Walk Far Part 5: The Hard Way

"If you want to walk fast, walk alone.
   If you want to walk far, walk with others."
— African Proverb

Some lessons are learned the hard way. A teammate and I once traveled to a rural area in Zambia for a visit. We were hosted in the frame of a building the community hoped would one day become a clinic. After a morning of home visits and community discussions, we returned there for a meal.

As we paused between one thing and the next in our schedule, dusty from our morning activities, food was brought in and chairs arranged, yet no one made any move to pray or invite us to begin eating. We were waiting, but I didn’t understand why.

I have witnessed people in different parts of the world engage in the practice of hand washing before each meal. So to get things going, I confidently walked over to a large drum of water in the corner, rolled up my sleeves and plunged my dirty hands in.

I knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. Total silence filled the room. My Zambian teammate looked completely mortified. As I removed my dripping hands, my friend said something to the group in Tonga then escorted me outside. “April, do you realize how far the nearest water is from here?” she asked. “The women started from early morning to carry it for our visit. That was our drinking water and you put your dirty hands in the whole drum.”

If you have ever been deeply embarrassed and ashamed, you know what I felt in that moment. After many apologies, we arranged to have more water carried in. I learned later that we had been waiting for the chief of the village to arrive before washing our hands and beginning to eat. By the end of the visit, the women gathered around me, laughing and pointing to the drum of water and then to me. With graciousness I didn’t feel I deserved, all had been forgiven.

Lessons learned the hard way stay with us. Wait. Watch. Learn. Be patient. Receive forgiveness.

“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7).

April Foster is director of Others – Trade for Hope (www.tradeforhope.com). In this series she shares lessons learned from her 29 years in overseas ministry.


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