Hot. Dusty. Primitive. Fascinating. These were the words I would have chosen to describe Africa before I went there. And it was definitely all of that, but it was also so much more.
Several of us from church camped in tents in the village of Doudan; we wanted to participate in the lives of our Senegalese brothers and sisters as much as possible. We ate with them (mostly rice with a few vegetables eaten one-handed. Don’t ask why). We shared our faith with them and their kids, and we went to church with them.
Different is an understatement. It seemed like a scene straight out of National Geographic, and I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t a movie set, but a way of life. This village had no indoor plumbing—only a rickety wooden shed that served as a communal restroom—but without the toilet paper. Scattered baobab trees provided random bits of shade from the scorching sun. Livestock were left to free-range, causing me to wake up at night hearing a strange noise, and groggily realize; “It’s a pig rooting outside the tent. You’re in Africa. Go back to sleep.”
Water was a scarce and precious commodity. It was used mostly for cooking and drinking, and rarely for washing. Interestingly, though they lived in the desert they were farmers by trade, and extremely dependent on a good rainy season. Unfortunately, the rainy season also brought mosquitoes and the malaria they carried. It wasn’t the easiest life.
In stark contrast to those challenges stood the picture of their joy. The people wore broad grins, and the vibrant colors of their dress were in stark contrast to the monotones of the desert. Even in the midday heat, they were always ready to express their joy. The kaleidoscope of colors swirled as the women danced, breaking out at random times and for no apparent reason. That dancing, filled with passion and abandon, was fueled by the ever-present beat of the drum, lending rhythm and structure to both their work and their play. Little children learned from the example of their elders that there is joy to be found in the small, common, everyday mercies.
One of my favorite memories is the look of utter joy on their faces as they danced—in church! They danced as they went forward to present their offering. They danced during the worship time, and beckoned us to join them in their celebration of Jesus’ goodness. They laughed with us and not at us, as we clumsily joined them. There was a unity there seldom seen at home, as expectations and comfort were stripped away in the light of the reality of Jesus, whom we each worshipped.
It was as if their struggles, their challenges, and their perspective were strained through a filter of the joy of knowing Him, saturated with the reality of God’s presence, and sustained by a total dependence on His grace.
I—not they—am the poor one.
This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength! Nehemiah 8:10b
Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. Psalm 95:1-3
The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Psalm 28:7
If you would like to see a video overview of our time in Senegal, you can access it here: http://emote360.com/Senegal2010/
- What do you think it would be like to have all material conveniences taken away?
- Would you still be able to be joyful?
- Would it change your perception of the goodness of Jesus?
Father, You alone are the unchanging One, and my joy is deepest when it is drawn from my relationship with You. Help me to let go of those material things that I think will make me happy, and cling instead to You, the one who satisfies my soul. Then the joy You provide would indeed be my strength.