Monday, February 11, 2013

Service (And How Liberia Views It)

“That's okay, I can do it myself.”

How many times have I said that one? More than you'd think. Most of the time I say it when I'm trying to do some form of work. If I'm washing my own dish, washing the car, painting a basketball backboard, drawing a bucket of water from the well, etc., at some point some Liberian, such as the security guard on duty, will come up to me and say, “Oh, Jake, I can help you with that,” or “I can do it for you”.

Needless to say, I'm an American born and bred and I don't particularly like having people do things for me, so I reply with, “That's okay, I can do it myself.”

An old picture of our well
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to keep people from doing things for me. “I can do it myself” isn't an anti-service thing. But really, doing such things myself is counter-cultural.

There's this underlying mindset of “service” in Liberian culture when it comes to menial labor. The lower you are on the ladder of success and prestige, the more menial labor you have to do.  Such as drawing water from the well.  So when a white person (like myself) comes into the country, no Liberian wants to let the “boss man” get his hands dirty and do actual work.

One Tuesday we were having a teen Bible study with some local Liberians just out of school. At one point I was trying to explain in a relevant way the significance of the fact that Jesus washed his disciples' feet. They had heard it before, of course; they knew Bible stories from church, but oftentimes Liberian teens don't grasp the meaning behind the stories.

So here's what I said:

“Say that Ma Ellen” - (that's the president of Liberia, by the way) - “is coming into the compound.” I gestured to the rusty gate to our concrete-block fence. “She gets out of her car and says hello. Then she says this: 'Oh, I see your feet are very dirty. Let me wash them for you.' And then she gets down on her hands and knees and washes your feet.”

At this, their eyes flew wide and they shouted, “No, no! You can't do that!” Evidently I had succeeded, and the message got through to them: Jesus' act was completely counter-cultural and crazy. Nobody as high and important as President Ellen would stoop as far as to wash someone else's feet. It's crazy!

But like I said, it's deeply embedded in the culture. When outsiders come in, this is what they see. They often say, “Wow, how generous these Africans are! They're always serving others.” And this is true. When Christ has changed a Liberian's life, it's beautiful to see. They're unselfish, generous, and serving.

But too often good things can be twisted. Service is an important part of Liberian culture, but it's the wrong kind of service.

The service Christ calls us to is inherently democratic. One person is not better than the other. Democracy was born when Paul said, “All are one in Christ Jesus.” The kind of service the Christian is called to is where one person serves the other because all are equal. It is love-motivated service. But the Liberian kind of “service” turns this truth around: Liberian service is where one person serves the other because all are unequal. The Liberian serves the boss-man because he's the boss-man, not because he wants to serve. But the boss-man doesn't serve him. Yet this is exactly what Christ calls us to – to serve one another regardless of who that “other” is.

Christian service is out of love. But Liberian “service” is often out of selfishness. I had one of our security guards tell me that “the Liberian love office job”. Why? Because it involves no menial labor. They only work so that they can get to the point where they don't have to work.

Yet Christ says the exact opposite. The last shall be first – completely counter to everything in this culture, where everything is a race to be “first”.

But if this country can regain this kind of Christian service, this real service, it will be transformed. And I think that the best way to start is to serve.

That's why I say “I can do it myself.” Because the white man can work too. I'm not higher than anyone else. So I'll wash my own dish; and other people's dishes too. I'll draw my own shower bucket, and my dad's shower bucket too. Change has to start small before it can grow big.

And maybe we can turn self-service in to self-sacrificing service.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

When In Doubt, Post Pictures

This is a mantra that has been oft-repeated by my mother, whose blog mostly consists of pictures.  As I don't have anything particularly meaningful to say (yet), and I have some blank space that needs filling, pictures appear to be the way to go!

This is a picture of the beach at ELWA, which is an acronym meaning Eternal Love Winning Africa.  It's essentially a great big missionary compound where many of the Samaritan's Purse and SIM (Serving In Mission) missionaries live.  This picture was taken several weeks ago shortly after we went swimming.  (We live several miles from ELWA, so we walked there along the beach.)  This was an hour or two after low tide, so the waves were still manageable.

This is the fence at our compound.  The tree you see there is a coconut tree, which we've harvested several times since moving in in December.  (While coconut water is rather strange-tasting, I do like the coconut flesh.)

This picture, however, was likely taken in December or earlier, before we had any work done.  The wire hanging off the fence there has since been taken down and replaced with broken glass and new wire.

Here's a rather artistic picture of a sunset through our new wire.  If you look closely you can see the broken bottles cemented to the top of the wall.

That's the same coconut tree, by the way. ^_^

And that's pretty much all I've got.  If you have any questions, ask away!  Maybe I'll respond with pictures. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What's A Blog About?

Greetings, wanderers from near and far!  This post marks the debut of my new blog, "Reflecting the Mirror".

When one starts a new blog (something I haven't done since beginning Teenage Writer nearly three years ago) the first question to answer is this: what's it going to be about?

So far I've found that question hard to answer.  The primary reason I created this blog is to fill a literary hole in my life: something you might not know about me is that I'm very fond of writing essays, for lack of a better word.

Before you shut down your computer at the sight of that awful word, let me explain that I mean "essay" in the very best sense: a piece of writing having to do with one's opinion on a subject, whether it be G. K. Chesterton's infamous essay "On Lying in Bed" or a simple theological treatise or a commentary on some political issue.

I mentioned, however, that I've found the question of this blog's subject hard to answer.  That's because I don't want this blog devoted exclusively to one thing.  If anything, the subject of this blog is everything - or everything that comes to mind, anyway.

So what should you expect?  Well, the one thing I know I'll be writing (at one point or another) is an essay.  Besides that, it's all open.  I could revive old traditions and give some cautionary words on rabbits; I could very seriously write a theological post on justification; I could post pictures of Africa; I could post stories on Africa; I could talk about lying in bed; the possibilities are endless.

One thing I do promise, however: it is going to be entertaining!

Welcome to Reflecting the Mirror.