Category Archives: Cross cultural hilarity

Of Drag Queen Angels, and a Beanie Baby Jesus.

My second year of STINT [better known as “STINT: The Remix”] has become my proverbial second child-thus, I have taken very few pictures. This week I worked to remedy that. Now, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words-and so today I’m going to let mine do most of the talking.

This is the finished product. Charlie Brown Mohammad Jose. Don’t you just love him?

Fatou Ba had Michelle and I over for lunch this week. The sweet girl made Tiebou Yoppe because she knows it’s my favorite.

Michelle with Fatou Ba [in pink] and the rest of the gang. We had a rousing conversation with her boyfriend regarding the minute little detail that he’s allowed to have four wives, and she’s only allowed to have one husband.

Commence the hilarity. :) On Friday, we hosted a Christmas party for aproximately 45 of our students. We played a number of different games, among which was “pin the star on the tree”. In a concerted effort to inspire our students to go green, we cut all of the stars out of old magazines. [On second thought, it may have had something to do with the fact that we didn’t have any normal paper. My memory is a bit hazy.]

I know I’m not supposed to have favorite-but if I did, Miriam would absolutely be one of them. I adore this girl.

Pin the star on the Christmas tree had multiple amusing outcomes, among which was the occasional star ending up on someone’s head…

We taught them some Christmas carols!

For the rest of my life,  I think I may tear up when I sing “God and sinners reconciled”. Don’t let that line slip by unnoticed this Christmas. Don’t let that line slip by unnoticed any Christmas.

“Emmanuel-God with us”. With you and me. How beautiful is that? What a vastly different idea from what these Muslim students believe-that Allah is distant and unconcerned with their lives.

Okay, this is where it gets good. We projected the Christmas story out of Luke onto the wall, and read it together. THEN, I asked for ten volunteers, who were given a bag of props and a couple of minutes to figure out how they were going to act the whole thing out.

While the Christmas story was read again, they filed into our crowded kitchen and performed a very ghetto-fabulous rendition of the story of Jesus’ birth. [A story that some of them had just heard for the very first time minutes earlier.] This is Mary…

…who looked slightly more like Bon Qui Qui. Here’s the unhappy couple being told that there was simply no room in the inn. For a moment there, I thought the innkeeper was so sorry for them that he was going to go ahead and find them a spare corner, effectively destroying the whole thing. Never fear-Martin stood strong, and kicked them to the curb stable.

Much to my great chagrin, Adama gave a very stirring, disturbing picture of the pain Mary must have endured during labor. Oh, yes.  As I stood in the corner wincing and breaking out in cold sweats, she sprawled out on the floor, huffed, puffed and groaned until a beanie baby Jesus popped out. With a very concerned Mohammad Joseph bracing her from behind and looking for all the world like an expectant Father.

And here we have our drag queen angel, who with incredible flair [and not a little bit of va-va-voom] announced the birth of the Messiah with all of the delicate poise of an overly-enthused drunken sailor.

Here we have one of the wisemen giving beanie baby Jesus His gift. What baby wants myrh when you can have light-up plastic snowman from Walmart?

The three wisemen. Er, wisepeople.

The greatest regret of my young life will forever be not getting that skit on video! On a serious note, as fun as it was, it was also a fantastic way to teach our students why we really celebrate Christmas.

Our next activity was a Charlie Brown dance-off. We selected five volunteers [read: I goaded five people into volunteering, two of whom were Ted and Michelle], showed them the clip of all the Peanuts characters dancing, and then the participants were instructed to pick one of the dances and mimic it. The closest immitation won-as measured by the  good old applause-o-meter.

Marie [pink zebra stripes] won. Michelle came in dead last. I think she wants a rematch.

As Forest Gump would say-that’s all I have to say about that.

Stay tuned for my next blog, tenatively titled “In Which I Visited the Senegalese Emergency Room.” Now there’s a good story! [And clearly, it all worked out in the end and I’m fine. There goes my cliff-hanger ending…]

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Filed under Christmas, Cross cultural hilarity, Cross cultural moments, Ministry moments

Of Fairies, Mummies, and Jesus. [Oh My!]

Some of the girls that came to our Halloween party.

And the conversation went something like this:

Awa: What are American traditions on Halloween?

