Open minds, open hearts
Susan Getty, editorial assistant in the publications office, made a good friend when she met Stephen Nyimbiri, a teacher at Macha Basic School. They were surprised to learn that they both had pursued a second degree in the field of visual art.
On June 11, a team of twelve people, seven teenagers and five adults, from the Grantham Brethren in Christ Church left for Africa. I have never traveled with a group of people so open to learning new things, experiencing different ways of life, embracing new people and ideas.
We spent 10 days at Macha Mission, near Choma, Zambia, interacting with people from the hospital community and the teachers and students from the basic school, where we painted classrooms. Our first day at Macha we toured the mission compound and began learning greetings in Chitonga, the local language. As I lay down to sleep that first night, words and phrases crashed about in my head, creating a jumbled mess of meanings and sounds I thought I’d never sort out. But by the end of our time there, I was happily greeting villagers in the market and on the road with the proper greeting for the time of day.
Learning a new language takes a certain aptitude which seems to diminish with age. But I’ve found that learning other kinds of things actually gets easier through the years, when what’s vital is not so much my aptitude as it is my attitude.
I went to Africa hungry to see more of the world, to meet God’s children in a land very different from my own, to find new ways of thinking and living. My heart was changed because my mind was open to learning.
Before we left for Zambia, I tried to prepare my mind. I knew I would see poverty. I knew that even the small amount of spending money I took could seem like a small fortune to many of the people I would encounter.
But to me, the poverty was still without a face.
Now, poverty has many faces. It has the face of a boy, perhaps 10 years old, at the window of the bus taking us from Lusaka to Macha. We stop at a traffic light and children swarm the vehicle, begging for something from our pockets.
Poverty has the face of a young man, bent on the ground beside his bicycle which has a broken chain. He was going somewhere but not right now. Yet he smiles warmly when I share the morning greeting, Mwabuka buti?
Poverty now bears the face of a young mother, baby wrapped snuggly against her, who rode her bicycle 15 miles to our host Esther’s back door with baskets to sell. She arrived before 8 a.m.
Poverty has the face of the old woman at the Fires (the outdoor place where families of patients sleep, cook, and wait) whose clothing is dirty and ragged and probably soaked in yesterday afternoon’s unexpected rain. I greet her, Kwasia buti? She answers, Kaputu. I am fine.
Poverty has the face of Solomon, Macha Hospital’s groundskeeper who worked several days with me as I painted the sign at the entrance. Solomon has 10 children. He has difficulty paying school fees. Need pushes him like it does everyone to an interdependence in the community we in the States are not used to. He is seeking a sponsor for his son Beston, who is a good student and wants to stay in school.
I have no money to give him, I say, but I will tell his story when I get back home. I did not realize at the time that a mere $45 would pay for a complete year of school for a Zambian child.
I struggle with thoughts of the tremendous need--for the basics like food, clothing, and education. I think about big questions—how much can I give away? How much can I change things, what I can do with the new knowledge I have?
I make resolutions to be more generous, to follow my heart more in my finances. And I give Solomon a bag of clothing for his family.
Our last Sunday in Macha, I enter the church after the singing has begun. I walk as near to the front as I could, to get somewhere near our team. After sitting down quietly on the right side where the women are, I see a bright green blouse out of the corner of my eye. Yes, and the denim jumper and the head scarf. I find myself seated next to Solomon’s wife, dressed fully in clothing I had been so willing to discard. She is beautiful and smiling shyly—she has no idea who I am. But she is feeling beautiful in new clothes.
Need and gratitude have faces now.
All my mental preparation had done little to prepare my heart. But God takes care of our hearts.
After being home for months, I am still thinking about the impoverished people I met in Zambia, and yet I’m thinking about how much singing and how many smiles and warm handshakes we experienced. How much gratitude they expressed, simply for our visit.
I’m living in Grantham again. I pass people every day who are unaware of my presence. I sometimes avoid making eye contact with people when I don’t feel like talking. Our lives barely intersect; we are all too busy to take the time.
And I realize with tears, that poverty has yet another face. It is my own.
—Susan K. Getty '84