Two Lessons from a Mud Hut

The girls' hut.

These women are dangerous.

See this little hut with the grass roof and mud walls? I can hardly believe it myself, but for seven days, eight women called it home.

It amazes me now, solitary as I am, that I didn’t throttle anybody or succumb to panic in the suffocatingly close quarters. In fact, I thrived there. The midnight prayers that rose from that hut were so precious, I keep admiring them like a handful of emeralds.

Pray, then balance sandwiches on your head.

Pray, then balance sandwiches on your head.

Here are two things I learned in that hut.

1. We are stronger in tribes – even independent Americans.

While I prefer to sequester myself from other humans and their intolerable messes, it makes me weak. In Africa, I allowed older, wiser women into some deeply shaded parts of my life, allowing their years of wisdom and experience wash over me, and I finally understood what it is to rest for a moment in someone else’s faith.

See, when we go deep with people, into their triumphs and messes, when we witness their failures and are not scared or offended, we grow in community. Perhaps that’s why Jesus told us to stay in church, so we can deal with the inevitable conflict of being human and learn what grace really means.

The reward for the effort is deep affection for one another, and the experience of God’s grace. I love these women now in ways I can’t fully describe.

2. Prayer with a group of woman all kneeling at the feet of Jesus, works.

One night in that hut, we gathered under sleeping bags and headlamps and prayed for things some of us have never spoken out loud. I saw icebergs calve, skyscrapers of hidden guilt and fear, shearing off those women and crashing into the water below, melting in the light of God’s grace and mercy. Jesus told us to do this because He knew it would make us lighter, more nimble, and dangerous to the enemy, but I had to go to Africa to take it seriously.

After all, what scares you doesn’t scare me, so in the name of Jesus, I can walk into your dark corners and kick some ass for you. Then you can do it for me.

And something changes between us forever.

Hubbard Glacier - "Calving"

Hubbard Glacier (Photo credit: roger4336)

I wonder if our independent streak is sometimes a cover for laziness and fear. Of course it’s easier to mind our business and small talk each other to death, but who will slay your dragons when you’re too far down to do it yourself? Who will call that thing you believe about yourself the bald-faced lie it is? Who will say, “You’re drowning in Scotch but I love you and I’m here?”

So if I must choose between a lovely stone manse, with silent wings and empty grounds, and a tiny, mud hut with your socks on my bed and your burdens in my heart, I’m taking the hut. Because I need you, and you need me. So let’s do this thing together.

Do you have a small group you rely on? How did you meet them?

Notes From Zambia

Garbage smoke.

Garbage smoke.

Greetings from the land of contradiction, the lovely and tragic Lusaka, where no matter how you try to sort it into matching African piles, so you can avoid saying blithe and stupid things on your blog, you will still fall backward into the land of hopeless paradox, praying for mercy as you try to explain.

Here’s kind of what I mean by that:

Rickiey, our favorite team carpenter who speaks oddly prescient and accidentally hilarious things, spent an advance week with the orphans in Chongwe.

“These people don’t need us here,” he reported to the team. “They don’t. They’re happy, they’re content.”

He’s wrong of course, but he’s also deeply, inarguably right.

Charity and the water.

Charity and the water.

Hugh and Rickiey spent four frustrating days replumbing the orphanage before the rest of the team arrived. Through the miracle of southern engineering they managed to pipe water into it after three deep, expensive bore holes failed to yield new water.

When Charity, one of the three teachers for 150 kids, saw water running out the kitchen faucet, for the first time in three years, she cried.

Do they need us? Yes.

But on our third day in Zambia’s capital city, I asked our local friend Chase why, with four million people in Lusaka, the streets aren’t more crowded.

“They are mostly in the compounds,” he said. “Some people will never leave them, never walk on Lusaka’s pavement a mile or two away.” There’s no reason to, he said, they can’t afford it.

The compounds are massive urban ghettos, some with upwards of 40,000 people living in their dirt streets. Concrete huts that once housed two families, have been subdivided to house six. Pit toilets behind the houses and shacks are predictably too close to the shallow wells which makes dirty water and sick kids. Same old story.

And here we come, two van loads of Muzungas to check it all out – something that feels condescending and necessary and horrifying because I really want a bottle of water but I can’t yell out the window for one, saying, “Does anyone have change for a hundred kwacha?” That’s twenty bucks.

Do they need that? No.

And I know those people would trade places with the rich Muzingus in a minute, they would take hot showers, eat more than just shima – the local cornmeal staple – and not watch their kids die of malaria.

And what? So they can die of loneliness and depression like we do?

Are our lives better because we have the money to fix diarrhea and sleep safely in our homes? Yes.
Are contentment and gratitude our natural response? No.
Is kindness to strangers a national priority in America like it is in Zambia?

Lima Compound

Lima Compound

As the van inches down the dusty alley with open pits on each side, from which kids fill water bottles for reasons we hope don’t include hydration, they check us out shyly. If any of us waves first, they erupt in smiles, big white, bright eyed smiles. The adults do too. This happens all day every day, everywhere we go.

One kid even yelled, “Look, Chinese!”

Chinese?

So are we helping? Yes.
Is a large portion of Zambia’s GDP fueled by the Christian Industrial Complex? Yes.
Are a lot of those Christians doing thankless and spectacular work? Yes.
Is our work a meaningful response to systemic, global economic injustice? I doubt it.
Does Jesus require it of his followers regardless? Yes.

In an hour, we leave for Chongwe where a troupe of orphans have prepared songs in our honor. We will set up the clinic, build school benches and chicken coops and maybe welcome a baby into this fearsome, magnificent place.

And as we sleep under the stars of the Southern hemisphere, maybe The Lord will call us out of our huts, and dare us to count them.

On Rivers Wide and Deep.

Remember last week when I said I’d given up on coincidence? If there is no God, or he’s unconcerned with me, why am I reading books like Jeff Goins’ Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life and Jen Hatmaker’s Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, days before landing in Africa?

Please.

So here I am, laying over in London enjoying a latte and scone, and Hatmaker says this:

How can I be socially responsible if I’m unaware that I reside in the top percentage of wealth in the world? (You probably do too: Make $35,000 a year? Top 4%. $50,000? Top 1 percent) Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We’re tangled in unmanageable debt while feeding the machine, because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can’t manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand times that amount? Fifty thousand times that amount? It says we have too much and it’s ruining us.

Ostensibly, short term missions are about spreading the gospel by addressing physical needs in developing nations, but I’m starting to think that’s about half of it. What if it’s God’s way of yelling at sleepy-headed, obese-with-blessing Americans like me, saying:

“Wake up little sister and disperse all that brilliant, amazing crap gathering dust in your brain and house. I put it there for a reason, get busy.”

Upper Yosemite Fall and Merced River on Swingi...

So I predict in about 13 hours an earthquake is going to level my tidy, little house, shifting my ground in ways I can’t predict, making this whole Africa endeavor a lot more about me than I care to admit.

But it’s ok because I tried every other way of making my life matter and I came up short. I’ve laid myself so bare to this experience, I can’t even pray without weeping, and I’m still in London.

What a freak.

See Jesus will wreck your life if you let him, but I know from experience now, that he leaves behind a wide river of living water, running deep and still through the center of our lives. It’s an achingly beautiful place you never want to leave, like the Merced River out of Yosemite, and on the days I choose to follow him, I don’t have to.

And that’s what I want every day.

What do you want? Are you still struggling with the how?