Me: Well, we all dress up in costumes and ask our neighbors for candy.

Awa: Why?

Me: …*cricket

With some of my favorites! From left to right: Miriam, Benedicte, Awa and Awa.

 

Dear. Goodness. Have any of us ever actually thought about that? I hadn’t the foggiest idea! It threw me into a bit of a panic-I mean, how many other activities do I mindlessly engage in without even the most fleeting thought as to why? And so I started contemplating other absurd traditions that we stoutly cling to as Americans. Let’s talk about hot dogs, for one.  Who on earth woke up one day and decided that the quintessential American food-the signature flourish at Fourth of July picnics and baseball games from sea to shining sea-ought to be processed pig parts in a clear, edible casing?

Delish. No wonder the French think we’re Neanderthals.

And while we’re on a roll, when did we start wishing on blown out birthday candles? Why do I hang a giant sock over my fireplace for a morbidly obese man to creep in and fill with toothpaste and Starbucks gift cards?

Why do I throw my money into small bodies of water at the mall? And why do I habitually lie about the color of my underwear every St. Patrick’s day?

 And TEETH under my pillow? I put my OLD, DEAD TEETH under my HEAD for a miniature, winged fairy to come collect for

Our TP mummy-making contest. ...my team did not win.

money?!

…someone really ought to teach the poor thing a marketable skill and get her out of the tooth-hawking business.

It was with a slightly bemused stammer that I endeavored to explain our quirky little Halloween traditions yesterday to a group of Senegalese students that couldn’t figure out quite what to make of the fact that I still dress up every year.

Both thought provoking and wildly entertaining.

Somehow, everything connects back to Jesus-every little thing-and Halloween is no exception. One of the most

Our hot-mess mummies.

 exciting pieces of my job is discovering innovative ways to help students understand that they were created for Jesus-that there is a heart-longing for Him that can be satisfied by no created thing.  It’s beautiful. In a concerted effort to get to the gospel in a fresh, creative way, my team and I threw a “traditional American Halloween party” yesterday.  Given the fact that we are the only Americans that most of our students know, we get to define the finer points of American culture in whatever manner we deem appropriate. [Thus, our students believe that Americans sit around and talk about Jesus at every party they have. ;)]  In light of the unfortunate reality that Target and Harris Teeter are very far away indeed, our “traditional” fete consisted of some fun-sized Snickers bars [Ben and I later concluded that there is nothing even vaguely “fun” about “fun-sized” candy], a pink toilet paper mummy wrapping contest, and a discussion about fear, power and Jesus.  

Sev.

Fear proved to be a captivating topic. Imagine for a brief moment, that you’re a Muslim. You wake up at five AM every early morning to answer the first of five calls to prayer that resound through your city throughout  the day-carefully going through a ritual washing process in a fearful attempt to cleanse yourself before you cautiously kneel on your worn prayer rug. Quietly, you begin to murmur the familiar Arabic prayers that are as much a part of you as your very name-echoes of your culture, your family.  You press your forehead to the ground and nervously, timidly approach a distant god that may or may not be listening. Muslims believe that Allah sits on top of “seven heavens”-and so physically as well as emotionally, Allah is far, far from them.  There is no assurance as to what will happen to them when they die. Everything is left up to the “divine and merciful will of Allah”-so no matter how good you are, how many times you pray, whether or not you scrape together enough money to make the coveted pilgrimage to Mecca-…you could do everything right, but Allah might still send you to hell.

“Merciful”?

To be a Muslim is to be haunted by disabling, suffocating fear.  A continual, gnawing, ever-growing hopeless dread that you have not done enough.

Yesterday, a Congolese man named Severy stood up in front of twenty five spellbound students and talked about the fear that they are so intimately acquainted with-and the God that is passionately pursuing their hearts with whom they are not.  Sev explained that before he decided to walk with Jesus, he’d been rendered absolutely powerless by his own sin. I watched the eyes around me light up-each heart in the room echoing his story. You could see raw pain hopelessly etched into some of their faces-“That’s me. I can’t do enough. That’s my story.”

 Sev talked about what happened when he at long last came to the ecstatically freeing conclusion that Jesus-not he-was the only solution to his problem of sin. Sev was beaming as he explained how the perfect love that He found in Christ had exorcised fear from his life!

