By Galen Dalrymple
Tomorrow I start my journey homeward to America. It sounds like a foreign land to me now after two months in the bush here in Africa. It is time for reflection, to take stock of lessons learned.
What will I carry with me as a result of this journey? Many things, to be sure, but I will mention just a few:
First, I have learned that I am not as unprejudiced as I would have liked to believe. When I moved to Atlanta in December of 2011, I believed I was not a prejudiced person. But, I found myself among more African-Americans, more often than I had been used to. I wondered at night if it was safe to walk through a parking lot, to go to a certain venue, or even why some black man was approaching me. I harbored stereotypical fears and thoughts in my Caucasian mind. God forgive me for having so deluded myself.
Here in Africa, I learned that I have not yet overcome all such fears and prejudices. Walking through the bush to a village, I experienced an angry villager with a machete approaching me to demand some money from the “white man”. I went nearly three weeks without seeing a single other white face. I stand out here like a sore thumb and it has made me appreciate much more how African-Americans and other minorities must feel back home in America. Even the little children here call me “white man” and want to touch my strange, pale, hairy skin. How sad that even the children see me through the lens of the color of skin I carry stretched over my bones! This has been a painful lesson to learn about myself, one that I am ashamed to admit in such a public way, but there you have it: now the elephant in the room has been set loose. I pray that elephant will depart from my life forever!
Second, I have learned how important it is to adjust one’s worldview and learn to understand other cultures when going to work in a foreign land. Worldviews are strange things, shaped and formed by so many factors. We all are possessed of the notion that “my” worldview is right, and therefore when it clashes with yours, you are wrong! Sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, conflicting worldviews are not good or bad – just different. We could all do with a bit more understanding and a lot less dogmatism!
Sadly, this applies within a country, too: to wit, the clash of worldviews between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, men and women. Please, Lord, grant us wisdom!
Third, life is flat out difficult, especially the Christian life. Some courageously face potential martyrdom on a daily basis, never knowing if a sniper’s bullet, a sharp blade, or a bomb will send them to glory before their next breath to join with those under the throne who cry out day and night, wondering when God will avenge their blood upon their killers. Some live lives in lands where freedom of religion is enshrined in the laws, even if that freedom of religion is threatened. Others may face beatings, financial persecutions, being shunned and disinherited, cut-off from families for the sake of the gospel. And still others can practice their faith without restriction. But, true Christians, according to Jesus (“In this world you WILL have persecution“) will always be faced with hard choices and difficulties because the world hates the Truth. If we are living as Jesus did, we will have hardship. If we have no hardship as a result of our faith walk, we need to examine if our life is aligned with the cross Jesus tells us we MUST take up if we are to follow Him.
Fourth, seminaries are not bad, but knowing one’s Bible and more specifically, the Word of the Bible, is of far greater import than the highest level of seminary or university training. The debates that are carried on by theologians often are about splitting hairs. Theodicy, eschatology, documentary hypotheses, and the like are of not much significance (dare I say worth?) when in the African bush, confronted with a village on the verge of starvation, ravaged with water-borne disease and malaria. I mean, who cares about the peccability of Christ there and then? Was Mother Theresa queried about such things in the gutters of Calcutta by the dying? When one is on their death bed, do they need to hear all the reasons why one believes in pre- or post- or a-millennialism or do they need to hear about the love of Christ?
Here in Africa no one cares about such trivialities. Jesus didn’t have time for those who sat in vaulted rooms on comfortable chairs in front of large crowds who debated the fine points of the law. He was too busy being the gospel among the unwashed, smelly masses of humanity to spend even a nanosecond with things that, when balanced on the scale of eternal destinies, are weightless. Please understand, I have nothing against education, for I have had some of it myself and I consider it as a blessing. My youngest son holds a PhD from perhaps the most revered university in America, if not the world. But as Paul put it, “If I have not love, I am nothing”. Mother Theresa had love for the lost. Perhaps I could do with more of that and less of love for the debating of theological straw-men. My fellow interns have the right kind of love and have taught me much that I must not forget.
Perhaps Paul said it best when he said that the three things that abide are faith, hope and love. I learned here that faith requires a price – no matter what country we call home. I learned that it is hope, coupled with faith, that drives my African brothers and sisters to their labors without hope of earthly reward, but abounding in hope that they can and will make a difference; that the Africans can have a better tomorrow if they live in God’s way in this world, and a better eternity even if their lives don’t significantly improve here. But under it all is love: the love of Christ that compels them to do what they must do – to walk daily, trusting fully in His goodness. May we all be filled with that grace that is our Lord.
Galen Dalrymple works for Medical Ambassadors International (medicalambassadors.org) as the Field Curriculum Coordinator and lives in Northern California with his wife, Laurel, and yellow lab, Lucy. His passions are his family, photography, travel, and doing what he can to alleviate suffering and injustice as a call from Jesus.
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