“We are Christ’s emissaries, as though God were making His appeal through us." ~ 2 Cor. 5:20
Adrianne, a young Missionary had been observing the habits and culture of the Xhosa tribe, a South African ethnic group. When she’d completed her stay, she waited impatiently for transportation to return home. Helping pass the time before departing, she sang songs and danced with the children before inviting them to play a simple game.
She still had a small bag of candy and some dried dates in her backpack. Adrianne placed it under a lone Baobab tree before circling the eager participants. Staging them behind the line she’d drawn in the sandy desert dirt, she explained that when she said “Go!” they should run to the backpack. Whoever arrived first would win all the goodies.
These were very poor children living in a most inhospitable place – short on food, clean drinking water, modern medicines, and education. Adrianne expected the competition to be fierce as they raced barefoot across the tall grass and endless scrub in the blistering sun.
But when she said “Go!” they did something extraordinary. The entire group of children held each other’s hands and ran towards the tree as a group. Then they sat together around the treasured backpack and enjoyed their treats as a group.
Words immediately left her. A young Xhosan girl saw the shock register on Adrianne’s face before she could hide it. A small smile played across her sunbaked lips.
The stunned Missionary asked why they’d all gone together, especially since the first one to arrive at the tree could have won everything in the basket – all the sweets.
The girl replied humbly [translated]: “How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”
That moment her words stopped was the moment her heart broke ... Adrianne realized she'd tried to impose her competitive values on them; as if she'd been speaking a language they didn’t understand.
Yet it was a good breaking; the type that leads to better understanding, heightened compassion, deeper love. Sometimes a loss for words speaks volumes.
Xhosan Africans practice something called ‘ubuntu.’ It embraces hospitality, compassion, and being willing to go the extra mile for others. They work hard at making life great for everyone in the community.
Stated another way, “A person can’t exist as a human being in isolation.”
Ubuntu is an African philosophy. And it is genuinely Christian too. The biblical image of men and women, of their being created in God’s image, of their partnership with each other and with God. Our task to care for each other and the earth seems deeply rooted in the ideas of Ubuntu. Nothing can exist alone. All life belongs together.
Maybe we should all consider walking to the tree and enjoying the fruit together.
Almighty Father, help me practice more ubuntu - to be more open and available to others, affirming of others, not threatened that others are able and good. Remind me that we are all diminished when others are humiliated, diminished, or oppressed. Amen