One week from today, we fly to Uganda, Africa. I’m not ready.
Well, in one sense, I am very ready. I have wanted to go to Africa since high school, when a geography teacher sparked my imagination with tales of her experiences in Kenya, specifically with the Maasai people. She had lived with the Maasai for some time and had become an honorary member of their tribe. She told us about drinking the mixture of cow’s blood and milk, which is a waning tradition. She told us about the tribe’s custom of stretching their earlobes. She said they liked to put things in them, especially 35 mm film canisters (something else which is disappearing), because they could carry things in them. She also taught us some basic Swahili (Kiswahili). Because of her expertise, she spent a lot of time making her experiences come alive for us and I really wanted to go and meet those people she talked about.
Around the same time, Out of Africa was released. I saw the film with my girlfriend and at one point, I found myself bawling my eyes out. No, it wasn’t because of what happened to Robert Redford’s dashing Denys Finch Hatton. I don’t know what it was about. John Barry’s beautiful score certainly didn’t help matters, but clearly, something was stirring in me. I suspect my girlfriend thought I was crazy. To be sure there was plenty going on in my life to cause a spontaneous, minor emotional breakdown, but I really think it goes beyond those events. For all the years that I have thought about that incident, I have known in my heart that it had something to do with Africa.
I began to keep a clip file on Africa and I even bought a book about traveling to Africa, but I never went.
Peter Beard wears a different kind of croc.
Then I discovered Peter Beard, an American artist, photographer, and ecologist who was inspired to move to Kenya after reading Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa three decades before I saw Sydney Pollack’s film. His collage-style diaries inspired my own diaries that I began in the 90′s (I will discuss those les livres noirs in another blog entry some other day). I found Beard’s life to be fascinating and desirable. To me, he was a real life “most interesting man in the world.” If I couldn’t be James Bond, then I wanted to be Peter Beard.
I loved the way he seemed to effortlessly navigate between living in a tent, on his ranch in Kenya, photographing the grim plight of the African elephant and flying to New York to party at Studio 54 with his pals Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Bianca Jagger, and Jackie O. He was friends with Francis Bacon. He married Cheryl Tiegs. Admittedly, some of my admiration was misguided, but I don’t want to derail my point with those observations at this time. There is no denying our common passion for Africa and studying Beard’s work only deepened my longing for the continent.
And still, though I sometimes had the means, I never went.
I use the word continent deliberately. Most of my early African inspiration came specifically from Kenya, but later I would have similar deeply moving feelings about other parts of Africa, especially North Africa, which is vastly different than East Africa. I have heard about North Africa my whole life, because my mother lived in Morocco when she was a teenager. My point is that there is something about that continent. Some draw. Something beyond description. Something beyond me.
And still, even knowing that I needed to go there, I never went.
It wasn’t the right time. Let me just say it as plainly as I can – I believe that God didn’t want me to go on a photo safari in Africa. Don’t hear me say there is anything wrong with photo safaris or tourism. Maybe I will do that someday. But as God has restored things in my life that I had previously ruined, delayed, derailed, or thought beyond reach, I have come to recognize his handiwork, his holy blessed meddling, and it is clear to me that he reserved my experience of Africa, until I was ready to go and serve in his name. I think he used my experience with the homeless camp a couple of years ago as a kind of missionary bunny slope, a safe way to understand a particular kind of service to people, which had nothing to do with art and was outside my comfort zone.
I get the feeling that on this trip, God is going take me being outside my comfort zone to a whole nutha level. In fact, that process caught me off guard by starting almost the moment we signed-up. At the first team meeting, our leader, Erika Dunham, started talking about support letters. Support letters? I had assumed we would just pay our own way. She described the process and then asked if anyone had a problem with it. My hand shot up. I told her that I felt very uncomfortable asking people for money (especially in the current economy), not because we didn’t have the money, but rather because we did have the money. She listened patiently and then said it was my pride. Ulp.
