Sunday, June 14, 2009

Africa: Joy in the Midst of Poverty

Can More Stuff be A Curse, Not a Blessing?

Sitting (as an honored guest) on a stump in the shade of a giant acacia tree was the most humbling and one of the most moving experiences of my life. We were in Zimbabwe attending "church" at an Ndebele tribal village. The twenty-five or so people in attendance wore their finest modern clothes and lounged on the dirt, unconcerned that there was no roof, floor, podium, padded pews or worship band. They told us of their great appreciation for the man who allowed them to hold services under the leaves of his tree—which stood next to his one-room thatched home. (The "facilities", standing twenty yards away consisted of rusted tin walls about five feet high, no roof and two holes in the ground!)

Shy smiles and fleeting eye contact was the most many of them could manage, so intimidated were they to meet Americans. Their tribal pastor prayed, officially welcomed our small group and then delivered a rousing sermon. As the worship began, these people (mostly women) were soon on their feet—at least those who were physically able. Shoes are a scarce commodity, making foot ailments and deformity common.

Transformation took place before our eyes as they smiled with their entire faces, sang and danced for the Lord. "Rock out" has never been better demonstrated and "passion" doesn't begin to describe the depth of emotion and energy they invested in their praise and celebration of God. Soon our little band of traditional, white church-goers was dancing, singing and laughing along with our African brothers and sisters. Even if we didn't understand the words, the message was clear.

The sentiments they conveyed to God were not "gimme" prayers (gimme health, wealth and happiness), in spite of the great need and the obvious lack of the first two. What these sweet people clearly expressed was their love of Jesus and their deep gratitude for what He provided them; grace. This was a living picture of Psalm 22:3, "God inhabits the praises of His people."

I may have more stuff and fewer life-or-death burdens but they have an abundance that I lack. Pure unadulterated faith, hope and love—for one another, the Lord and life itself. No load is too heavy to weigh down their joy. No obstacle is too big to diminish their communion. The focus was entirely upwardly-focused, not on the circumstances surrounding them.

The lesson I learned that day has remained embedded in my soul, but while it is first nature to these tribal folks to cast all their cares away and be delightfully free in their time of worship, I still have to work at it.

If you attend church, do you (or have you ever) worshipped God with such complete abandon? Do life's difficulties sometimes suppress your ability to experience joy? Can creature comforts be a curse as well as a blessing? What are you willing to do to gain the free spirit our Ndebele friends showed us? Comment below.

Diane Markins

*To contribute to Zimbabweans in severe need please visit this link

** To see this as a devotion visit


Cie Reynolds said...

Joy does not come easy when all your dreams die. I have found that complete , heartbound surrender works to free me into Holy Faith, but Joy does not come along as a stable mate. When I focus on Jesus and what He did for me on the cross, my heart grieves for the pain my sin caused him and I can experience Supernatural Love for my Holy God, but Joy still does not spring forth. When I am grateful for the simplest things, God's personal miracles to me, then I feel praise for such a kind Father, that leads to Him inhabiting my soul... Then JOY illuminates my mind. This heavenly joy makes me smile and want to hug anyone close to me This Holy Joy is to be shared, spread around and be used to make others aware of the goodness of Jesus, His Spirit within me and My Heavenly Father that allowed me to a state of Holy Joy!!!

Diane Markins said...

Insightful and well put. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...


Although all your devotions connect to life…this is coming from a deeper place and I resonate with the invitation to simplicity and joy in the presence of God and others…and the resultant gratitude!

Debby <><

Anonymous said...

Brilliant article Diane. We have all this stuff...they do not have this stuff. Why do we then struggle with happiness and "they" find happiness in the midst of having next to nothing.
God gives us joy and the ONLY happiness we will ever need!

Arnold Payne

Carol Behr said...

Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories of a beautiful day. I too felt the lesson of 'less is more' beneath that tree. It is a constant struggle to go against the commercialism and materialism bantered daily into my head. Prayer and quiet reflection help me focus on what is really important. If I only could find more time to do that!

Anonymous said...

Hi, just read the article about africa, we in the west do not know how to completely let go and be purely spiritual cause we are so ingrained with our rich life style that we forget the truely real purpose of worship..i think we could all do well to pay attention to these sweet brothers and sisters in this african town,, GOD BLESS..
William H.

Anonymous said...

I was refreshed and glad when I read your article about African people and their worship experiences, under the sun, nice touch on the facilities! I was born and raised in Tanzania, a real bantu. I lived in modest accomodations not as primitive as those you visited but I took many trips where it is as you encountered.

Most of these people are so grateful to God and fellow men that I promise my children when they get old enough they will spend a lot of time in Africa, so they can learn the way of my humble, kind, God loving, grateful ancestors. It seems at times like time just moved so much slower in Africa.

I have been in America for 10yrs and enjoyed every year, but there is no place like home in Africa and yes, I miss it there a lot, but I have learned so much in America that I can bring my people and be more useful for the Master who faithfully kept me.

God bless you, I pray you enjoyed your visit in Zimbabwe!