When I come back home from Swaziland, I want you to be prepared for my response when you ask, “Hey dude, how was your trip?” Well dude, how was the last 8 months of your life? I mean, the last 8 months of my life will have been incredible, but “how was your trip?” is a loaded question because when someone asks it, they usually want some more than a one word response. I’m not going to want to tell stories after stories. I’m not going to tell stories just to tell stories; I’ll tell them if they have a purpose for telling. Jon and I have a joke out here, that “nobody is gonna get it!” It is already hard when I rehearse answering the question, “how was your trip?” It’s like I know everything in my head and heart, and I know what God has done to me and through me, but you’re just not gonna get it. Explaining my experience will, one, only cheapen it and, two, desecrate what has happened because you just won’t understand. What I’ve experienced is just something you probably can only understand if you experience it for yourself. That’s why I’m not going to want to up chuck some tale from Mexico or the land of Swazi.
I remember when my friend Chelsea Dymond went on the First Year Missionary trip with AIM, it’s a 9 month trip and she went straight out of high school I’m pretty sure. She was even in Swaziland for a bit. I was a junior in high school and really stupid, and I thought it was the coolest thing that she just up and left like that and spent 9 months in Africa doing Jesus stuff! I thought she is going to have the coolest stories about her life when she is old. Chelsea came back home and I remember chatting with her one time on Facebook and I threw out the best question of all questions to ask her, “How was your trip? Tell me some cool stories?” Her response was short and left me questioning if she even wanted to talk to me or just wanted to stop talking to me. “People were healed, hundreds were fed, the poor were cared for and we all experienced the kingdom of God,” was something more or less of what she told me. I wondered to myself, how can she not elaborate on this? Those things are awesome; hundreds of people were fed at one time, people being healed! Well now after experiencing these similarities, I can totally relate to why she responded like that, I mean, I just wasn’t gonna get it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I want to spread the news of the great works that God is doing and share my experience and have God get his glory, but for my friends back home you have to understand that it’s going to be hard enough to be humble about what I’ve experienced in the past 8 months of my life, and that I’m not going to want to tell stories just to tell stories, like some story monkey on a leash. I feel like, because just how on the News people want to hear about crap and when you hear about African people it’s always negative, and if I were you tell you about Jenn Rose who is forced into prostitution to make ends meet and has now become HIV positive, I would be back stabbing these people. As I think about elaborating on her hardships and telling you about them right now in this blog, I feel like a scheming reporter coming out to Swazi to pretend to be friends with people and tricking them just so I can get a good story to tell people. But I will tell you stories of the kingdom of God, which blessed are the poor because it is theirs. Here is something that I will tell you about Jenn Rose. The other day she came to the center and I hadn’t seen her in a long time, I was on my way to kill a spitting cobra so I didn’t have much time to talk (haha true stuff) but I wanted to talk to her and not just say, “hi, how are you?” you know? So like I said Jenn Rose is dying and is very sick from HIV and I asked her how her health is and she said with a very big self congratulating smile, “Oh, it’s good!” “Good!” I said, and then asked her as we were standing outside in a large crowd made up of mostly teenage girls like herself, “Are you taking your ARV’s?” (ARV’s are the medicine that you take when you have HIV/AIDS). When someone here is HIV positive, it’s very embarrassing for others to find out because you get shunned away and you are looked at as ‘that person’ like the kid who got lice in your kindergarten class, except multiplied by a few hundred times. Many people who are infected actually face problems with denial and won’t believe that they have the disease. Jenn Rose didn’t want anyone to know about her recently contracted disease. She came to my team in privacy and secrecy, asking if we could help her pay for her medical bills when she was getting tested, because she trusted us to not let anyone know, and I basically just let all of the community know, right in front of all her friends and random people. Her smile immediately went to shock and embarrassment, her chin to the ground as she walked away staring with shame at her feet. After I realized what I had just done to her, I did the same. A crowd gathered and I speared the cobra right through its mouth and then we beat it to death (haha true stuff), Jenn Rose was there. I mean I’m all amped up because I just freakin’ speared a spitting cobra but, ah dude, I just wanted to puke because of what I had just said to her. As we were all walking away, I grabbed Jenn Rose and poured my guts out in apology, “Jenn, oh my gosh, I am so so sorry. I didn’t realize what I was doing. I should have known better. Can you forgive me?” Guess what her response was? With a laugh and a smile she says, “Ha! No problem. I saw on your face that you felt very bad. It’s no problem!” Jenn had already forgiven me before I had even asked. I had just done one of the most embarrassing and horrific things you can do to a young person who is HIV/AIDS positive… Ladies and gentlemen, that is what I want to tell you about Jenn Rose. That is the kingdom of God. That I will share with you. That is the Jesus inside of people that we all long for in our lives.
