What I learned in Africa… and it’s not what you think.

Most people when they go to a foreign country, especially those that have lesser means then their own, are impacted by the poverty, lack of opportunity, and many times, the hopelessness the local people have of ever pulling themselves out of their situation.

For me, it has always been different.

It is not that the aforementioned doesn’t enter my mind, how could it not. It’s just so often we go on these experiences which have a tremendous impact on us, and while we are on the ground, there is an emotional change in us! It’s deep. It’s powerful. It’s potent. However, the effects often diminish over time. It wanes, and it’s completely normal. We return, and our reality instantly begins to shade our experience. We say we will never forget the feeling, but how can we genuinely help it! Our cultures consumerism slams us in the face everywhere we go.

Heck, you can’t even use the bathroom at most restaurants without some tv screen on the urinal wall flashing advertisements in your face.

I have led a few trips and each time, knowing the “life change” amnesia can set in, I’ve tried to take simple life lessons that are easy to apply. When these lessons can be implemented, though they are simple, they can be revolutionary in the long term.

While I was in Malawi last year, I was talking with my missionary friend Jef when he said something that has changed my life, and those around me’s lives, for the better.

“You realize when you come to Africa that they do things on their own schedule. It is hard at first to get used to it because we are always go go go but….”

And this next little comment changed my life.

“You eventually realize that there isn’t a whole lot that actually has to be done right now. Most things can wait.”

WOW. This stuck with me. This lesson did need some help to set in.

Before we get into what came next you need to understand something about me, I’m a high energy, get things done on time, anal, church planter… What that means, I’m not totally sure. What I do know is that Sunday mornings stress me out (I write about this in chapter 9 of my new book Hidden Faces). So often, stressed out of my mind, I can be found storming around making sure everything is perfect as if the seam on the drape facing out is the deciding factor on someone accept Christ…

I needed to hear that lesson Jef taught me.

However, it only sunk in a little. I should say that I had been working on this for nine months, but sometimes we need a few impactful experiences to help expedite the process.

Right before I went, and increasingly after I had severe pain when I found myself in stressful situations. I pushed through. Why? Because weakness is the enemy! About two weeks after I returned from Africa, I started getting tingling in my hip, which turned into a numb spot about the size of a quarter. Then it slowly expanded to a hip that was completely numb with this intense pain that I spoke of earlier. This lasted for about a month until I was bedridden with pain, and small lesions appeared on my back.

I had shingles.

Stressed induced shingles.

I had two months laying in pain (only getting up to do the necessary) to reflect on Jef’s words, my patterns, and where I wanted to go.

“There isn’t a whole lot that actually has to be done right now. Most things can wait.”

Tony Stoltzfus, while coaching a pastor, observed,

“Let’s say that the people you lead follow your example instead of what you say – that they imitate the way you live. Say that everyone in your congregation worked your hours, had your stress level, spent the amount of time you do with your wife and kids, and had your exercise and eating habits. If the legacy of your ministry was that your people took on your lifestyle, what would you think of that.”

If I were helping someone in my congregation who happened to have my stress level (due to anal tendencies and a need to get everything done ASAP whether it needed to be or not), I would tell them to relax, breathe, gain perspective, realize you’re not God. I would ask them to look at Jesus. Was he stressed out?

The Gospel of Mark tells us,

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 1:35).

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray

The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 14:23).

It seems to me that Jesus took time to relax and refresh his Spirit. It appears Jesus took care of His soul. There were times when He dismissed the crowd, took too long to get to appointments, and went off script and had a meal or a party instead of rushing to His next thing.

For Jesus, as it turns out, most things could wait. Jesus demonstrated for us what the correct life/work balance looks like.

Africa changed my life. It helped me gain perspective. It’s been over a year since I was there, and while I have moments of regression I can honestly say, the cadence of my life is dramatically different.

It’s all thanks to what I learned in Africa…and it’s not what you thought.

Check out the resources used in this post

3 thoughts on “What I learned in Africa… and it’s not what you think.

  1. Thanks for sharing Josh, I’m glad you were able to see the root cause of your illness and are feeling better. Perspective is such a valuable gift! Emily

    Like

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