Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Lessons from a naked man

Many years ago, when my parents were working in Southern Sudan, they lived with a rural tribe. This tribe, as is often the case in very hot climates, made the common-sense decision that clothes were to be optional. In fact, everyone went around with little else than a string of beautiful beads around their waist - anything else was abnormal.

Nearby there was a town that was seeking to be known as "modern." So, as a part of their modernization effort the town passed a law saying that anyone who came into the town's limits had to be clothed. The ultimate example of "no shirt, no shoes, no service."

One day my parents visited the town to pick up some supplies (yes, fully clothed) and on their way back saw the most unusual sight. Strutting down the road toward the town - his face lit up by a wide grin - was a very tall, very dark Sudanese man. The rich darkness of his skin contrasted greatly with the the brand new, bright white tennis shoes he was wearing on his feet. That's right, he was only wearing shoes - nothing else. Beaming from ear to ear and confident that he was now clothed, because he had on a pair of shoes, he was eager to visit the town.

This was a man who had spirit. He was dedicated to his goal of visiting the town and had worked up and saved up to buy his shoes. He was proud of being clothed and oblivious to the weird glances he was receiving. He was carefree, happy and intent on enjoying himself despite his circumstances. Captured in this picture are so many lessons that it would be hard to define them all here. I will go into a few things that I see, but would love to hear from you as to any other things you can see or learn from this story.

I wish sometimes that our society would let us act like this. Not so much the walking around naked part, but rather, releasing us of self-imposed inhibitions and social norms. We dictate to ourselves what is appropriate, what is normal and what is not. We convince ourselves that there is no other way to live. We try so hard to conform that we often scorn those who do not meet our standards, almost as if we are jealous they have the freedom to be different. This is true in both the secular and Christian worlds.

One of the things I loved the most about my friends in Eastern Chad and Darfur was their spirit. They managed to laugh under the most dire of circumstances, stay hopeful even while planting dead seeds in parched land, and maintain a generous attitude that rivals any other culture that I have experienced. If you arrived at dinnertime, you were guarenteed a place around the tray of food - no matter how meager the rations. Chadians perfected the art of "visiting" and would always keep a pot of tea on the fire to welcome the steady stream of friends stopping by to chat. There was no hurry - you were always welcome. A favorite quote of mine goes like this: "Americans may have watches, but Africans have the time."

Unfortunately, this spirit is being violently crushed even as you read these words. Every day, fathers have to witness their young daughters get raped before they themselves get killed. Mothers are forced to flee from their homes and take up camp in the desert to excape harm. There is a genocide taking place in Darfur AND it is now spilling over into Chad as well. Over 400,000 people - my spirited friends - have been killed and over 3.5 million others have been forced to live as refugees in their own countries.

Please, join me and everyone else who realizes that what is happening "over there" is the worst man-made humanitarian crisis our generation has ever seen. Help save Darfur. Help save the last remaining spirit of my friends.

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