Have you ever found your culture and/or skin color creating hesitancy in your obedience to love people?
God tells us we are to love our neighbors. This command can be incredibly challenging. Specifically, I want to talk about if you’ve ever encountered reluctancy to obey that command because you look or live differently from your ‘neighbors’.
I am very much still learning how to live out this calling when it means stepping outside my culture, and away from the people that look like me, to love others. It’s really uncomfortable, but I am coming to learn we build barriers in our ability to draw closer to God, when we don’t challenge what we think, believe, and do.
In this post, I want to share my struggle with looking different in Africa. I want to share how stereotypes, no matter who they are coming from or directed towards, can cause pain and hurt. I want to share a story from when weeks of battling those stereotypes caused me to reluctantly do what God was asking me to do: love the people around me. God would come to graciously teach me the most valuable lesson I learned on that trip. That lesson would begin to flip upside down the way I view money and God’s call for us to give what we have to those in greater need.
It is with great vulnerability I let you into my brokenness. I wholeheartedly believe we are not called to just let people into our stories when they make us look good. If we can be open about our brokenness God will meet us and draw us deeper into knowing him. It is my hope that you will learn from my mistakes and just maybe there will be a glimmer of God found in those broken pieces.
This is my account of living ten weeks as a minority. I won’t pretend to say my experience was as intense as what many people experience every day as minorities. They aren’t the same, but being in that position changed my world in ways I had no way of expecting.
I am a white American. Those words mean I have lived a life of privilege. To be honest, I have spent most of my 29 years of life not noticing that privilege. It took traveling to Africa, for the first time, for it to begin to become evident.
In 2014, I found myself in Uganda with five other white women. There, I experienced the uncomfortable taste of standing out in a crowd because of the color of my skin. Uganda is a beautiful, welcoming country and it was never out of fear that I stood out, just uncomfortableness. It was a new experience!
It was there that I was introduced to the Swahili word “mzungu” which translates to “white person”. It was mostly heard in the context of children yelling with giant smiles and waving with gusto. While in Uganda, ‘mzungu’ didn’t hold as much weight as it would come to a few years later. It didn’t feel lonely at the time. I assume that has much to do with not being the only mzungu in the group.
Two years later, while traveling alone in East Africa, it began to take on a whole new meaning. Everywhere I went the word ‘mzungu’ was heard. At times, seemingly coming from the bushes. I couldn’t see the speaker of the word, but they saw me and my pale skin. While I didn’t always mind hearing ‘mzungu’, what came to to be the greatest struggle was the judgements and stereotypes related to money because of the color of my skin. There is a cultural mindset that because I have white skin I therefore have an abundance of money.
In many ways, yes I was rich. I knew that to be true. I had more money in my pocket than most people did in all of Rwanda. While I knew that, I came at the situation from a completely different cultural understanding of what rich was. In American standards, I am far from rich. Yet, in Rwanda I was rich. I felt like I was stuck between two vastly different cultural views of money. I guess I was. The colliding of those two cultures would end up hardening my heart in deep ways.
As with all stereotypes, not everyone thinks or acts that certain way. I had plenty of people on my journey who I never got that feeling from. Yet, in my head it was hard for me to not assume everyone saw me a certain way. It shows a lot of it was in my head because of a few experiences. Satan allowed those few instances to wreak havoc in my mind. I often found myself putting up a wall between myself and those I interacted with, because I feared they only saw me as someone with money. I admit that wasn’t fair or healthy, and probably a bit egotistical, but you are getting the real honest me here!
In East Africa, you can come across a thing called the the “mzungu price”. It basically means mzungus, or those with mzungus, could be charged a higher price for a product or service because they have more money. While I knew this before going, I didn’t anticipate how much it would challenge me.
My first full day in Rwanda, I was with my new pastor friend. He wanted to purchase a basket from a roadside merchant, but the man refused to sell it to him for anything lower than the mzungu price, because he was with me. This hurt. It was an experience I would have much during my travels. I often felt I wasn’t seen as a living, breathing human being, but simply as someone with money. Over the seven weeks I was in Rwanda, this stereotype would end up hardening my heart more than I had noticed at the time. I would find myself constantly frustrated by what came with being white in Africa.
