Each afternoon, I tutor two boys in P6 (sixth grade) math. It’s kind of a joke that I would be tutoring math, but I’m thankful it’s sixth grade. Almost any higher level and the students would be doing the tutoring. These boys have been the most rewarding and at times most frustrating part of being here. We started with 4 when my mom was here, and I tried to continue with the group after she left. But it was too much for the girl who might struggle if she was given a P6 math exam today. And so we’re down to two. Two that need help the most. Two that want to learn the most.
There is Robert, and there is Disan.
Robert lives at Rafiki in Cottage 10. He’s behind because of medical limitations, but he tries hard.
Disan is a day student. His dad is one of our guards, also named Disan. He’s come to our Rafiki school only in the past year and is far behind his classmates. He desires to learn so badly but needs the basics in multiplication as his class moves to angles and geometry. His English has improved drastically even in the time I’ve known him. It might be the official language of the country, and therefore taught in schools, but many day students speak nothing but Luganda or other dialects at home, making English classes a struggle.
It’s likely that they’ll both repeat P6 next year, but this is common in a country where education is rudimentary and testing stringent.
Because of medical issues, Robert gets a snack each afternoon, which leaves Disan and I with a few minutes, sometimes more, each day to start the day’s work and to talk. Disan is curious. He desires so much to learn and know. He knows there are possibilities beyond what he has right now, and he’s ever asking questions about “my country”. Today when I walk into the dining hall where we sit each afternoon, I’m wearing my Ray-ban sunglasses. They’re almost a necessity for those of us with light eyes here in this bright country near the equator, and there’s rarely a day I don’t have them on. I lay them on the table, and we start working on multiplication tables.
As he writes his multiplication tables for probably the thousandth time in the past two weeks, he asks questions. He points at my sunglasses, the ones he calls goggles, and says that someone has told him that they are very expensive. Wealth and poverty is a conversation I’m not sure how to have, so I automatically try to look at the bright side, trying to think of a way to turn this into a conversation about how he is wealthy in other ways. And then he says it, with big eyed awe, “Very expensive, around 15,000 shillings.”
And those five words break my heart and send my head spinning. Because 15,000 shillings is the equivalent of less than 7 dollars. I look at my Ray-bans and do the math in my head. Yes, very expensive, because this plastic I wear over my eyes cost almost 20 times that 15,000 shillings. “Now, they were a gift,” I justify in my head. “And you’ve had them for almost two years,” counters the little voice that wants me to be content with the luxury I have.
But still. He looks bewildered just at the thought of 15,000 shillings, saying he could probably never afford them. And I think of 7 dollars and the stuff I have spent it on even since being in Uganda.
I think of Pinterest, the latest fad in social networking, and the outfits, jewelry, and things I have pinned to a board, things on a wish list. Almost all things I could very practically have if I wanted them. All things that are disposable as soon as the next bigger and better comes out. I come from a society where the sky is the limit. And from a family that has been given much. And from parents who have worked hard to provide for not only my needs but also my reasonable desires.
But reasonable is so different to this 13 year old who tells me in conversation that he digs for food each day and dreams of a better life. I think of my own little brother, just a few years older than the brown faced boy who sits before me, and the Facebook status a few weeks ago exclaiming of the new Iphone 4lmnop (I think it’s actually s, but I’ve always been a little theatrical.). And I wonder where this disconnect has come from. Because it’s not the things that are inherently bad. As I write this, I’m sitting in my house wearing a $10 target watch looking at my $50 Lifeway Bible typing on my I’m-not-going-to-think-about-the-price MacBook Pro. And all these things are good. And are blessings. But I just don’t know what to do about it. Because I could give Disan all the money in my wallet. By tomorrow, I could get him all the money in my bank account and my savings. I have friends and family who are loving and generous, and we could raise enough money to buy him Ray-ban sunglasses and an Iphone and a Mac computer. We could outfit him in Abercrombie (is that still what middle school boys want to wear? it’s been a while.) and his sisters in Anthropologie. But would that fix anything? Would that be enough? No.
Because while Disan and so many others like him dream of America, I dream of Uganda. I want the simplicity that comes with life here. The taste of it I have had is enough to make me want so much more life and so much less stuff. I know I’ll go home soon, but I pray that I will be back before long. And if this place isn’t my forever home, I pray that God puts me in places of poverty: physical, spiritual, and emotional. Because I’ve tasted secondhand the joy that comes in knowing that the only way that your life will even go on is if God provides. And I want the closeness to God, the dependence that comes in that realization alone. I don’t know what God has for my future (after college, that is. Mom and Dad, don’t worry. Without a major act of God, I am coming home December 10th, and I will graduate from MC next spring.), but I want more… and less.
I want to break the bonds that money and stuff has on my heart. The desire for more when I know more will never really satisfy, just leave me craving the next thing. I want to be willing to give it all up because it’s there where relationship can grow. Relationship with God. Relationship with others. It’s when I stop competing that I can love. It’s when I stop striving that I can see. It’s when I put on glasses that allow me to see like Jesus and overcome the near-sightedness I fall into so often in my cozy beach town or when my biggest worries are tests and tailgates on that green patch of earth half-a-world-away but ever so close in my heart.
Because yes, those things matter. Yes, those things count. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t. But eternal is the prospective that I should base my life on. That what we do for Jesus is the only thing that matters. Because, Thank God, this earth will soon fall away, and all the problems in it will be a distant memory. But God wants to use us. He wants to use ME to get people to see His love and His light. And it’s there that He gives us the desires of our hearts.
In fact, He invites you and I to be a part of the planning committee of the biggest party the universe will ever see, if only we get out of our comfort zones and do what He’s calling. Sometimes it looks like a cake in the oven and balloons on the mailbox, and sometimes it looks like a plane ticket halfway around the world, but God wants each of us to celebrate Him. If only we are willing to give up everything we’ve ever strived for, put on the glasses that give us right perspective, and run full force after the One who can give us everything we’ll ever want or need.
…and I bet Disan never thought a simple comment about a pair of “goggles” would turn into a million thoughts and a blog post. Actually, I can tell you for sure he doesn’t know what a blog is.