Grain distribution has been an amazing source of joy for the team here. We load up kilos upon kilos of grain, pack ourselves in around it, and drive over the worst roads known to man wondering at each pothole if the over-loaded Jeep is going to fall apart with the next bump. But somehow we always make it, because suddenly the dust will clear and there we are! There we are at a little hut in a village, with the villagers pouring out the door to welcome us. Chattering and laughing and grabbing at our purses to carry them for us, they lead us inside – how did all these people even know we were coming?
The men will unload the heavy bags of grain and drag them inside. No description on earth can capture the celebration that ensues over those bags of food, of life. Someone always finds a drum and someone else a tambourine, and the music begins. In Africa there is no celebration without dancing, so we dance. The villagers don’t even give us the option of sitting one out – they drag us in the dance circle with them, laughing as we try to pronounce the tribal words to the songs, and encouraging our feeble efforts to try to mimic their perfectly-rhythmic movements.
After the dancing come the speeches. Several people will get up and thank us for bringing this gift, explaining that they would have had no food if we hadn’t come. And then we must stand and refute them: No, no. This is not because of us. This is a gift from God himself. He has provided the money, using donors in the States, to meet this need. Thank our heavenly Father, don’t thank us. He is the Provider of all needs and he always looks after his children.
Then comes the prayer. Everyone in the room will kneel in front of the grain and lay both hands on the bags and pray with fervent sincerity over the grain itself; that it would be multiplied and bring nourishment and abundance to the family who receives it.
The first time we gave out grain, it was still hot season. The little church where we met was well over 100 degrees, but no one seemed to notice. The women sat on one side and the men on the other, like always. After the dancing and the prayer, we all took turns speaking to the villagers, encouraging them to walk in the ways of the Lord and to meet the needs of others around them, just as the Lord has met this need of their own today.
Ken was the last to speak. He spoke in French and one of the young man translated into the local tribal dialect of that village. Gin sat by me on one side and Abby on the other. All the other women sat behind us, several benches back. After five or six minutes of his speaking, Ken stopped abruptly when an elderly woman in the back interrupted him. She chattered away quickly in dialect. The translator frowned and asked her to repeat it. She said it again more slowly and I caught just one word: “biiga.” Child.
I looked at the little girl sitting in front of me. She was covered in dirt and her eyes had the the yellowish tint of malnourishment. Flies buzzed around her head and rested on her knees, which were exposed against cultural norm because her tattered dress, which looked to be a decade old, was much too small. Ah. I bet she’s sick. I bet that’s what the lady is doing – asking for prayer for this child.
But the young man turned to Ken and quietly explained in French what the woman had asked. We watched as Ken’s face turned from curiosity to horror. He stared unbelieving into the translator’s face and then came forward and fell to his knees beside the little girl. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his cheek on her head.
He looked at us with tears in his eyes and explained that the woman had said that the little girl needed to move to a different seat. That she shouldn’t sit with us. That she should move and sit with the Africans. She was just an African child and we were American guests. She wasn’t good enough to sit with us.
Now it was our turn to be horrified.
Abby and Gin got up immediately. Abby hurried over to where the rest of the children were sitting, walked right into the middle of them, picked up one of the kids, and sat down in his place with him on her lap. Gin walked back to where the women were gathered, sat down with them, and put her arm around the nearest one. I reached forward to the only other child on our side of the church and pulled him back to sit beside me.
And Ken just stayed there – kneeling in the dirt, arms around that baby girl, and spoke to the adults gathered there. He explained that we are all one in our Father’s eyes. We are all equal. That there is no race, no color, no nationality in the eyes of our God. No matter how filthy we are, we can’t get him dirty. No matter how small we are, we can’t make him less great. No matter how sinful we are, we cannot affect his perfect righteousness.
In God’s eyes, we, in our freshly-washed clothes and smelling of soap and lotion and deodorant, were just as filthy and in need of Him as that precious little girl in the village that day. I don’t have some sort of fast-track to the Father because of a birthright I inherited from my Christian parents. I don’t get to enter his presence first because I take a shower every day and wear cute clothes. If the truth were told, at the end of each day Christ probably looked and smelled a lot more like that little girl than he did like me. He looked like poverty. He smelled like humanity. If we want to look like our Savior, we have to be exactly where he is: in the dirt, in the filth, in the mud, in the stench of the trenches.
Because, really…that’s where he found us.