During an unexpected trip to Tanzania, this frustration would seep out to teach me a lesson I won’t ever forget. It would alter my entire view of money, my trust in God’s financial provision, and God’s call to use whatever I have, large or small, to give to those in greater need.
I traveled to Tanzania, in part, because I was intrigued by a ministry serving orphans and widows. Through my time in Rwanda it became evident God had called me to Africa to love the children of that continent. Investigating this ministry gave me another opportunity to explore that calling and begin to understand life in Africa more.
When I arrived in Tanzania, I learned they were planning a gathering with the widows and orphans in the community so I could meet them and learn more about the ministry. I was then told it was a cultural custom to feed those attending and/or provide a practical gift. They asked if I would be willing to help fund this gift.
To be absolutely and completely honest, I didn’t want to. I had spent weeks battling this feeling that I was viewed in a certain way because of the money I had. God was creating an opportunity for me to love and serve his people, yet I was bitter and angry. He was opening up a door for me to give to those in much more need than I. Yet, in my head I was calculating the money I had left and my expenses for the rest of my trip. I was thinking way too much about how the money I had was going to provide for myself. I was being completely selfish.
With a grumbling heart, I gave some money for them to prepare something. Looking back, I am insanely embarrassed by how I responded, but have learned it is in our weakest moments that God sometimes teaches us the biggest lessons. With that money, they were able to purchase enough sugar, soap, and pens for everyone, along with notebooks for the students.
I arrived at this gathering not knowing what to expect and still battling my attachment to money. It began with them giving me a gift, dressing me in a traditional Tanzanian outfit. They loved me and welcomed me to their community in a beautiful way! Following that, they arranged for me to to be the one to hand each person the items they were able to purchase with the money I grudgingly gave.
It didn’t take too long for me to realize, to them, I was giving out of a loving place. I was there to love them and share in providing them with necessary items. These were items they lacked the funds to purchase, but which I probably had an abundance of in my home. As each elderly woman walked up to me, shook my hand smiling, saying “asante sana, asante sana” (thank you very much, thank you very much) the more my selfishness began to sink in. God began to convict me of my actions, thoughts, and emotions. They had no idea I was not there with a giving heart, but out of a hardened, grudgingly one.
God began to get my attention, but what come next is what would truly change the rest of my life. While I didn’t know the stories of all the people there, I knew they had very little, and these items were of great importance. Yet, a few of them would shake my entire existence with what they would do next.
Near the end of this ministry gathering, they took an offering. I watched as nearly every person got up and gave the very little they had to the Lord. Then, I watched as two elderly women got up from their seats, carrying their bags of sugar. They walked to the offering basket and laid beside it, as a sacrifice to the Lord, the bag of sugar I just gave them with a grudging heart. It still nearly brings me to tears to think about. I cannot get the image of that moment out of my mind and I hope it never goes away. I was absolutely shocked at how quickly they sacrificed what little they had to the Lord while I couldn’t give a small percent of what I had. They were willing to give everything! In that moment, my heart began to melt. My fingers began to slowly loosing around the tight grip I had on my money. While I am still learning to lessen that grip I cannot believe how much that experience has changed my willingness to give what I do have to those in need.
It forever changed my life!
All of this I share because it is important to be careful of two things. One our judgments of people. Even if their might be some truth to the judgements (e.g. I did in fact have more money) we need to be careful to see people first as human beings created in God’s image. When we do that they truly feel the love of Christ. It is an area I am working on growing in too, dropping the judgements to see those whose cultures and/or skin colors are different from me, first as children of God.
Secondly, I say all of this because of just how much God has called us to give what little we do have to those in need. I am pondering and processing another post related to this call. It is something I am becoming much more passionate about as God continues to challenge me in how I view and use my money.
Hopefully, something in all of this has challenged you. I would love to invite you into growing with me in this area. I cannot do it on my own and would love to dig into it alongside you. Just maybe, if a few of us let go of our judgements towards others and need to control our money than others will see the love of God seep out of us.
Anna is a fellow adventure, dreamer, friend and guest blogger here at Kingdom Adventure. I encourage you to checkout and support Anna by going to her website: Karibu Dreamers.