Friday, December 24, 2010

Africa Day 5- The Power of Prayer

Being in Africa for December, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that Christmas is just a few weeks away! We’ve been wearing short sleeved shirts, swatting away mosquitoes and enjoying warm, sunny days.

Yet, as we hit our halfway point on our True Spirit of Christmas tour, what happened this final day in Tanzania was a stark reminder that December 25th is nearer than I think.

Today we decided to make the hour long drive back along the bumpy, dirt roads to Helen’s home…a woman we’d met earlier this week in a remote village of Tanzania. She is just one of many recipients in this area to receive a microloan from the World Vision Christmas gift catalog. Helen and her husband have since used the small loan to invest in a fish pond. During our initial trip, they even showed us how they can now catch dozens of fish in their own backyard and feed their entire family. She says her children are happy now…and don’t go hungry at night anymore.

Going back to say goodbye and pray for Helen was something I’d been looking forward to all week. I wanted her to know how so many people back home in the United States had been touched by her story…including me.

Yet I wasn’t prepared for what happened this afternoon.

We returned to Helen’s mud hut on a tight schedule due to delays caused by a massive rainstorm. We needed to say a quick goodbye. My interpreter and I huddled with Helen underneath her door where the words “Jesus is the Answer” were scribbled in Swahili. After we prayed, we started to say our goodbyes when Helen disappeared for nearly 10 minutes. We didn’t know where she went, but we waited for her to come back before leaving.

She eventually returned…but with an oversized envelope in her hand. With a shy smile, she said to me, “For you!”

I opened it up and found a large, store-bought Christmas card printed in English. Helen had also carefully written the names of each of her family members inside. But on the back of the envelope, in faded pencil, I could still see the price of what she paid for the card….roughly a few dollars. I got choked up.

For Helen, a few dollars is a LOT of money. She saves every penny just to pay for her children’s school fees and food for her family. I couldn’t help but imagine just how much this touching card may have financially set her back.

After we left, I asked our interpreter how Helen managed to even get such a beautiful, commercial Christmas card for me when she lives so far away from any major town. I was told that Helen likely hiked an hour away and caught a bus that eventually took her into the nearest market area. The trip was likely a full-day event!

I, on the other hand, had arrived at Helen’s with nothing to offer her in return….other than a simple, “Merry Christmas.” When I told our interpreter I felt badly that I didn’t bring her anything as well, she gently explained, “Helen was just honored to have guests come to her home from so far away!” She also told me how nervous Helen had initially felt when told we’d be coming from the United States to see her that week. Helen was concerned she wouldn’t be a good host since she didn’t have much to offer or share. After we left...having sat on tree stumps eating fried bananas and a cup of goat’s milk tea…Helen told her neighbors how relieved she was that “these Americans were so humble and willing to eat what we eat and sit where we sit.”

For me, Christmas came early this afternoon in Tanzania….to be so warmly accepted, greeted and blessed by strangers with so few possessions to claim as their own. I will always treasure my oversized Christmas card from Helen. In fact, I tear up just thinking about Helen’s unexpected generosity in this remote area of the world.

Helen’s story sums up what this first week in Africa has been all about - meeting people blessed by gifts from World Vision …but who end up blessing us so much more!

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