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Africa reveals our values to be in the wrong place

Kenyan children are amazed at the pastiness of our skin. They are equally astonished by the fact that we have hair on our arms; they will play with it and never let go, as if it were gold. These children will hold your hand and grab your arm and not let go until you pull away. All of this just to experience your touch and experience the alien nature that Americans have brought to their world.

This portrays one of hundreds of images that I took away from two weeks in the Third World country of Kenya this past summer. Pictures and words can never portray the experience of living within this type of environment.

Words do not adequately express the conditions of the roads where potholes line the streets. Images cannot convey the severity of poverty in nearly every town. Words cannot describe the discomfort I felt when I realized the message of Coca Cola advertisements has reached farther in all the nations than the message of the Gospel. Endless snapshots do not truly bring to life the reddish-yellow look of malnutrition present in so many of the Kenyans’ eyes. Pictures cannot capture the feeling of seeing a woman with AIDS trying to take care of her eight grandchildren while living in a home constructed of mud and sticks.

Since I returned to the States in early July, I have struggled with the idea of American society, a society that is filled with complication and brimming with sophistication. We are governed by a culture that tells us what to wear, how to look and how we should be perceived by others.

At Eastern, we are enveloped by our busy Christian lives. What is the point of this lifestyle? What is the point in filling our schedules and concerning ourselves with issues that do not matter when the world is suffering? What is the purpose of praying for a successful semester in class when a woman with AIDS prays that she will live one more day just to take care of her grandchildren?

In American society we value success, monetary gain and the chance to further our ambitions above all else. Members of the wealthiest nation on the planet are given more opportunities than any other citizens of the world, yet one in five Americans suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Many Kenyans live with nothing, yet their love of God and their faith in God is unshakable. What is the point of living in America?

During the last night of our missionary outreach program in the small town of Njoro, I found myself alone during worship. I felt something brush against my hand, and I looked down to see a young boy, who looked at me and smiled. I smiled back, and stood there with him for some time. He played with the hair on my arm and was amazed at the color of my skin. He never told me his name; he was simply content with holding my hand and not letting go.

Our worship concluded, and our team started to make our way back to our vans. The children knew we had to leave. They began to grasp onto our arms, and cling to us in hopes that we would stay longer. With more than 10 children grabbing onto my arms, I slowly shifted and pushed my way closer and closer to our van. One by one, the children relinquished their grip and fell off, running back to their mud shacks in search of food. When I reached a clearing, I looked down, and realized that the one boy who came to me in the beginning was still holding on to my arm. Even when I had to struggle and fight through the crowds, he held steadfastly to my arm and had refused to let go.

In the quest to find the point in the American way of living, we must identify what we are going to hold onto. We have to ask ourselves how much longer we are going to grasp onto the objective and material features of our society. We must decide if we are going to continue to be consumed with meaningless worries of our world and the useless obsession with the treasures of this earth.

Instead, there is a greater call to what is truly important in our lives. The point of living in America is that there is a greater call to discover what we should grab and hold onto for the rest of our lives. Whether it is our relationships with friends and loved ones or our call into our job field, we must discern what is truly important, and what has become objective and meaningless in our lives.

For 25 minutes at the end of our ministry in Njoro, that young boy held onto my arm; he did not let go of what was important to him. What is important to you? What will you hold on to?

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