I am just as guilty as the next missionary. After being on this mission field for some time now, I am beginning to understand what it is like to stand in the sandals of an African man or woman watching their children scampering along the roadside in a desperate attempt to grab up as many lollipops as possible. "Sweeties", that are being tossed out of the back of a truck full of wealthy white skinned smiling American "do-gooders" who have come here in a whirlwind of singing, teaching, talking about Jesus, etc. and making wonderful promises of love and of salvation. The Zambian parents continue to watch as their children disappear into the choking cloud of thick dust kicked up by the big tires of the “lorry” (our flat bed transportation) as it blasts its way back down the dusty road...back to wherever those “missionaries” came from.
One evening we were chatting with our Zambian friends - talking about various cultural things and asking a lot of questions.
[That’s what we seem to be the best at – asking lots and lots of questions. I know you can’t learn without asking, but they must wonder when…and/or…if, we will ever…“get it!”. For me, there are some lights at the end of this tunnel that are just now beginning to come into focus.]
We were planning activities for our next ministry trip into the bush. We have been taking some of the older children from the orphanage with us to help them gain valuable experience in the ministry and to interpret for us. A “sheepish” – very quiet suggestion was made by one of the boys, “I don’t think it is a good idea to throw candy out of the back of the lorry …at them.” He then began to describe a moment he remembered while serving as an interpreter for us as part of a rather large team several years ago. Near the end of our visit that day, we suddenly found ourselves overwhelmed with people – mostly children…more than we had anticipated. We were giving out all sorts of items – clothing, utensils, mystery bags full of useable items and…..candy! The Zambians like candy [they call it sweeties]. As we drove off in our familiar “cloud of dust” - like we had done several times before on that trip - we began tossing out lots of “sweeties”. We were calling out to them as they ran along the road trying to follow us “sweeties, sweeties, sweeties"…they came from everywhere grabbing all the candy they could find. We thought it was such a special sight. It warmed the cockles of our very proud American hearts.
In our meeting that night, this young boy who is now in grade 12 and was with us on that trip back then, nervously began telling about that night when at one point he found himself clamoring amongst those children running after our “sweeties" as he was trying to make his way back to the lorry before we “blasted off”. The crowd was getting restless and we knew we did not have enough candy for everybody. As he neared the lorry, he bumped into a local village boy who scolded him and said, ”you should not let those Americans do that…We are not dogs!” The room went silent. That statement cut like a knife through the heart. What had we done? What seemed like such a touching act of kindness and love had just been describes as a degrading insult. Throwing out candy was one of the “staple” functions of a “good” mission team...or so we thought. Little did we know!
We discussed this at length that night…and days later, with several other of our Zambian friends - to be sure we were talking about a behavior that most Zambians agreed was offensive. Sure enough, this seems to be a major “insult” that has been “tossed out” by many other mission teams in the past…and the present. Further “questioning” revealed that it is not the provision of candy that was offensive, it is the way were doing it – throwing "sweeties" out of a speeding vehicle going so fast that there is no way they could connect with the “missionaries” inside…while excited children scurried after the “crumbs” that fell from our wealthy fingers.
It is so easy for us Americans to fall into a category that is very noticeable to others in the world. One that most of us are blind to. From our viewpoint, we are the “greatest nation/people” on earth. We have been taught that from birth. We feed the world. Supply financial assistance to any and all countries and have sent countless missionaries and mission teams to the "uttermost parts of the earth to share the Gospel. But, I have noticed that we, as Americans, can sometimes be perceived as uncaring or even arrogant when we misread how to interact. It is not our purpose, but I think it is a byproduct of our wealthy heritage. We can feed the world, but we are not perceived as being willing to sit down to dinner with the world. As a proud American, I don’t want to admit to these traits. Never the less, there are many who categorize us as just that. It is not intentional on our part; we certainly were not – in any way – trying to put the Zambians down by tossing out “sweeties” to their children; but we came off that way without knowing it.
I am beginning to learn a lot more about the Zambians and their culture... and other (non American) people. But, they are just like us. They are lost and need God to save them. They are our brothers and our sisters and our children. God loves them enough to care for them and protect them…and to send them the hope for salvation through the efforts of loving missionaries, individuals and mission teams – many of whom come from America. I pray that we continue to listen to that still small voice that prompts us to care…and to continue to do something about it…by reaching our hand out to them... instead of just tossing them a “hand-out”.
As we fill the worlds bellies with " life changing food", let us reach out our hands to the world in sharing an "everlasting change of life" .
I woke up one day and discovered God wanted me to quit what I was doing for me...and start doing something for Him.