We started driving up a road that was as smooth as craters on the moon’s surface. Our van’s shocks didn’t exist anymore. Neither did our kidneys.
“Mzungu! Mzungu!…” (“White skin! White skin!…) Kids started running after the van. The closer we got to the feeding center in the small village, the larger the crowd of curious kids got. Finally the parade stopped and eleven mzungu got out of the van. “Jambo.” (“Hi.”) That was pretty much the extent of our Swahili abilities, which just brought giggles, a few handshakes from the braver kids, and a couple of shrieks of terror from one or two of the smaller ones, which makes sense if you’ve never seen eleven grownup mzungu before.
And then we stood there. Waiting for the rice and beans to finish cooking. The feeding center gives three meals a week to undernourished kids who stood waiting with their cups. But right now, everybody just stared. Unblinking stares. Holding their cups ready for the rice. And the crowd grew bigger. Our translator was talking to one person, so the rest of us – eleven mzungu, fifty kids, and a growing crowd of adults – were just staring at each other. Without a translator, there’s not much else you could do.
Except draw. I squatted down and kids started spreading out in a circle jostling for closer position. I cleared some dirt and drew a simple smiley face. One brave kid squatted next to me, the mzungu with a stick drawing circles. I gave him the stick and he took it, but wasn’t sure what to do. “You draw…” He tried. His circle looked like a bug splattered on a windshield. So I drew a new circle, picked up some bits of wood, rocks, grass, and started putting them in the circle. Eyes, nose, ears. The last to go was a smile. I had him put it on. He did. The kids who could see started laughing. The boy looked at me and grinned. Other kids started picking up sticks and drawing bug splatter shaped smiley faces. Amazing how something as simple as making a face in the dirt can bring joy.
Our trip to Congo had several moments like this, reminding me of the power of simple things. Handing out rice and beans. Sizing up children to fit into dresses and shorts made by a group of women in the US. Giving a new pair of underwear to kids who had worn the same pair for a few years. Sitting with women who have been victims of brutalities that have left them socially outcast and watching them make baskets that they sell. Buying the baskets they made to help restore their self-dignity instead of just giving them money. Bringing a suitcase of maxipads and hearing their loud joyful high-pitched “la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la…” African cry when they understood what they were for. Being comfortable being stared at. Simple things.
I think Jesus really liked simplicity. Share a story. Eat a meal. Sit with people. Cry with them. Laugh with them. Walk beside them. Teach them. Take them one step closer to understanding His Father.
No, I’m not avoiding telling you about the story training we did. It went well. There were fifty believers from different communities we were able to train. This month they are going to villages, including this small village, and will let me know next month how it has gone and who else they are teaching storying to.
Each trip I’m more convinced that storying is a simple universal language that God uses. Almost as simple and universal as a mzungu and a Congolese village boy drawing smiley faces in a dirt road and smiling at each other.