Hi everyone, this is David! I know you all hear a lot from Katie, considering that she loves to write and this is her blog and all… but an update from me is well overdue.
There is a song that plays over and over again on the radio every Christmas. Maybe you find yourself singing to it like I do, but we don’t think through what we are singing, (although we could say this about most of what’s on the radio these days). I hummed along with this song for years, without ever realizing what the words were saying. This Christmas, the words to this song left me particularly puzzled. Here’s what they say –
But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
It’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?
Here’s to you, raise a glass for everyone
Here’s to them, underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?
-Band-Aid (Bob Geldof)
Now, to be fair, this song was written in the 1980s to raise money in response to a terrible drought and famine that was going on in the Eastern part of the continent. However, I feel like the words to this song represent a lot of the perceptions that people in the US (including myself in the past), have had about this gigantic part of the world. After all Africa (a continent, not a country) is quite large.
The past few years in life have turned a lot of the stereotypes I grew up believing about Africa completely around. The song that I mentioned talks about nothing ever growing here. It talks about no rivers flowing here. And it assumes that they don’t know it’s Christmastime at all. (And based on that assumption, it also indicates that there are no Christians here).
Over the past week, my experiences have been 100% opposite of the stereotypes indicated by the lyrics to this popular Christmas song. I have driven hours and hours through the greenest landscapes that I’ve ever seen! Up and down hills that are surrounded by trees. They are growing everywhere. You can’t look outside and not see plants growing bananas, jack fruit, pineapple, sweet potato, mango, avocado, sugar cane, maize, plantain, coffee bean, rice.. And those are just the ones I have heard of. Also there are rivers that flow here. We actually saw the Nile River. It’s debatably the longest river in the world and it is beautiful. They do celebrate Christmas here. We arrived just as couple weeks after Christmas and there are still decorations up everywhere. Within the first 10 days of being here I have been to 4 different churches. Each congregation was alive with enthusiasm, engaged in the message, and excited to welcome us into the worship service with them.
Now I know it seems like I’m just bashing this catchy holiday classic, but I really just wanted to share with you that my experience has been different here. And I think you deserve to hear it.
So you may be wondering why I wanted to come here, and what my role is.
Katie spent time in Africa as we were teenagers, and she started sharing stories with me. But these stories about people and their lives there sounded different from the stereotypes that I had heard and believed as a kid. It was actually very encouraging to hear these people and their stories. They actually weren’t as “different” as I had heard. And eventually it clicked inside me that They are not only just people but that they also are equally loved by God. Now the question that I held onto wasn’t “Why are they so different from us?” but it was slowly turning into a new question: “How are we the same?”
As Katie and I got older, we knew that we were both being moved towards ministry-related work. It was what we did. It was what we always found ourselves doing with others. And whether they were mission trips to other countries or serving in and around our city in St. Louis, I know that as God leads with opportunities I would need to follow.
Over the past couple of years we have had the opportunity to help start a ministry that partners with locally led community based organizations here in East Africa. We are spending time here to work with our partners. Within Under The Same Tree, Katie’s role is director of programs and operations. This means that she works in collaboration with our East African partners in administration, organization, strategic planning, fundraising, and overall direction for the organization. My role in UTST is public and donor relations. While here in East Africa, I will be working to make sure that those who support Katie and I and the work being done here are as engaged and informed as possible. I will be working as hard as I can to make them feel as if they are along on this journey with us, and connected with the people that we are working with. I will also be working to try and bring in new donors and supporters. So if you and your family, friends, churches, or churches are interested in partnering with us, I’m your guy.
I came here for the first time to help with this ministry, but also because We want to tell a new story about Africa- not about depravity, darkness and helplessness, but about dignity, local innovation, a church that’s alive, endless natural beauty, incredible human spirit- and in the end, I want this story to be about my friends – the friendships here that are helping me to experience what it means to be a human being – formed by the hands of God and dependent on his green earth & the loving arms of those around me. There is life here that is unknown in the US. To me the new story of Africa is how much they have here that cannot be found in the US. It is a story that I would like to see children growing up hearing.