Joy is an all together different thing to me now than it was before my life in a Muslim country. May I never, never take it for granted again.

About twenty five students heard the gospel yesterday-many for the first time.  The idea that the God of the Universe loves you, wants you, and died so that you could know Him is entirely counter-intuitive to the Muslim heart that secretly longs for it to be true.  Ask God to show my students that the gospel is for them.

 “And as He stands in victory-sin’s curse has lost its grip on me!”

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Filed under Cross cultural hilarity, Holidays other than Christmas, Islamic theology, Ministry moments

In Which I Hit a Man.

At Magdalena last night.

It all started when our SP landed in Dakar this past Sunday morning. Suffice it to say, though having them here is great fun, they’ve been wreaking absolute havoc with my REM cycle. In between working a couple of consecutive sixteen hour days, not having any time off in about two weeks and not sleeping well at night, I woke up this morning feeling like the “before” lady on that Prozac commercial. You know, the one who sits dolefully in her ragged, defeated blue bathrobe at the breakfast table staring listlessly into her coffee mug while a monsoon rages outside of her kitchen window? Me. A thousand times me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t even have time to finish caffeinating before it was time to dash out the door to meet the SP at their hotel and sort through contact cards from the movie last night. [And unhappily enough, I’m fresh out of Prozac.] Bleary eyed and quickly fading, my team and I spent an hour translating sloppy, hastily written French comment cards, after which Christy and I headed off to meet Bineta [a favorite!] who was very excited to take us to an alfresco fruit market.

Sorting contact cards with Cash this morning.

 After the typical harrowing taxi ride downtown, Bineta, Christy and I hopped out of the car onto the bustling sidewalk, where stand after stand of mangos in every conceivable shade of green and a myriad of exotic fruits you’ll never find in Harris Teeter all vied for my attention. As eager vendors anxiously urged me to buy their oranges, Christy and I were very suddenly surrounded by a group of Marabou [Talibe] men. [Religious cult leaders in training-more on the Talibe system another time.]

 Impatient, insistent hands suddenly reached towards us from every side, as men demanded our money with the practiced ease of those who are all-too familiar with getting their way. This is not uncommon-I am almost continually asked for money in Dakar. What is a bit more uncommon is for men to touch me while they’re doing it. When a Muslim man touches a woman that is not his wife, it communicates an utter disrespect unparalleled by anything in the Western world. As those men demandingly continued to grab Christy and I this afternoon, they might as well have screamed “give me your money, whore!”

 As [normally] mild-mannered Christy vehemently told them to “ne touche pas!” [Don’t touch us!], with rapidly increasing irritation I angrily insisted that they “go away”. Indifferent to our demands, the men pressed in closer, shaking hands full of silver coins in our exhausted faces with a resilient confidence that suggested that particular tactic had garnered some measure of success in the past. “Cinq francs! Cinq francs!”

 Something inside of my tired little body simply snapped. I get spit on, groped, and pushed into traffic on a weekly basis in Senegal on my runs. I have the occasional bottle thrown at me from cars full of men that think it’s amusing to use white girl as target practice-and the other day some man even yanked my pony tail. I have never retaliated. I jerk away, wipe the spit off, and sometimes I yell-but I always keep running.

 Until today.

 Out of the corner of my furious eyes, I saw one of the Talibe men reach towards Christy and grab her arm again. And that was it. I reached over and slugged him. Twice.

 With a sort of morbid fascination, Christy stared at me looking for all the world as though I’d just grown an extra head. Fuming, I lividly declared that I was going to “do it again!” as the man I’d just hit followed me down the sidewalk, loudly chastising me for hitting him. I vividly remember pondering the distinct possibility that Christy and I were about to engage in our first Senegalese fist fight-but my level-headed sidekick stuffed me into a taxi before I could hit anyone else.

 It was during the taxi ride home when a doubled over Christy pointed out, through incredulous gasps of laughter, that I’d just decked a “Marabou-in-training”, that I decided it was time for a nap.

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Filed under Cross cultural hilarity, My ghetto-fab life, Senegalese culture

Of Crowns, Kidneys, and My Alternative Lifestyle.

