I recently finished reading The Poisonwood Bible, which is SO much better than I can describe. Everyone should give it a read, especially any American planning on traveling to sub-Saharan Africa. The book puts so much into perspective, gives you so much to think about, and sums up so much of what happens when two cultures, two points of view, and two ways of life clash.
Not only is the book a captivating story, but it’s full of poetically beautiful truths – like, “the power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes” and, “to live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story”. It also contains so many questions consider. What would Africa look like today if the original conquistadors simply kept sailing right on past it? Why do we, as Americans, tend to assume we know the right ways of doing things? How does one let the past go, forgive yourself, and truly move on?
Before I make this sound like even more of a book report, there was one quote that stood out to me above the rest. Probably because it’s been a theme in my life lately.
“You can’t just sashay into the jungle aiming to change it all over to the Christian style, without expecting the jungle to change you right back.”
Why do we do this? Why are we so foolish? It changes us right back.
Far too often, we come with plans and aims and hopes – we are going to build an orphanage, we are going to train teachers, we are going to feed hungry kids. All good things. But we fail to plan to be changed; we fail to be open to what we can learn.
When you come home from a short-term trip, you (typically) get asked “What did you do?” What did you accomplish? Did you succeed in your goal? How many ________ did you complete? (Which, sidenote, is so American. So achievement driven, so obsessed with results.) No one asks, “Hey, what did you find out that we do wrong? What are we not right about? What have we been missing all this time that they taught you?”
There’s a million different directions this blog post can go. I don’t want to shame Americans (or westerners or ex-pats or whatever you want to call us) for wanting to help, for wanting to go out and do good. But I want us to be weary of thinking we have all the answers. I want us to realize the Danger of a Single Story. I want us to learn that, sometimes, we hurt more than we help. Sometimes, our good intentions aren’t good enough. I want us to ask questions before we offer answers, to seek to truly understand before we dismiss it as wrong. I want us to see ourselves realistically as well as everyone around us realistically: all our good and all our bad, all our issues and all our solutions. I want a million things to change about how we approach change.
But, mainly, I just want us to realize that we can’t bring change if we aren’t ready to be changed.