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Africa In One Word

by Kirk Schneemann

Upon my return to the USA, a friend asked me to describe our trip to Africa in one word. What a challenge! How does a person summarize nearly three weeks of travel, meals, people, culture, music, conversations, and experiences in one word? The question hardly seemed fair! I began to reflect upon the highlights of the adventure. Four were especially profound.

The first was our visit to the Twa village. We walked from our retreat center across the valley and up the mountainside to the homes of this marginalized people, a third group of Burundians often overshadowed by the Hutus and Tutsis. The Twa are very poor, many living in thatched-roof huts. Dozens of children welcomed us to their village as they saw us approaching, including several we were privileged to work with throughout the trip.

As we were escorted into the village, a group of women spontaneously started singing and dancing.

Then we were invited into their small church where praise music erupted. I was holding back tears, captivated by the wonder of these people being my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have rarely had such a moment of worship and joy in my life. One boy, Patience, would not let go of my hand from the time we entered the village to the time we went home. Others were mobbing me, too, and begging for photos. I kept thinking of Andy Stanley’s adage, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all” and focused my attention on Patience. It was so special.

The second unforgettable moment occurred twice. On two different occasions, young men approached me and asked me—in English—to be their mentor. How could I refuse such an opportunity to invest in the future of this challenged African nation? Both Christian and Clovis were among the best and brightest of the leaders we were there to equip. I have begun correspondence with each of them, though I feel limited in my ability to help them.

The third cherished memory came on the final day of pastoral training. One of the themes of the week was servant leadership. Following the example of Jesus, we washed the feet of each pastor/attendee. The students returned the favor and washed our feet. Perhaps the only thing more powerful than their sacrificial act was their passionate singing of worship music which provided the soundtrack for this sacred moment.

The final incident took place during our community celebration. A large room was filled with pastors preparing to receive certificates for completing their training along with dozens of children who participated in two weeks of games, dramas, lessons, crafts, and activities. The families of the kids were invited, as well, bringing the attendance to well over one hundred. Lunch was served to all and it was fascinating to watch proud pastors pass plates of food to children before taking a plate for themselves.

Even more profound was the moment my wife asked me to get a plate of food and feed a hungry child she was holding in her arms, the younger sibling of a participant. Each bite was swallowed eagerly, reflecting how tragically rare the experience of eating was for this little one.

There were, of course, many other memories I will cherish forever—attending a formal engagement ceremony, watching the five-hour parade, playing music, training pastors, teaching youth—but if I were to describe the experience in one word it would be humbling. I was humbled to hear the joyful worship of my brothers and sisters who live on less than one dollar a day. I was humbled to be asked to mentor young men who barely know me. I was humbled to wash the feet of pastors who faithfully serve congregations with little or no pay…and then have them wash my feet. I was humbled to feed a hungry child in the arms of my wife. When I think of Africans, we’re a whole lot different, we’re a whole lot the same (to quote composer Charlie Peacock). It was an honor and privilege to be with them. I look forward to a reunion soon.

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