It was several months ago, when the end was only a myth and when goodbyes were still far off in the distance. A teacher from school, trying to further his education- a story so common here in Korr. It was a simple request, really. He just wanted to check his school’s status, check his registration. Something so easy yet so difficult without access to internet. So he asked me, his mzungu friend, for a few minutes of my time and my computer, a request that I couldn’t deny.
We casually walked home from school, making a stop in town before reaching my home as the sun was making its way toward the horizon. The internet at the time was touchy- so we went to the back porch to get closer to the signal as we waited for pages to load. I followed his directions as he told me to click here or type there, but before I realized what exactly we were looking for, I saw the words- written in red and thickened in bold type to ensure that we did not miss their important message.
Your registration was NOT accepted for any of your courses due to a competitive nature.
My heart sunk as I looked to him and watched him process those words. He was set back, to be sure, but his resolve was still there. At his wish, I clicked a few other links, and suddenly, before us was an opportunity for a second-chance registration. As I scanned information about this renewed hope, I saw another important message indicating the deadline. I looked at the date then looked at the corner of my screen. We were five days late.
The brief moment of hope had been quickly dashed by reality. Normally things are done very slowly here within Kenya, so my friend thought he had plenty of time. Without a way to check the information, a deadline had passed unbeknownst to him, taking part of his future with it. We clicked around some more, but this time I knew that we could not avoid the inevitable.
I watched the disappointment take root in his eyes, through his whole body. His eyes glistened as he lamented, “I wish I could have known. I wish. I wish. I wish…” I felt like I was an intruder on what should have been a private moment between him and God. I wanted so badly to somehow change this outcome, but we were powerless against a seemingly unfair system.
After some time, with this information now fully sunken in, he got up the courage to begin his walk home. And as he did, I found a spot where I let my own tears fall. He was top in his class, with a quick mind and an eagerness and exuberance for learning, not unlike my own high school experience. Why did I have the pick of universities at my fingertips, while his dreams were left at the doorstep? Why could I fritter away time on the internet when he couldn’t even use it to set up his own education? I was left with bigger questions than I could attempt to answer, but throughout it all, one truth rang loudly.
We’re not so different after all.
I don’t think I can ever forget the look I saw on his face that day, and my words to convey that will certainly fall short. But haven’t we all been there? To look into the eyes of someone we care about only to see raw disappointment, regret, or failure? Or to see that same expression when we lift our heads and see our own reflection in the mirror?
So much wants to declare to me that I am different here. The color of my skin, style of my clothes, or accent of my speech make a loud statement that I am a foreigner. But as I learned that day, there is far more that bring us together than keeps us apart. Joy and pain are not foreign to anyone, and perhaps they unite us more than we realize.
We have all been fashioned in our mothers’ wombs by a loving God who created us in His image. We have the capacity for goodness because He is good. So when we extend a hand in kindness or utter a word in encouragement or offer a smile in joy, we reflect God who authored kindness, encouragement and joy for us all. And when we feel the effects of a sinful world, as hearts are broken or trusts are betrayed or dreams are unfulfilled, we are reminded of this same God who sees our hurt and hurts with us all. The God who provides for all a way for hope that can never be destroyed- for a life that will one day be untainted by the effects of sin and circumstance.
That famous verse doesn’t talk about God only loving Americans or only loving Africans. It doesn’t say he loved those with a specific shade of tan or brown skin. It doesn’t say He loved one language, culture, or physical place more than the other. No, rather, he loved the world. And since I am in the same world as my dark brown, Swahili-speaking, skirt wearing Kenyan friend next to me, then I know that we also have so, so much in common.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16]
I fully understand that backgrounds and upbringings and cultures will create differences between people within this world, and I believe that we should celebrate what makes us each unique. But as we celebrate the differences, I hope that we will also celebrate the numerous similarities.
I urge you not to forget that we live not just within our own town’s, state’s, and country’s borders, but within the context of this whole world. Make decisions and priorities and prayers that show that we, too, care about this entire world as God does. Because really, we’re not so different after all.
Enjoying fresh fruit- a rare treat in the desert!
Who says men can't wear skirts?
Laughter, a universal language.
PS. It is with great joy that I can say that my friend was able to make necessary connections with schools over the August holiday in Nairobi. A farewell party held for me this past weekend was actually held for the both of us, because he will be leaving to start school in January J