One of my favorite memories was from May of 2007. It was my second week in Karatina, Kenya, and we were spending some time at a rural school. The temperature was warm, but not unbearable despite our proximity to the equator. Each day was spent in schools, orphanages, homes, or in fields with frisbees or soccer balls. This day was spent listening in on an African classroom, and organizing fun games and activities for the kids during their breaks.
When you're in Kenya, or probably in any African nation, white people are not very common. Especially the further you go out into the bush. Sometimes kids would hide behind their parents if you made them uneasy, but others would come bounding up to you and want to pat your hands and touch your hair and kiss your cheeks. I remember one specific girl at the school that day. She had some sort of mental delay, but was the giggliest girl I've ever heard. She danced everywhere she walked, and wanted to be continually tickled.
She sat on my lap throughout her school lessons, but if you moved her or touched her in a certain way, she would crack up. It was kind of like how I feel when I play "Honey if you loved me, would you please, please smile." People can't even get to me before tears are rolling down my cheeks.
That's how this girl was. Joyful. Happy. Energetic, and just so excited to be where she was. To be holding someone's hand whom she'd never met. To be listening to stories and math lessons, and to be tickled by the slightest movement of my body. At one point she had to go to the bathroom, and I heard her laughing the whole way, screeching in delight at the thought of what she was doing that day with complete strangers. The picture below shows her listening to another villagers ringtone on his phone. She laughed and danced, playing the tones over and over until tears streamed down her sweet face.
I think we have a misunderstanding of Africans. We so easily see them as poor and destitute, when in reality, we are the ones that are poor. They are the ones who are truly rich. They possess an inexplicable joy and contentment with their lives, and are so grateful for the rains, the animals, and their land. They're grateful for the one beautiful skirt that they have, or the pile of sticks in the field that can be turned into a game. They're grateful that they have food to share today, not that they might not have food for tomorrow. They are generous and warm, and I don't know that I've ever known a season of such great peace than when I was in Kenya. Their hearts bled into mine. Their peace and excitement and love were infectious. I felt at home there in a way I've never felt in America. And maybe it was because they know the value of life, and appreciate it so fondly.
What's been stirring my heart for Africa lately is Kisses from Katie. A beautiful story about an 18 year-old girl that picks up her life in 2007 and moves to Uganda. She's adopted 14 children, and spends day after day loving the least of these. Tending to wounds, filling hungry bellies, and worshiping with children kneeling beside her. Her story reminds me so much of me, and my heart and my desire for the nations. I feel like Katie is helping me wake up from years of sleeping, and pulling me back to the true reality of the Kingdom. Of loving. Of tending sheep. Of making a difference in one life at a time.
I also had the honor of sending Frankie to Kenya yesterday. Reading her first blog post on Kenyan soil made me excited for the life-changing experience she's about to have. The kind of experience that will never part with heart, and will leave her longing to stay a little longer, have one more cup of coffee, and dive a little deeper into God's presence. These beautiful women who are doing amazing things inspire me. And remind me that Africa and the world is still a part of my heart. And I can still make a difference.