The Same, But So Different

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I’ve been back from Africa for a couple weeks now.  Two days off the plane and my world was hit with an unexpected whirlwind of change and so my focus was immediately redirected.  As a result, I haven’t been able to reflect on and process my time in Kenya as much as I’d like; however, there is one particular memory from my trip that keeps running through my mind.

One of the most impactful moments for me during my time in Kenya was when we asked the older school girls to write down any question they wanted an answer to.  We promised to answer them to the best of our ability.  The questions all remained anonymous and we read them out of order so nobody would know who asked what.  I  wasn’t entirely sure how it would go or if they would open up, but I certainly wasn’t emotionally prepared for what came next.

The questions were real…raw…and utterly heartbreaking.  They revealed in such a stark and unfiltered manner the realities of these girls lives.  There was no sugarcoating, no stammering, and no apologizing.  Just real questions from real girls who needed real answers to the issues they face every day.

Some of the questions were ones I could have expected.  They were practical and asked how they could get money for school fees, materials, books, etc.  Some were theological and asked about God and Jesus.  But others….others were so difficult to read and harder to answer, I felt almost paralyzed with a heart-wrenching pain.  Questions asking what they can do when their mother yells at them or when their dad drinks and abuses them.  They asked what to do when their dads bring home different women to sleep with every night…kicking out their mom and making them sit there and watch/listen.  Many of the girls wanted to know about HIV and what to do if/when they are raped.

Their questions were so honest…so real.  And nobody in the room (besides the new Americans, probably) seemed taken aback by them.  As I read the questions out loud, I searched the eyes of these young women staring back at me and none of them were surprised at all.  This was just their life and they wanted to know what they could do….simple as that.  There was no shock or shame or anything else that would have certainly appeared in the faces of children in America, had they asked the same things.  But I did see something similar in all their faces.  They were all….hungry.  Hungry for answers, hungry for advice, hungry to be heard and cared for.  Hungry for answers, help, guidance, provision, salvation…anything, really.

We answered the questions as best as we could.  Obviously, we couldn’t force their parents stop beating them or make their fathers stop kicking out their mothers to sleep with other women.  We can’t prevent them from being raped or taken advantage of by ill-intentioned men, but we can…and we did try to…give them hope.  We gave as much practical advice as possible, but also made sure they heard the truth about who they are.  We encouraged them to focus on their studies, stay in school, develop their talents and skills, and make something of themselves before pursuing a husband or a family.  We encouraged them to value themselves and their future over the generations of cultural mandates telling them to drop out, have children at an incredibly young age, and continue the cycle of poverty.  We encouraged them to value their hearts and their minds and their bodies instead of giving them away to those who would only abuse them and throw them away.

And this is where everything started to sound and feel so very familiar.  I realized these women are not facing anything terribly different than what many women in America face every single day.  The fact that America is a 1st world country makes absolutely no difference in the amount or level of sufferings we have.  It makes no difference in the level of self-esteem and self-worth we have.  When a man or woman is abused, what does it matter how expensive their clothes are or what kind of car they drive?  Human nature is human nature.  And evil is evil…regardless of how it’s dressed.

Statistics show that one in six women in America are sexually assaulted while 99% of perpetrators never go to court, much less see a single day of jail (see stats here).  Women are objectified and used and then, metaphorically or literally, thrown away here just as much as anywhere else.  America has a massive porn problem (see stats here)and sex trade industry that is trafficking countless women and children through our states as sex slaves (see stats here), drug and alcohol addictions running rampant, children growing up being physically, sexually, psychological, and emotionally abused and/or neglected, huge amounts of homeless people in every city, etc.  We are simply not that different, and certainly not any better, than any other country on the planet.  We have the exact same problems here, so what does it matter what brand of clothing we are wearing or how much our houses cost?

The only difference I see, culturally, is that Americans (yes, I’m speaking generally) are so wrapped up in our image and the pursuit of personal comfort/gain that we refuse to acknowledge the moral depravity that is destroying lives all around us.  We insulate ourselves from every uncomfortable truth to the point that we can’t even handle hearing about it or looking at it, and we actively look away when it arises.  We choose to live in woeful ignorance of reality instead of facing it as it is.  Only a few groups here and there are even acknowledging our problems, much less trying to change them.  The rest of us are either blindingly unaware of them or actively choosing not to look at them.  Why?

We don’t want to be distracted from our nightly sitcoms or reality TV binges.  We wouldn’t want to feel  ::GASP:: responsible for helping or making a difference in the world.  No no…we don’t want to feel anything but the numbed out bliss of being a grown up pseudo-adult without any real responsibilities to anything or anyone.  Certainly not the responsibility of making a difference in other people’s lives.  No no, we want to drink our beer, chase our Pokemons, watch our TV shows, and still somehow hope to climb the social ladder.  We don’t want to…heaven forbid…look at reality or deal with it once we do.

In this way, I admire the school girls I had the honor of meeting in Kenya.  Yes, they have horrendous problems.  No, they do not live in the best of conditions.  But you know what they have that we don’t?  They have honesty.  They have integrity.  They have the strength capacity to look reality in the face and call it what it is.  They have the freedom to admit their problems, the humility to ask for help, and the eagerness to accept it…which is head and shoulders above what most attitudes are like here in America, despite the fact we face the exact same problems.  They had no shame in admitting their realities, speaking about the truth of it, and asking for help…something us Americans are so weak, prideful, and pathetically indifferent to do more than half the time.

I immediately felt an overwhelming admiration and respect for those girls.  In fact, I kept the notes they wrote with their questions and I carry them in my purse.  I look at them and pray over them.  I remember their beautiful faces, their searching eyes, and ask that God would empower each and every one of them to live lives free of abuse and oppression.  More than anything, I ask that we would all have that kind of courage and humility before God and before others, to admit our true state and ask for help.  Those young women are absolutely my inspiration.




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