Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Leftovers on World AIDS Day 2009.

Thanksgiving 2009 got me thinking about Zambia 2008 so I thought I'd blog about it.

Last October, I had been in Zambia for just a few days, and had spent most of my time doing home visits to people infected and effected by HIV/AIDS. It was around day three of my Zambian visit. I was easily nearing my 50th house call, when I visited a woman who was dying, not from AIDS (even though she was HIV positive) but instead, from starvation. When I visited with her in her one room home, she lay dying on the floor. She had a table full of medication but no food to make her strong enough to take it.

We spent the afternoon getting to know one another and towards the end of our visit, I asked "If you could choose any food to have for dinner, what would you eat?" I had decided earlier in our visit that whatever she wanted for dinner, I would pay for. I had only exchanged around $20 US dollars into Zambian Kwacha at the airport for the sole purpose of buying some cloth at the Mozambique border, but figured that I would have more than enough to buy a small dinner for her and even to do a little shopping later that week. She said she would like to have rice with some chicken for dinner. I asked how much it would cost, and while I can't remember the needed amount, I do remember very clearly that when I looked in my wallet, I had the exact amount needed to pay for her one meal. Literally, not a penny more or less but exactly enough for her one meal of rice with chicken.

What stands out in my memory isn't so much that I had the exact amount she needed, or even the look on her face when I handed over the money for her dream meal. Instead, what I remember so vividly is how I felt when I looked back into my empty wallet. The lining of my hot pink wallet had never looked so vastly empty. I wasn't worried about having enough money for my trip, or sad about not being able to purchase cloth at the border, but I was angry that I only had enough for that one meal. While she sat there so happy at the prospect of having a meal in a day that otherwise would have been without food, I was frustrated that I could only provide for that one moment. I had paid for that day's dinner, but who would provide for the next day? It wasn't until I looked up and saw her smiling and saying thank you/zikomo, that I got past my moment of frustration and started to think about the bigger picture.

I was reminded that God is our provider and that He gives us exactly what we need - not a penny more or less. Sometimes it doesn't feel like this is the case - that instead of having exactly what we're supposed to have, life swings like a pendulum from either having too much or not enough. It seldom seems like we're in the middle, right where we're supposed to be. But that day in Zambia reminded me that it's not just about me having what I need, but instead, its about being part of a bigger need and ultimately, being part of God's plan for provision. Whether we're the provider or the providee, maybe its about being connected to each other. Maybe when it seems we have too much its because we're supposed to be sharing with someone else, and other times when it seems like we don't have enough, someone else is supposed to be sharing with us.

God is our provider but I think He sometimes chooses to provide for others through us. That day in Zambia, a woman needed money for dinner and I was the one who had the privelage to provide. You can say it was a coincidence or even just luck, but I believe it was God letting me be a part of His plan for provision.

As I cleaned out the fridge tonight and threw away left over turkey, stuffing and potatoes from Thanksgiving that had gone bad, I thought about that Zambian woman. I wondered what her dinner of rice and chicken was like that one night. I wondered if she ate the next day or the day after that or the one after that. I wondered if she is still alive a year after I met her. Remembering our afternoon together a few days after a Thanksgiving that had been so full of food that I ended up throwing things away almost a week afterwards made me wonder - had God provided more than what I had needed this week, or had He had provided just enough for me as well as extra for others in need that I had misused and wasted?

Most people know December 1 is World AIDS Day. While many of us don't know anyone living with HIV/AIDS, it doesn't take that kind of relationship to know that we are, and can be part of a bigger plan to care for and look after one another. I don't need to go to Zambia to provide a meal for someone who is without. While my wallet might be empty, maybe my fridge is full. Maybe all I have to give today is a kind word to someone who might otherwise be overlooked but maybe that's what I'm supposed to give.

Regardless of our faith, religious beliefs or anything otherwise, we can all choose to be a part of a bigger plan and purpose. This is my reminder for myself this week. So as December 2009 begins, I'm not just giving thanks for the abundance in my life and I'm not just remembering my friends who I've lost to HIV/AIDS, but I'm mindful of my place in this world, the privelage of being a part of God's plan for provision and the opportunity I have to care for others. What happened to me in Zambia was amazing, but what really matters is how it shapes my future.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


It's been almost a year since I've written in this blog. When I came home last November, I figured that since this blog is called "Africa 2008" it really wouldn't be appropriate to write in it any more since it's not 2008 and I'm not in Africa. But today I decided to forget the title and start blogging again. (This quite possibly could be the first and last post-Africa blog. Only time will tell.)

So my first post Africa blog is about my trip to the CVS Pharmacy this afternoon. I went to print some photos from a recent trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, and on the way into the store I had two men, Steve and Roger, ask me for money for food. Instead of handing over some cash, I asked them what they'd like to eat and picked it up while I was inside (including a pack of sardines for Roger, which I thought was a weird request. Remarkablly, CVS sells sardines. Who knew?)

When I came out of the store, I handed over the food and started to chat with Steve and Roger. We were having a nice conversation when a question Steve asked totally threw me off balance.

He said "What church do you go to?" At first, my guilt at currently not being a regular Sunday worshiper started to creep up causing me to stutter through some lame explanation about how I'm "looking for a church right now." But after a moment or two of awkward stumbling, I realized that Roger and Steve were not the church police, and asked Steve in return, "How did you know I go to church?"

His answer - "Because you gave us food and are nice to us."

(Before I go any further - let me just clear up. This is not about my great and wondrous deed of buying a couple of sandwiches at the CVS. My point in all rambling is about Steve's answer.)

Besides the fact it was nice to hear a non-Christian (Steve) saying something good about Christians/the Church (which lets face it, is often a rarity these days) I was suddenly made aware of how actions really do speak louder than words. What would I have been saying if I just had walked past, or even just handed them a dollar or two and gone on my way? It wasn't just Steve saying I gave them food that hit me, but him saying that I was nice to them. Sure, Steve and Roger needed a sandwich, but I'm thinking that our conversation and couple of handshakes are what made more of a difference.

While they enjoyed their food they both talked on and on about jobs they had held, places they wanted to go, etc. They just talked and talked, often times talking over each other, fighting to get a word in edgewise. Really, Steve and Roger just wanted to be heard. They didn't need me telling them anything or asking if I could pray with them. They just needed something to eat and someone to listen to them.

The whole things was a reminder to me to slow down and talk to people. Whether its two homeless guys on the bench outside of the CVS pharmacy, the teller working the checkstand inside or just someone shopping in the store, I should always have time to be nice to people. And not impatient, "I'm trying to be kind" kind of nice, but genuinly kind, caring nice. And if buying a tin of sardines and a ham and cheese sandwich can be the start of a conversation, I'm all for it.