When it comes to writing in French I’m a little rusty. There are too many accents and silent letters that I overlook, or rather, ignore. So when it comes to staying in touch with my French speaking friends, I’m especially thankful for any kind of voice memo possibilities. It’s a lot easier to just talk without thinking about grammar and such.
My Guinean friend “C” and I love to stay in touch this way, and just hearing her voice warms my heart. Just hearing the noisy background warms my heart. She still lives in Guinea and I miss her so much. She met me a lifetime ago, when I was 25 and wide-eyed to a new, unfamiliar culture and language. I was a fish so far out of water I was in a dry desert, flopping around as Shawn and I tried to navigate culture shock, homesickness, purpose, and ministry in this new country.
Conakry, Guinea was where we first started out as missionaries, after four years of training and a year of language school in Québec. (See? Those accents will just sneak up on you when you least expect it.)
Conakry was often referred to, even by locals, as “Capital Village”, because even the capital was underdeveloped. We didn’t know any different as this was our first time in Africa. But time would reveal that it was a rough place. But a welcoming, hospitable place unlike many other places we’d ever been, or have since been.
A big part of West African culture is to wish things for people. For example, at the start of a new year you wish them prosperity, and money, and peace, and health, and things like that. (You just keep wishing and wishing and wishing, and the more wishes you lavish upon someone, the better!) So when Noella had her birthday the other day, “C” left a voice memo with lots of wishes for her and her life. One of the things she wished was that she would “be raised in good conditions”. Her sentiment stopped me in my tracks because I know what kind of conditions “C” was raised in and lives in now. I know “C”‘s world because I lived there. I wasn’t raised there, but I can remember so vividly my experiences there. I know her probable realities as a young woman in West Africa. I know her social and cultural expectations and the roles she’s expected to fulfill. I know how hard it can be to find good drinking water, and to have enough power to run your refrigerator or charge your phone. Yes, even in the capital.
Then I look around and see our girls, riding their bikes on our long driveway, matching helmets securely fastened, with food in their bellies and good drinking water always available, and I feel an unshakable guilt. Maybe it’s not guilt, exactly, but a feeling of “why us”? Why are we getting to raise our girls in conditions where medical care is within driving distance, and they aren’t forced into female circumcision like what happened where we lived in Guinea? Why do we have the ability to get educated and vote and run and play and enjoy carefree childhoods? We as Americans are, generally speaking, raised in such good conditions that we don’t even have it in our language to wish that someone be raised in good conditions.
So it sat heavy on my heart and mind for a few days. Partly because the sentiment was so sincere and meaningful, and from someone I love, and someone whose living conditions I still remember. But I don’t want the blessing to be a burden. I want to just do all that I know to do, and that’s to give back (like to practically support missionaries who work to spread the Gospel in these areas and around the world) and to never forget to be grateful. I want to look around at the conditions our girls are being raised in, and not forget to thank God for His many gifts. I want to also thank Him for the experiences that brought us these perspectives. These perspectives don’t forget how it once was, how it could be, and one that reminds us to thank Him for how it is. And above all, we want to thank Him that because of the cross, no matter how our earthly conditions are, or how bad they may get or may seem, there is hope. There is always hope. May Noella and Shilo also be raised in the knowledge of that truth. And that, my friends, is my wish upon wish for you too.