All right, I admit it: I'm an American. By this I mean North American. Even more particularly I am a citizen of the United States. This is the country of my birth, my heritage, my upbringing. I have taught on five different continents in nine different countries. I've been on a missions trip in ten out of the last eleven years. Yet for all this travel, all this exposure to cultures and world views not my own, I remain at the core, an American. In my inward parts, I yearn for the efficiency, the timeliness, the regulated order of the Western World.
Of course, traveling abroad regularly will beat a lot of those expectations out of you. Traveling regularly through O'Hare Airport will do much the same. Still, my mind has difficulty comprehending the "take it as it comes, there's no hurry, what happens happens" approach to events. I admit this. I've owned the problem. But evidently I'm in recovery.
I was genuinely taken aback yesterday by my tranquility as I stared at the empty black ribbon (curiously devoid of planes) set against what looked like the Serengeti. Surprising no one in the terminal, 3 hours after the plane was scheduled to depart, the flight was canceled.
I have to admit that I was genuinely disappointed. Still, I didn't react like the only other American waiting with us. The majority crowd of Africans, the numerous French, the two young Spaniards and the Italian medical student all just sighed heavy and smiled. What else was there to do? But the American—she was embarrassing. She was loud (ok, I can be loud, but not like this), obviously aggravated, nearly manic as she paced the terminal. Oh she smiled often, but the smiles were laced with the incredulous superiority for which Americans are known.
As her aimless trek through the waiting area brought her near my bags, she spied the identification tag and said, "Oh, so you're a pastor, eh?" "That's right," I replied. "How did you know?" "Your tag has an email address on it." "So it does," I responded, not ever noticing that little detail before. She informed me that she was a pastor as well, from out on the west coast somewhere. She'd been in Africa three months. This was her third trip.
I'm not meaning to cast stones, but I would have thought such exposure to the African experience would have mellowed her just a smidgen. Or, perhaps her Christianity would have helped. I mentioned the providence of God in all things to try and bring a new perspective on our predicament, but she evidently paid lip-service only to that idea. Which is really too bad.
For you see, when one holds to the providence of God (God acting through ordinary means to bring about his purposes), then a whole new world view opens up. Instead of the uncompromisingly efficient, demanding, ordered world view of my culture—a world-veiw that more often than not breeds stress rather than peace—I may enjoy an outlook that acknowledges that I'm not in control, but God is, and he is watching over me for his greatest glory—which also happens to be my greatest good.
So when we were carted to what the Burundians undoubtedly think of as a nice hotel, with tennis courts (packed dirt) and a swimming pool which I was afraid to get in, I tried to take it all in stride. I must say I did feel sorry for the bellboy as he carried my suitcases up three floors to my room. Electricity should never be taken for granted in central Africa, and elevators work better when they have some.
Like many places here, this hotel has few windows, at least on the ground floor. It just doesn't rain that much and the temperature stays pretty much the same year round. Of course, windows keep out more than rain. The swarm (yes swarm) of mosquitoes in the lobby drove me to the terrace overlooking the courts. The breeze kept the pesky critters from coordinating their attacks. I'm not sure how much blood I lost, but there was more than a couple of blood-sucking invertebrates that dined well on imported fare.
As I prepare to leave the hotel and trek back to the airport, I have no idea if I'll be able to leave today. But knowing the providential care of the Almighty overshadows my steps allows me peace that would otherwise be unattainable. The assurance of God's providence allows me to see the world as it really is: seemingly out of control, yet guided by a wise and loving hand that guards my steps. And that knowledge is a great comfort when you're in Africa—or anywhere else for that matter.