Last night I left Doug in charge of bath and bed, and I hurried off to the post office to pick up our held mail, and to Ralph’s to buy soy milk. As I stood in line at the post office, I marveled at how there could be so many employees present in the service windows while only one employee was regularly inviting customers to come forward. One of them was taking down Christmas decorations while talking to another who did not appear to be doing anything. Maybe they were off the clock; maybe they really were engaged with important tasks. All I knew was that for the long line of us waiting and not moving, it was frustrating.
Yesterday I received an email update from friends of ours who serve with Samaritan’s Purse in Mozambique. I was struck by their description of the ways their life, the things they expect, need, and require, have changed because of where they live. They write:
After more than a year of living here, we realize that the annoyances we felt when we first moved here are now part of the daily adventure and joy of living in Africa. For example, itâ€™s frustrating how complicated it can be to do everyday things such as buying the groceries you need, making sure thereâ€™s electricity in your house, and checking your email. The great things about these â€œinconveniencesâ€ though, is that you get to meet and talk to a whole lot of people in the course of everyday life. We donâ€™t just talk to faceless phone operators or go online to fix problems. We now have personal relationships with the computer guy, the person who sells bread at the supermarket, our plumber, the kid who sells oranges on the corner, and so many others. What we lose in time and efficiency, we have easily gained many times over in relationships and friendships.
There are any number of things that make life in my neighborhood frustrating. They range from inconveniences to outright injustices, and I cope with them better on some days than on others. Consistently opening up food from our grocery store that is rotten drives me crazy. The fact that grocery chains can so obviously send items past their expiration dates to urban stores that serve the poor is absolutely infuriating.
Coming off of six weeks in places like Portland and Seattle, the contrast in the level of service and accommodation and convenience I can expect here is dramatic. My friendsâ€™ email from Mozambique was a good and necessary reminder of what my options are for how I deal with this. First, I am certain that what I face is utterly negligible in the inconvenience category compared with my sisters and brothers in most of the world. I can’t really put inefficiency at the Dockweiler post office alongside running water or electricity when talking about hardships. And that compels me to remember how skewed our North American perspective can really be, and repent for what that reveals about me.
And second, I am humbled by my friends’ clear demonstration of what it looks like to move in this world as people who recognize their abundance; as people eager to engage people as people, and not means to whatever self-satisfying end; as people more concerned with being Christ’s hands and feet than their internet connection speed or plumbing.
God bless you, Joseph and Joanna!