Forgotten Voices' Mission:

"Demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by equipping local churches in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of children orphaned by AIDS in their communities."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Safely here in SA - thoughts on men saying goodbye

We are beginning to descend into South Africa. We will say goodbye to Remmy, at least for a week before we rejoin him in Zambia. Remmy travels to Ndola, Zambia tomorrow after staying tonight with our friends, the Lockwoods, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Upon arriving, we will have about 2 hrs in the airport before traveling on to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Goodbyes are always sad, but easier when hellos are just around the corner.

During the flight, I learned a few things. My priorities seem to have shifted since the last time I flew. I usually get on the plane terribly exhausted, but want to watch movies most of the time anyway. This time, my exhaustion beat out my desire to catch up on movies out that I’ve heard about, but haven’t seen. So, I slept. A lot. I missed dinner, so they brought me one after many had finished. I almost missed breakfast. All total, I probably slept about 9+ hrs of the 14 hr flight. I’m thankful. I needed it, clearly.

I miss Katie & Avery more than I imagined missing them, which was a lot. But on the drive to JFK, I was also praising God for this sense of loss being away from them. It helps connect me to a glimpse of the suffering faced by men all over southern Africa. Due to high unemployment (90+% in Zimbabwe and 80% in Zambia), men have to travel great distances to find work and money to feed & provide for their families. I’ve always been sad to leave Katie, but we both reflected that this trip our dependence on each other is greater because of Avery.

Who will help Katie when Avery is screaming for no reason? When Katie needs a break? Needs to debrief about her day?

I’m not trying to get too personal, but instead connect to the men I’ve heard a lot about but couldn’t really relate to until I left Avery. Like many families in southern Africa, we have a great support system. Friends and relatives will help Katie care for Avery. We are thankful for them, but they are not me – they are not Avery’s dad.

I’ve heard lots of people in Africa share with me over the years that this prolonged time away – sometimes years – leads people to feel incapable of providing for their families and/or emotionally disconnected. Have no fear. This isn’t the case for us. But I am thankful for this glimpse of sadness that men seeking work might face leaving a child and wife. Unsure of how they will provide. If they haven’t managed to find work, ashamed to come back.

This feeling of helplessness – this critical season in a man’s determination of his own dignity & worth – is often the beginning of the AIDS cycle. AIDS is spreading in large part because of the time away. The hopelessness and worthlessness sets in and a man finds comfort with a woman close to his factory job or a local dive bar. He may even start a family with his person, unwilling to return “home” for fear of everyone in the community and family seeing him for how he sees himself: a failure.

I’m sad to say I’ve heard it before. But, until I thought about these stories through the eyes of a father – eyes I now have – I couldn’t really relate. I still can’t, completely, obviously for lots of reason: I have a job, purpose, and a determined time away. But I do thank God for this glimpse. This trip, for the first time, I’ll see differently the pains of a family who have lost a father to AIDS related deaths or a dad who is away indefinitely.

As we prepare to land, I can’t shake the feeling that God is going to rock my world and help me to see anew the challenges of AIDS and the church’s role in meeting the needs of children. I’ve never really looked at this from the perspective of a man, but always through the eyes of a child or mother. I’m scared, because my heart is already so full and I fear I can’t handle more love for more people – that it’s been easier to simply blame the men for the failures on their family. It’s been easier to not allow my heart to also break for the worthlessness they feel as men.

But, as we prepare to land, I’m also thankful that God is God and I am simply Ryan. I’m also thankful for 6+ yrs of lessons on listening to local voices…that the things I don’t know or scare me create an open space for people who do know – the men, in this case – to more honestly share with me because they will sense I am genuinely concerned and open to learn more about the pressures they face.

Like always, we land with more questions than answers. My prayer for us all – you, our team, and me – that we allow God to guide us in life. That we remain centered on him in our own travels, wherever they take us. That, even in our despair or uncertainty or doubt, we remain grounded in our God’s ocean-like love for each of us. It is that Christ-like love that I hope we share on this trip. And it is that unending, Christ-like love I pray you find ways to share while you wait for us to return.

Together – across the same ocean – we may learn to see more like Christ sees us. For those glimpses I’m grateful. For the rest I have just received, I rejoice so I’m ready and able to see this land I love through new eyes….and a new heart…as a new father.

Keep praying. Keep loving. Keep looking. Keep listening and seeing opportunities to love all around you. We will try to do the same.

We are moments from landing into Johannesburg, South Africa. Will write from the terminal, Lord willing.

All the best,

1 comment:

Terri said...

Ryan - It was a privilege to meet you this past weekend. Your heart for God and what matters to him is obvious. Thank you for allowing our family the privilege of hosting Remmy. God used you and Remmy and many others to pierce our hearts and drive us to our knees in prayer for our role in caring for the widows and orphans. It is a burden that has been there for many years but God has surely used the summit to increased our passion. Doug and I will be following your blog and praying for you throughout your travels. We will pray for your wife and beautiful baby Avery as you are away. I am so glad I got to meet them. Rest in the peace that the body of Christ is embracing them. Blessings, Terri Miller