school” at our old school desks. My mom stored those up, too, and my girls have used them for the past 6 years. I remember what a labor of love it was to re-finish them (finally!) a couple of years ago. They are gone, too…but the sweet memories remain.

All of this doesn’t really make me sad. But what made me cry was seeing my 10 year-old’s favorite stuffed animals sold for a quarter a piece–because he cried, too. He said, “I thought I’d get at least 50 cents for them!” At first, I was a little disappointed because I assumed he was worried about not having an extra dollar or so in his pocket. But after talking through it with him, I realized that he cried because those things all had value for him (mostly sentimental, of course). And it hurts a little to know that the things that mean so much to you, are just about garbage to someone else.

Those are just a few thoughts from a very busy weekend, and a much emptier house. But we accomplished our goal of getting rid a significant amount of our “stuff.” All part of the process. We press on…and it’s all good.

Blood Diamonds

This evening in conversation, Marc shared about part of a documentary he had seen on TV at his dad’s, called “Blood Diamonds,” and how many of the diamonds in jewelry that we purchase are bought  not just with our money, but literally with someone else’s blood. The majority of the world’s diamonds come from Africa, and (this just according to Wikipedia), these gems are often “mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army’s war efforts, or a warlord’s activity.” People who live in areas where diamonds are found are often dismembered to chase them off the land so that someone else can profit. Sure makes jewelry shopping a little more sobering of a reality, doesn’t it?

This is just one more thing that personally challenges us (see this post for more recent thoughts) and reminds us why Jesus said,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

It also brings to mind 1 John 2:15: ” Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Does that mean we shouldn’t have and enjoy “things,” like jewelry? That’s a loaded question. But when faced with the reality of how others suffer so we can show off a new bauble, would Jesus approve? I don’t suppose I have the answers; just sharing my questions.

A Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

One night about a week ago, Marc and the older boys were out for men’s Bible study, so I was sat down for evening devotions with the younger children. I had just been practicing sewing with the girls, so I thought it would be a good time to read and discuss the story of Jesus and the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30:

16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
18“Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”
20“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

We focused on Jesus’ statement, ” it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” because we had just been sewing and I thought it was a good object lesson. I asked, “How easy was it for you to put a small piece of thread through the eye of the needle?” (Not easy–they still needed some help from me!) So I asked, “How easy do you think it would be for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle?” (They simply laughed at this idea.)

Going deeper, I asked, “What do you think it means to be rich?” And my five year-old very quickly replied, “It means to have a lot of stuff!” After another few seconds of thought, she waved her arms emphatically to show all that was in the living room and said, “You know…like US!”

Now, I don’t consider us rich. At all. We are nine people in a 1400 square foot house, and we intentionally sold many of our possessions last year when we moved into this home, pretty much in obedience to Jesus’ teachings here. I know we still have a ways to go…and, I know that we are filthy rich compared to people in other parts of the world. So it was a little convicting for my five year-old to say that she still considers us rich. As we continued to talk about Jesus’ words, we were challenged by the thought that our accumulating material possessions could keep us from entering the Kingdom of heaven.

It’s easy to justify accumulation and materialism by saying, “It’s not what we possess, it’s our heart that counts.” Or, “it’s OK to have things, as long as you’re not attached to them.” But what happens if we take Jesus’ words at face value?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)