In August of 2012, I was very fortunate and blessed to have the wonderful opportunity to travel to the country of Burundi, Africa on a missions trip. I traveled there accompanied by my wife Janet, and two great friends, Joshua Botello and Kelly Thoenen. This trip was in support of an organization called The Cries of a Child. I would have to say that my trip to Burundi ranks as one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. It was my first missions trip, and I can honestly say that it has forever changed me, and completely changed the way I look at many things. I learned a great about myself, life, and the positioning of my priorities.
Burundi Africa, is a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa. It is bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. In terms of land mass, Burundi is approximately the size of the state of Maryland. Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the entire world, with an estimated 80% of the population living in poverty.
Before traveling to Burundi, I always thought of myself as a fairly generous and giving person. I considered myself one that was usually willing to give of what I had. However, after experiencing my trip to Burundi, it awakened me to hidden roots of selfishness and materialism in me that I never realized existed. Here in the United States, our society has become incredibly materialistic, causing Americans to gauge success by the amount of our possesions and the price tag of the things we own. Sadly, we in the U.S. have come to associate driving the best cars and living in the finest of homes as success. I believe that the materialism and greed that has infected the minds of millions of Americans plays a large part in the wide spread cases of chronic depression that we see in our country today. When people fail to obtain the material possessions that society considers to be the “indicators” of success, they get discouraged and depressed, often feeling like a failure.
One of the most amazing things I discovered when I first arrived in Burundi is that even though the people there live in a country that is entrenched in poverty, the people there are typically happy and seemingly content. I found the people there to be very friendly, kind, and willing to help an obvious foreigner feel at home in any way that they could. Soon after arriving in Burundi, it occurred to me that regardless of the fact that the people I was meeting were living in the 5th poorest county in the world, and had virtually no material possessions, they were for the most part happy people. Wow! This was such a wake up call for me, having come from a society that chooses to attach happiness to the things we own. Little did I know that on one particular day of our trip, I would get a lesson about giving that would rock my world, and forever change my thoughts about what giving really means.
On one of the days while we were in Burundi, it was decided that we would journey further up into the rural mountains to visit some of the locals that live there. It was a long, tiring walk, much of which was over very narrow, steep,and treacherous mountain paths. As tiring as it was, I was astounded by the natural beauty of the land and valleys below. Burundi is truly a very mountainous and beautiful country. As we continued to walk up the steep mountain paths, we passed several homes that were typical of the homes that you see in Burundi. They were made of nothing more than clay blocks and tile roofs. Upon looking at them from the outside, it was hard for me to imagine anyone actually living in a home like this. My idea of a home was patterned by what I knew in the US… vinyl siding, an asbestos shingle roof, and energy efficient thermal windows. These homes were light-years away from my idea of suitable housing.
When we finally arrived at our intended destination, we were invited into a home of one of the villagers in the area. As you would expect, we drew a great deal of attention from the village children and adults that were outside working and playing while we made our way to the entrance of the home we were visiting. I don’t think it completely sunk into my head how very little the people of Burundi have in terms of material possessions, until I stepped into the home that we were visiting. We were followed into the home by a throng of village children and their parents who were curious about us and what we were all about. By the time we all managed to squeeze into the small clay block home, it was very crowded. My mind could barely comprehend what I was seeing. The interior of the home had dirt walls, a dirt floor, no means of artificial lighting, no electricity, and no visible means of plumbing whatsoever. I was trying to be a gentleman, therefore I chose not to sit down on any of the few crudely built benches that were in the home, in an attempt to reserve them for the ladies and the children as much as possible. Consequently, I ended up standing up in the back corner of the home.
What happened next is something I will never forget. It did a greater job of drilling into my understanding what giving is all about than anything I had ever experienced in my life! Out of nowhere, a little girl came pushing her way through the crowded home towards me, carrying a bench for me to sit down upon. She had gone to a neighbor next door to borrow the bench for my use. Wow! I was literally brought to tears.
Here was a young girl, who was living in one of the poorest countries in the world, that had no material possessions to offer, but she offered what she had; and that was her kindness. As I began to process this, I quickly grabbed my camera to take her picture because I knew instantly this was something that was changing me and the way I think about giving. I began to think about how people I knew back in the U.S. went about entertaining guests in their home. Typically when we have guests in our home, it is common for us to offer them something to drink, something to eat, offer a seat for them on our leather couch, and perhaps even flip on our 50 inch plasma television and find out what they would like to watch. We may even go as far as asking them if they think it is too warm in the house. If they say it is, we adjust the air conditioning. We do all of this to try to make our guests feel at home. All the while, when we are doing all of this, we are completely forgetting how blessed we really are. Here was this little girl, who had nothing to offer, but she did everything she possibly could to make me comfortable, and feel like a welcomed guest. Her act of kindness was one of the greatest displays of heartfelt giving I had ever experienced.I will never forget that precious child.
When I think back on this lesson on giving that I received from this little girl, I try to apply it to my life in a way that will make me a more giving person. Too often in life, because we may not have an abundance of money, material possessions, or talents, we feel like we have nothing to offer. That is the farthest thing from the truth. Everyone has something they can offer or give to someone else, and the most meaningful acts of giving are not tied to money or possessions. Simply showing kindness to someone who needs it can be a gift that will mean the world to the person receiving it. A well timed word of encouragement or hug can be one of the greatest gifts you will ever give someone.One of the biggest mistakes parents make in raising their children is trying to show their love to them by buying them things. All this does is drill the materialistic mentality of our nation into their minds at a young age. What children will remember the most when they are adults is not the material things you gave them, but the amount of quality time you spent with them as they were growing up. Your time is one of the most precious gifts you can give anyone. Why is that? It is because if we give money or material things to someone, we can always replace what we gave away. But time is something that we can never get back. Consequently, when you give someone your time, you are giving them a piece of your life that you will never be able to get back.
I urge everyone to never take for granted the blessings that you have, and understand that the best and purest forms of giving have nothing to do with money or possessions. The giving that will be the most cherished gift that you will ever give anyone will be the gift of yourself. The best things in life are things money can’t buy. It is this kind of giving that has the power to make our part of the world a better place.
Thanks for Reading!
Until Next Time,