Everything in Nsoko was started by God through Pastor Gift, then AIM came in to help him and then AIM partnered with another organization. So months ago the head- honcho from this other organization and a small team of his staff and cinematographers came out to Swaziland to shoot a video. Like I said, “Everyone wants to hear stories of how crappy Westerns see people’s lives,” so they went to all the terminally ill in the community here and interviewed them, videotaped them getting their medicine though injections, took pictures, followed some orphan boys around with a camera and documented a what they could capture in a day’s time of their lives. We were in the car later that night as they were leaving and looking at the pictures on their computer screen when one picture came up of an old, depressed, tired face of a woman looking right back at the camera with the sticks of her hut out of focus in the background. “Oo and ahh, what a good picture!” they cheered themselves, “Dude, that is the money shot, that is the face of Africa!” the cinematographer says to the president of this organization, meaning like “this is what is going to sell.” That face is the face of Nohlanhla (No-shlan-shla) who is an older woman with HIV/AIDS and is dying from tuberculosis. This is what I’m talking about, this organization’s people came here with all their high tech expensive equipment, big vehicles, and stuck their cameras in these people’s faces, milking them for a story of suffering to show as many others as they can to get some money out of it, but the worst part was the next thing they did, they left… Well thank you for being a living death sentence Nohlanhla. Your face, the face of Africa, is going to make some money for those people at your organization, and ya know, you’re most likely not going to see any fruit of it. This organization is a good thing with Godly people, don’t get me wrong, but what kind of gospel do we say we live by if this is what people are doing!?!?! (I’m about to cuss right now) Which Jesus do you follow? Which Jesus do you serve? Ephesians says to imitate Christ, and we all look so much like the world. Jesus bled and died for our sins, he spent his time with thieves and sluts and liars and the least of these. He loved the poor and the cast and the rich, so which one do you want to be? Who is this that you follow? This picture of the American dream. That’slyrics from some corny song but I changed them a bit. ‘Jesus’ isn’t easy. He tells us to die to our own selves before we can even follow him. He also said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”Read Luke 9:57-61, now. Spend some time with the poor and suffering, love them, and serve them, live with them… That’s the gospel, that’s the kingdom of Heaven. Since when did Christianity become selling peoples suffering stricken lives on a television screen? Or making gospel CD’s to later sell? Why should the ‘face of Africa’ or even the ‘face of the poor’ be someone who looks like they just have it horrible? You know, Nohlanhla’s face in that picture was probably just her relaxed face. Think about your relaxed face, you look pretty depressed too, and thanks to grace we are forgiven. The ‘face of the poor’ should be someone who is worshipping, someone who is rejoicing, someone who is being loved by their Lover, our Savior, it should be a big group of people who are all naked because they took the clothes off of their backs because their brother didn’t have one, or because they gave their so cherished ‘extra tunic’ to the man who stole their first one. The way I see it, all of our rich fattened faces should be the face of the poor and the suffering and the hungry. Luke 6:20-21, And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Luke 6: 24-25, But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. To all of us who are reading this on a computer screen, or have driven their car somewhere today, or got fast-food, to those who went to work, to those who decided what outfit to wear today, to us who have our little comforts that get us through the day, WE ARE THE FACE OF THE POOR! So when I come home, I’m not going to share the news of the suffering, because we are the suffering. I will share the news of those who are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of God.
Swaziland is all about people. The Swazis are very relationship oriented, it’s not about what you do in the day, it’s about the people you spent time with. So that’s the thing with me, what I’ve experienced isn’t so much of “cool God stories” but it’s about the “cool God stuff” that I’ve seen in people. So telling stories isn’t about telling you how hard these people’s lives are and how poor they are and all the bad things and why they need Jesus so much and how they depend on the whites because they can’t do anything on their own. If you want to hear about that then go down town or come to Swaziland! But don’t expect me to tell you about that. Go find that for yourself, if you say you truly love the poor. But the stories are about the people, my friends, like spending the night with Bhekumusa and how ya’ll back home are just not going to understand if I were to tell the story because you don’t know him. We all can understand when we hear stories about “doing things” like going to the CarePoints, and getting chased down by a spear man, or hitch-hiking in Mozambique, but you just can’t really understand when you hear stories about the mysteriously deep and intricate souls of people that you fall in love with. The story of Jenn Rose was hard for me to tell, because I can use the best adjectives in the English vocabulary and still, no one’s gonna get it!…