One of the things many people asked me before I came to Madagascar was, "What are you most looking foreword to?" Common answers I would give included: Excitement to hang out with the kids I will be working with, the chance to see the country, and a feeling that my faith could simultaneously be challenged and strengthened. My expectations for these aspects have not fallen short. The kids I work with are some of the brightest points in my week. I have already seen some beautiful, unique, and overwhelming parts of the country. And my faith is being tested. In more ways than I expected. Yet while in certain areas I am facing deep struggle, others have been flourishing in a way only god could construct. It is still fairly early on too, and I can only expect that these outlooks will morph and grow as time goes on.
But I think perhaps the biggest thing I came in looking foreword to was the opportunity and desire to become a part of the community. I'm not sure. No, I know that at the time I didn't really know what that would look like. In turn this has become one of the biggest areas of challenge. I had visions of everything from being invited out every night to hang with the locals, to hi-fiving everyone on the road, to just blending right on in from the get go. Not so. I clearly stick out and rather than becoming assimilated into the community, have been finding it difficult to find my place, and my acceptance. Now this became clear to me early on so I started looking for ways to make those connections. One of the best ways, and one I have already written about is simply introducing myself to the people I see everyday. This has been such a wonderful way to get to know people, and to get people to know me. To create familiarity, and get hi-fives. With this in mind I started to look for more ways to be in the place I call home.
A unique opportunity presented itself a few weeks back. At the time I did not see how it would create a new way I approach life here. I suppose that is often how things work. I was walking into town a few weeks ago along the usual path. Up ahead I spotted a man pushing a wheelbarrow filled with many jugs of water. He turned off the road and began to push the barrow up a small embankment, until the tire became stuck on a rock. As I came closer he still could not move past the rock and the wheelbarrow was in danger of tipping. I was thinking to myself that I could, and should, jump in front and help him pull the load up to the top. I walked closer and closer and closer..... and passed him by as he still tried to overcome the obstacle.
Wow. A missed service opportunity. I was not in a hurry. I had nothing urgent to do. I even thought about returning after passing, yet i restrained. Why? Because I didn't want to stick out even more? Because I was afraid he wouldn't accept the help? I couldn't figure out why I decided not to stop. All the reasons I tried to come up with were poor excuses. This event plagued my mind for the rest of the day. Being brought up in my life, and especially recently, believing that to help is perhaps one of the best ways to show acceptance and be received. To form relationships, groups, and become a part of a community. Was this not exactly what I was looking for? It was! it is! Maybe I missed out on that opportunity, on the other hand maybe it took that missed chance to show me yet another way I can not only be of service but bridge the gap of culture. With that in mind and determined not to loose out on more service opportunities, I have adopted a new phrase.
"Afaka manampy Aho."- "Can I help?"
Armed with these words and the plan, I headed out. Here is a sampling what happened:
I learned to milk a cow.
Need a baby burped? Im your guy!
My host brother in law showed me the secret to making a delicious egg, mushroom, pepper, ham pie. I helped lay bricks for the neighbors building a house.
A boy gave me one of the few hugs I have received here after carrying his bike up a hill.
I have become well read in the art of yogurt making
I had an fantastic conversation in Malagasy/Sign/English/ while moping a room.
A stranger asked if he could help carry some of the bibles that fell to the ground after the bag I was carrying them in ripped.
I Thank God for presenting me with these simple words that have become so important. I am so grateful to all of the people who were pleased to accept help from me despite being a novice at many of the applications. For their willingness to be in relationship with me, and for the profound welcoming effect it has had. This is but another step of the continued grace I have come into here. I feel so lucky because what I have gained in return for a few words and a willing heart has been more beautiful than I can express. So I will continue to help. Where there is need. Where their might not be an apparent need. When it is easy, and especially when it may be difficult or inconvenient. The payoff I have found, is far greater than a pat on the back.
St. Francis said it for a reason. A reason I come to know more clearly every day. "For it is in giving, that we truly receive." May it be so.