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You Can't Make These Things Up (But He Can)

On more than one occasion in the past year, I've been completely culturally befuddled. Today, I reached a new level of confusion. New Year's Day has been a quiet one, in part because almost all of the townspeople were in church until 5 A.M. (singing) (exuberantly). The annual "Crossover" Service commemorates the end of the old year, and the collective crossing into the new.

So, on New Years Day most Christians are asleep. Most Christians except us, since we struggle too much with sleep in this household to be up all night by choice. So, Josiah and I were using the quiet afternoon to build Africa's largest Magnatile structure. Suddenly, I heard a greeting at the door.

"Hello?" I called.

Two elderly Fulani women entered my home, gesturing and speaking in something (several things?) other than English. At some point, I realized they were asking for food. I had them sit down and did a quick inventory. Dinner: not yet prepared. Lunch: ham and cheese melts (certainly not something I could offer to Muslim visitors). Breakfast: long gone.

So, I did what any confused American would do: I made them peanut butter and jelly. As I prepared the sandwiches, my little ambassador was busy trying to communicate. Would you like some water? Not sure of their response, he brought them two glasses. Watermelon? Again unsure, he dragged it out of the fridge. Rags to wipe your hands? No response. Delivered.

I handed over the sandwiches and fixed some tea. The elder of the women began protesting loudly, eventually helping me understand that one spoonful of sugar does not acceptable tea make. Ethan had just come home, and chuckled at the exchange of words around our table as I scurried over to get more sugar.

The women finished their food, and headed back towards the hospital. As I was pondering the meaning of this strange visit, I cleaned up the plates. And I noticed that every morsel of food had been demolished.

... Including the watermelon rinds. It is possible, but certainly not normative, to eat watermelon rinds. I suspect these women were extremely hungry.

Shortly afterwards, another Fulani woman stopped by with her children and a cousin. This young woman is relatively well-versed in English and extremely intelligent, though not highly educated. She has stopped by several times, and on this day seemed quite comfortable sitting at the table while I prepared dinner.  They finished off the last of our Christmas cookies and some tea (I added a bit more sugar this time).

I showed her how to make naan on the stovetop, which she found very entertaining. She wanted to know why we didn't just buy bread at the market (since we are white, and can obviously afford buying bread). I skipped the story about seeing roaches crawling on the baked goods under the glass of a well-respected bakery in the nearby city. I instead focused on how delicious freshly prepared bread tastes.

She asked how long we'd live here at the hospital; I said we were not sure, but we hoped to end up in a place where there weren't many Christians. She looked puzzled, so I explained that Christianity tells the story of a God willing to sacrifice Himself for His people. This is an understanding of God unique to our faith. She nodded, whispering "it's true". There are many Christians here in Cameroon to tell that story, I continued. There are parts of the world where no one knows that God loves them, and we want to go there. It comprised only thirty seconds of our interchange, but shines brightly in my memory as I reflect on the day.

A few days ago, I told some friends about my discouragement over not having a single conversation or interaction of significance in the past month. And then, God sent unexpected visitors to my door: some who were physically hungry, and some (I hope) who were spiritually hungry.

I attempted to focus on these happenings, rather than the fact that my dinner was now way behind schedule. My grandmother used to say that whatever is done on New Years Day sets the tone for the entire year. A Cameroonian man who we met, who was working on New Year's Eve, shared a similar adage. I had hoped to spend the holiday enjoying my children, taking a walk, calling our families, starting a new Bible reading pan, and leisurely cooking some Indian food. Instead, I had been surrounded by chaos and was now rushing to get dinner on the table an hour later than planned.

My plans are not more important than God's. I would never have scripted hungry visitors I could not understand, and for whom I had no food prepared. I would not have requested a house full of kids as I distractedly rushed to chop vegetables for dinner (cutting myself several times in the process). But the moments we don't plan are often the most memorable. If New Year's Day sets the tone for the year, I hope 2017 will be 365 days of acknowledging that God's ways are better than mine.


  1. awesome blog story...thank you for the inspiration!


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