Summer 2023 newsletter
Anna Johnson, Tanzania
It doesn’t take long in Africa to realize (just like back home in the U.S.) how big and many the problems are: joblessness, mental health, broken families, physical abuse, poverty, limited access to healthcare — the list is long and each potential solution to a problem seems to open the door to 10 more problems that need to be addressed first.
It is easy to armchair-referee problems from the comfort of one’s home. We read the latest news and passionately debate with friends and family what we think should be done. But to take that step out of the comfort of one’s house? To make a commitment to get out of one’s armchair and step into the ring (whether back home in one’s community or on the other side of the world in Tanzania)? That, I am discovering, is one of the fastest and surest ways to be humbled!
Once out of the safety of one’s armchair, however, theoretical and abstract “problems” suddenly have names and faces. They have stories. And often those stories include intense suffering and what may seem like insurmountable challenges.
I think of Paulo, a 12-year-old boy whom I met in the Kamanga village just last weekend. I was accompanying two physical therapists out into the countryside to do home visits with several of their patients. Paulo has cerebral palsy as well as severe scoliosis.
When we arrived, he was quietly sitting in the shade of a concrete patio; his mother had gone to market for the day, and he sat, alone, waiting for her return. His legs were withered and twisted beneath him, his back protruded awkwardly outward, creating a large hump under his t-shirt.
Because of his physical disability, this young man was not able to attend school. From his place on the patio, he could hear and see the children running around at the school down the road; but he could not join them.
I often hear from friends back home that they want to send their children to Africa to stay with us for a while, so that their kids can learn to appreciate how lucky they have it back home in the U.S. I understand why they say this, but I don’t agree with it. I would love to have all their kids visit us in Tanzania, but not so that they can feel lucky and appreciative of a U.S. lifestyle. I want them to feel humbled.
I want them to understand, as I am beginning to understand, that we are not any more important than Paulo. God tells us, “Even the very hairs on your head are all numbered […] you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt 10:30-31).
God knows the numbers of hairs on the head of this small boy in Africa suffering from cerebral palsy, just as well as he knows yours and mine. We are, in God’s eyes, the same.
I truly believe that once we get to that place — once we can look into the eyes of Paulo and see ourselves and our own children reflected back in them; once we are humbled into a place of understanding that we are not any more important than Paulo or anyone else on this planet and that we all belong and we all hold value — that’s where the real work can begin.
That, I believe, is the sacred place wherein the Holy Spirit can enter and begin to move mountains.
I don’t know what the future holds for Paulo. I do know that I am talking with a young Tanzanian named Jacqui who is motivated to start a school for children with disabilities in the rural village where Paulo is from. We will be meeting this month to begin assessing the needs of other children in the surrounding area.
After just a short six months in Tanzania, I no longer kid myself, though; my ability to move mountains here is pretty much non-existent (just as it was back home). My job here in Tanzania is to humbly get out of the way, … so that God can.
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