Sending the support letters was difficult for me, but Erika explained some of the Biblical concepts behind it and after some reflection, I have a much better understanding of why it is done that way. If you did not receive a letter from us, please take that as a statement of our weakness and nothing more. We sent very few letters this time and most of them were to family. One of the difficult concepts for me was understanding that we were being selfish by denying people the chance to contribute and participate in the mission trip. So (deep breath), if you are reading this and would like to contribute financially to this trip, you can send a check to:
2009 ACF Africa Mission Trip
c/o Austin Christian Fellowship
6401 River Place Blvd
Austin, TX 78730
Make the check payable to Austin Christian Fellowship and put Jimmy and Kimberly Pribble on the memo line. You can also support us with prayer! Please know that prayer might even be more important for the success of the trip. We don’t know yet what our needs will be, so simply pray that God’s will be done.
If you did receive and respond to our letter, thank you! Your outpouring of love and support has been humbling. In practical terms, we just got word that our trip has been fully funded through your donations! I know the Lord will bless your sacrificial giving and I promise to do my best to document the trip so you can see God’s hand in the lives of those we meet in Africa and in our own lives.
No Really, I’m Not Ready
I had a fantasy that I would clear my calendar the two weeks before the trip in order to give myself time to study, pray, shop for supplies, pack, and learn to use my new camera. No chance. I’m booked. In fact, this next week I am busy every evening, except Wednesday, and that is because I canceled my standing Wednesday Work Night.
In fact, I have had so many projects lately, that I have found it very difficult to get deeply excited about this trip and I so desperately want to be excited. I am just about to go to our packing party, so maybe that will help.
Each year, dozens of people are killed on Lake Victoria by crocs. Do they really want us sending them more?
Okay, I just got back from the packing party and my attitude has improved. We have a great team and everyone not only pitched-in to pack 26 duffel bags full of donations (that’s 1300 lbs. of stuff), but they did it with a great attitude and a real sense of purpose. It’s going to be great serving with them over the next few weeks.
I was also happy to see so many Crocs being shipped to Africa. Hey, the more we send to Africa, the less we have here! Okay, I admit it – I hate those shoes. I’m sure they are practical, but let’s face it, so are nurses shoes and I don’t want to see those on everyone’s feet, either. Still, thank you Crocs for your donation! Those folks in Africa are going to love your shoes and I hope your company will be blessed, because of your genorosity.
This post has really gone off its outline. Let’s see if I can wrap this up. I was talking about not being ready…
A couple of weeks ago, I did manage to clear my schedule long enough to do some research into Uganda. Until recently, my brain dump of all things Uganda would have looked like this: Uganda, Idi Amin, Raid on Entebee and…that’s it. So, I studied-up on Uganda’s geography first and then checked the CIA World Factbook for a solid overview. I have a reasonable library at home, so I looked at my books and came-up with only two hits: a very short entry in 1000 Places to See Before You Die (good) and a very long entry in The World’s Most Dangerous Places. Oh dear.
So, I went to Barnes & Noble to see what I could find. I bought The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden and The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda by Andrew Rice. Grim stuff. I think Kevin Kendrick picked-up a book that is even worse. It’s probably just as well I don’t have more time to research. I think I would rather just get over there and I see what I see with my own eyes, unencumbered with preconceived expectations. That is my primary duty after all – I am the official photographer and blogger for this mission trip.
My secondary duty? Preacher. I’ll give you a moment to pick yourself up off the floor. I swear, I’m as shocked as you are. Two Sundays from now, I am going to go to an African church , stand-up behind a pulpit, and deliver a full-length sermon, maybe through a translator, maybe not. I was just told this last week. I don’t have a sermon prepared, I don’t know what to say to a congregation that I have never met and who’s lives I do not yet understand, and I don’t see that I have any time in the next two weeks to write what will be my very first sermon.
I’m really, really not ready. But God is.