My mind has been dragging and my heart has lingered in this week and a half that I’ve been home from my recent trip to Kenya.
When the faces of such precious people are fixated in your mind, you just stay put for a while. The joy washes over you and you don’t want to leave the moment.
What can I say in response to a place that captures my heart so much? How can I adequately describe such an experience?
I left Kenya this time, the same way I leave Africa every time—full.
Full of new ways to articulate my own story, new discipline for my daily routines, and new drive to do everything I can to help feed the hungry around the world.
So what can U.S. Americans learn from not being in America? Here are a few lessons I brought home with me:
1. We waste so much.
We think that everything is a resource without end. Water. Food. Gas. Even the opportunities we have to advance ourselves through education.
Though we live in towns with free government services, such as libraries, job placement services and recreation facilities, we moan and groan about the limitations of our lives. We don’t even treasure what we already have.
2. We so easily believe the lie that material goods will provide us happiness.
The newest shampoo in pretty packaging. The car with a more powerful engine. A kitchen with an island. We can so spend all our free time chasing after such things, even if we aren’t intentionally making such a choice.
Our children tuck themselves in their beds at night. Our friends don’t hear from us in weeks. Our resume is robust but our loved ones suffer. In the end, we’re not as really happy as we think.
3. We are so quick to unconsciously judge outsiders as the other, sometimes into the category of less than human.
For example, perhaps we think that Africans don’t shop at malls, eat ice cream or that their little girls don’t love getting a manicure just as ours do.
Or we might think that African mothers and fathers don’t also worry about their boys’ grades in school, their girls’ friend-making choices or their babies’ ability to walk and crawl at just the right time.
We so easily take the dignity away from those far away from us. We forget we all came from the same divine parent anyway.
I’ve come home with these convictions on my mind asking, might there be a better way to be a citizen of this world?
Might there be a way of living, even in the land of plenty, where I do not waste so much food and opportunities for life enrichment?
Might there be a way of living that values relationships over that next overpriced vacation, that new light fixture for the dining room, or that new car that we really don’t need?
Might there be a way of living that sees Africans (or any other cultural group other than my own) as completely equal partners in this work of learning how to be a human being, even with the differences?
I want to find more of this way of living—the eyes wide-open kind—even as I am at home now.
Knowing that there are prejudices in me still waiting to be uncovered, judgments of my eyes that need to be brought to light, and misconceptions I have about other colors of skin that need to be called out.
Being an American has given me so many gifts. Freedom to be is a beautiful part of our citizenship.
But, may we all not forget that we’re not the only ones with blessings. We may be materially rich, but we are oh so spiritually poor.
Our African, Asian and European brothers and sisters have much to teach us out of their blessings, too.
Elizabeth Evans Hagan is a freelance writer and minister dividing her time between Arlington, Virginia, and Oklahoma City. She regularly blogs about the art of pastoring at Preacher on the Plaza, where a version of this column first appeared. You can follow her on Twitter @Elizabethagan.
Elizabeth Hagan is senior minister of The Palisades Community Church in Washington, D.C. Other hats she wears are as a preacher, author and executive director of Our Courageous Kids, a foundation dedicated to orphan care.