Two months from now, I’ll walk on African soil. What will it be like? Will the experience be worthy of my expectations?
So many childish memories waft over me. Missionary slide shows of heathens and warriors. The great lost world. How can we save them from their misery? How can we inject white hope and white religion into their lost black souls? “Preach the gospel to every nation,” the Bible tells us, and we preach our narrow version through white-washed words.
My child heart longed to go there, to see the beautiful black faces and earth the colour of the rust on Dad’s tools. My child heart longed for it, but my child head said “how can I preach what I do not understand?” My fingers caressed the missionary artifacts and I dreamt of an Africa that didn’t need to be preached to.
I wanted to be a gypsy. I found books about gypsies and read them late at night until Dad came in from the barn and said in his gentle understanding voice, “Don’t you think it’s time to sleep now?” I wanted to dance around open campfires and live in a caravan. I wanted to change my scenery every day.
I am no gypsy, living in suburbia in a house that doesn’t move. I am no gypsy, though my driving foot itches to take me farther away than I’ve been before. I am no gypsy, though my heart beats with hopeful expectation when I walk into an airport and I dream of wearing out my passport before it expires.
I am no gypsy, but my gypsy heart danced when first I stood on foreign soil. My gypsy foot quivered when first I drove beyond the borders of my country. My gypsy dreams grew richer when I looked into the face of a black man and knew that he was no heathen and his heart was as big as mine.
Will African soil welcome me? Will the colours be as rich as those in my dreams? Will the zebras and lions gaze at me knowingly with eyes that say “we knew you’d come some day”? Will it make me feel hopeful or sad? Or both? Hopeful that this world is a vast and intricate thing of beauty and there is so much more space for me to grow and learn. Or sad that somehow I have hurt these beautiful people by my western greed and western appetite.
I won’t preach from my white-washed Bible. I won’t expect that my English words are somehow endued with greater wisdom than theirs. I will listen and let them teach me. I will open my heart to the hope and the hurt. I will tread lightly on their soil and let the colours wash over me. I will allow the journey to stretch me and I will come back larger than before.