Christy and I end up "auditioning" on an almost daily basis.

Yesterday, I came as close as I hope I ever do to auditioning for Miss America.

Honestly, it wasn’t an entirely atypical day in Senegal for me. I walked into a crowded dorm room full of Senegalese English students, and was immediately peppered by all of the usual queries. It’s a laughably predictable string of questions that I get every time that I meet someone new-and thus, I have had ample time to rehearse and perfect my careful answers. With flawless posture that can only be attributed to countless years of my parents chastising me to “sit up like a lady”, I demurely [Yes, I can be demure!] smile, cross my ankles, and offer the most non-offensive, vague renditions of my thoughts on politics.

Student: What do you think of Obama?

Moi: He is a very intelligent man, and his election was an important moment in American history.

Student: What do you think of Bush?

Moi: He was also a very intelligent man, and he was president during a very difficult time during American history. I do not agree with all of his decisions, nor do I agree with all of Obama’s decisions.

Student: What of the war in Iraq?

Moi: I wish it would end. [I mean really, I just want world peace.]

[That conversation has been vastly abbreviated.]

Thus ends the politics portion of our Q&A. And then we are on to something of infinitely more interest to my girls than the “War on Terror” or our crumbling healthcare system: my love life.

Student: Are you married?

Moi: [steeling myself for the mine field ahead] No.

Student: [confidently] But you are engaged?

Moi: No.

Student: [quizzically] …you have a boyfriend.

Moi: No, I don’t have a boyfriend. Je suis celebataire. [I am single.]

Student: [baffled and aghast] You don’t have ANY boyfriends?! Why not!?

The confused horror that a Senegalese woman displays upon understanding that I am single would be much more appropriate, say, if she had just had a vital organ ripped out of her body. I can understand that kind of shock and revulsion when you are rudely awakened at four AM in a bathtub full of ice cubes sans a kidney-but no, they reserve that particular emotion for my relationship status.

After insisting that being single is not, in fact, an “alternative lifestyle”, politely declining offers of Senegalese husbands and reassuring the eight or so troubled faces in that room that I am not a feminazi seeking to singlehandedly destroy the institution of marriage, we migrated to the talent portion of our afternoon.

Student: You are a missionary. My boyfriend used to sing for me “American Grace”. You will sing?

Moi: …you mean Amazing Grace?

Student: Yes! Amazing Grace.

Moi: [wondering what on earth that Muslim girl’s boyfriend was doing singing hymns to her.] …I’ll make you a deal. Next week you will come to my apartment where I have a piano, and I will sing Amazing Grace with music.

Student: [after careful consideration.] Okay. …but right now you will sing.

Moi: [cricket.]

And so I did, with Dayton and Christy belting along beside me, choking back laughter and trying desperately the whole time to keep a straight face. [Impossible.]

I think I need a raise.

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Filed under Cross cultural hilarity, Team

Of Bartering. [Go To The Mattresses.]

With Jess-a college roomate of mine who taught me what it looks like not to budge when you think you're right. :)

Much to my dismay, my team has informed me that I don’t look nearly as intimidating as I believe myself to be. This may have something to do with the unhappy fact that, when I approach anybody from the fruit man to the falafel man in this country, to my great chagrin they inevitably try to rip me off. My white skin acts as a sort of neon sign to all who see me-screaming “FREE MONEY!” on my behalf. To the utter disheartenment of every taxi driver in Senegal, I only look like an easy sell.

Now, it’s important that you understand a not-so-subtle nuance of this story. When I tell you that people try to rip me off, I’m not talking about your typical insignificant, unimpressive and rather forgettable 50% mark-up. I’m talking about a mark-up that’s anywhere from eight to twenty three times the going rate for whatever item it is that I’m bartering for. I meet their lofty prices with the sort of disdainful incredulity you might expect if someone had just drop kicked a puppy or set fire to an orphanage. I can’t help it-it makes me absolutely irate that anyone would try to cheat me simply because I’m a white woman! [Senegalese women are also cheated, and charged higher prices than are the men. That’s what you get when you live in a culture that devalues women as much as this one does.] The sheer audacity of it all baffles me. It only took a week or two of life in Senegal for that impossibly stubborn steak of mine to surface, and around day eleven in Dakar I decided that I was going to attempt to pay only what a Senegalese man would pay for things. A rather sublime goal, yes-but a girl has got to have hobbies!

