Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Let's Be People People

Even though we've been to Uganda a number of times now, before each trip I like to brush up a little on my African culture. And I thought that today, I'd share a few bits of information.

In Africa it's considered rude not to shake someone's hand or to acknowledge his presence when he enters a room. So you can imagine that while we're there we shake a lot of hands. And it doesn't stop there. If you are meeting someone for the first time, you will often shake their hand when you first arrive, then shake it again when you are formally introduced, and then shake it again before you leave. Even the dogs will shake your hands! (Actually I made that last one up. That would be pretty cool though.)
Generally speaking, Americans are very task oriented people. When we're given a task (lets say paint a building) we like to get there, get started and work as hard as we can to finish as fast as we can. We get satisfaction out of accomplishing things. Africans are more people oriented. They focus on building relationships. It may be the task that brings you together, but it's about spending time getting to know others.

For example, when we visit the primary school, we are brought into an AMG worker's office. The schedule says we've come to teach the kids, but we end up doing so much more. We speak to the AMG worker for some time. We catch up on life, talk about family, ask about certain kids at the school. Then she takes us up to the Head Mistresses office, and we do the same there. Then we usually take a tour of the school and see what's changed. And now, about an hour or so after we arrived...

We sit and have tea. We sip on our tea and eat bananas and talk some more about life. And then we get to work with the kids.

This is something that can be very frustrating for people who are experiencing Uganda for the first time, because we think as Americans. But with time, you understand that it's so much more laid back. You end up building such strong relationships with people, and really it's our relationships in life that matter most.

When we think of third world countries like Uganda we think that they have so much to learn from us. But, in some ways I think it's the opposite. Shouldn't we, as Christians, have this same people oriented mindset? Should people be our focus? But so often we choose to focus on the task at hand. We'd really love to stop and help that older lady get her groceries to her car, but it's raining and we really need to get back home.

But if we just took a minute to focus a little less on our tasks and a lot more on people, we could change the world. It's just like the verse in Hebrews 13 says, "Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

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