Lessons from Africa, #1 It turns out Mom was right!

When I was a kid, I would occasionally balk at eating what I considered to be “yucky” food. (Mostly either Lima beans or peas). In those infrequent protests, my mom showed the skill of today’s high-dollar motivational speakers.

She would address my complaints in such a way that they simultaneously faded as she spoke. Her motherly motivation-ally themed message (to “eat what’s put before you” ) would go something like this:

” Never mind, you need to eat that fill-in-the-blank-protested-food, there are starving kids in India that would LOVE to have that to eat!” (India seemed to be her impoverished nation of choice, but occasionally the entire continent of Africa made the quote instead.)

With that global encouragement (guilt) and the threat of being sent to my room, should resistance continue and conflict escalate, I’d typically cave, and eat whatever generous helping of undesired food landed on my plate. By the way, her being a stay-at-home-mom, we always ate dinner as a family once dad got home from work. I believe this practice was even better for us than my mom’s cooking..and that woman can cook! (Well,except for the Lima beans or peas, no one can make those desirable.)

Anyway, fast forward several decades, and I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Africa annually for the past 8 years to do relief work with our partners there. (We build churches that do holistic work in their communities of stick-and-mud huts.) This year, I had a flashback to mom’s motivational menu speech.

I was sitting in a hotel restaurant in rural Zambia, (we’d probably call it more of a ‘diner’ in the States) and I found myself making a complaint about the “toast” that came with a couple eggs I ordered. The eggs were “ok” and the toast looked “decent”…but when I picked up the first piece, I quickly noticed two things…the toast was cold, and even though about half of it was “toast colored” it was limp, like a piece of cheap sandwich bread.

I made a comment, and by the time I made the first half of my complaining observation, I could almost hear the words of my mom,echoing forward to me from 50 years earlier. “There are starving kids in Africa that would love to eat that toast.”

I felt my voice fade as my complaint about limp toast felt misplaced. Internally, I was embarrassed. I could have added to the quote…”AND those kids are in the communities you’re going to be walking around in today!”

In a breakfast-nanosecond I realized we were going to be visiting neighborhoods today, and all we’d find in their stick-and-mud houses is some leftover (un-refrigerated) rice….in a wooden bowl with no lid, that flies will sample repeatedly before the family finishes it off as dinner tonite. Somehow, my comment seemed petty. I ate the toast colored part of the bread, and left with a humbled heart to walk among people who truly show what gratitude is.

Isn’t it ironic? It seems for many of us, the more we have, the less we tend to appreciate the little things in life. A popular cable show I like to watch features professional chefs, critiquing the presentation, texture, color-palate and taste of food. While there’s nothing wrong with a fabulous meal, I’m afraid most of us have drifted far from “Give us this day, our daily bread.”

In these communities where dirt and dust are commonplace, and pavement is uncommon, I often see a rare precious sight: a humble, grateful heart…for the simple provisions in life. Coming from a culture that is characteristically discontent, my annual trip provides me quite a contrasting experience. I get to be around people (of all ages) who are thankful for simplicity in life. It makes 20-plus hours on airplanes followed by a 4 hour drive into rural African towns, a valuable journey for my soul