Amusingly, I am continually confronted with people attempting to wring money out of me. This means that multiple times a day, unsuspecting Senegalese men will [with impressively straight faces!] offer me some sort of lamentably, obscenely ostentatious figure for a taxi ride or tomatoes. I have perfected my reaction down to the minutest detail. My blue eyes widen in mock disbelief, I gasp in horror, laugh disdainfully and whirl around to make my dramatic exit. This is always [and I mean always] met with a hurried cry of “Mademoiselle! Attends!” And thus, the battle bartering begins.

Taxi driver: Sept mille! [“Seven thousand!”]

Moi: Ha! La dernière fois j’ai payé mille francs. [“Oh PLEASE. The last time I paid one thousand!” It is important to note that in any given situation, this might be a complete lie. I may have never even considered venturing to that particular side of town before, but as far as my taxi driver nemesis is concerned, it is practically my second home.]

Taxi driver: [Shakes his head mournfully.] Oh! C’est pas bon! Deux mille, c’est bon. [“Oh, that’s no good! Two thousand is fair.”]

Moi: [Unimpressed.] J’habite en Senegal, je sais le pris. [“I live in Senegal, I know the price” with a very distinct undertone of “Just because I’m a toubab (white) doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”]

I will spare you the gory details, but every time, after approximately four incredibly impassioned minutes punctuated by shocked gasps and no less than seven theatrical faux-exits that really should get me an Oscar nod, I get my asking price. Every. Time. Sometimes that stubborn tenacity in me isn’t such a bad thing after all-I consistently get better prices than anyone on my team [including the men!] Last week, after yet another exhilarating, successful taxi “negotiation”, a slow grin spread across the begrudgingly impressed face of that rather surprised little man, and he remarked:

” Vous êtes un peu Sénégalais!” [You’re a little bit Senegalese!]

Why, merci. Indeed I am.

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Honk If You’re…Still Alive. [In Which I Nearly Died.]

I used to think that not having any traffic laws would be fantastic.

An incredibly mild shot of traffic in Senegal. The party bus on the left is a "car rapide".

That brilliant gem of an idea dates back to my freshman and sophomore years of college, during which I dearly loved to barrel down back country roads coaxing speeds of no less 95 mph out of the older-than-dirt ’86 death trap that masquerades as my car. [An impressive feat, if I do say so myself.] I really was shocked when a friend informed me that you can lose your license for speeding that badly! But those were the days when I could only fantasize about a world without stop signs, po-po and speeding tickets. I was wholeheartedly convinced that that world would be my oyster.

Then I moved to Senegal.

 Every harrowing taxi experience in Senegal leaves you white knuckled and dazed. Violently shaking, you stumble out of the rusty rickshaw throwbacks vowing to be a better person, join a monastery and start talking to your mother again. I imagine the traffic in Senegal to be something mildly

A shot of Paris from the top of Notre Dame several months ago. Everything looked so clean and organized after Dakar!

similar to a really bad acid trip: there is simply no rhyme or reason to it whatsoever. It’s almost as if some greasy haired, pre-pubescent teenaged Grand Theft Auto prodigy named Spike scribbled the system on the back of a Burger King napkin during his lunch hour. It feels entirely arbitrary-no signs, no speed limits, and no traffic lights. Traffic in Dakar is like a city-wide game of bumper cars-you speed along with one hand desperately clutching the wheel and the other hand flying out the window, as if simply waving at the city bus barreling towards the driver’s seat will entice said bus driver to hit the breaks long enough to let you squeeze by unharmed. The dirty air is filled with the sounds of people yelling, horns blaring, tires screeching, and rusty metal angrily grating against those unhappy cars that lost the perpetual game of chicken.

It’s an experience. I imagine an aerial view of the traffic in Dakar would somehow resemble an ant hill. Complete and utter chaotic panic reigns.

I have what my teammates have informed me, is a fervent but rather misguided belief that I can singlehandedly teach all of these crazed Senegalese drivers that pedestrians actually do have the right of way. I am utterly fearless-boldly stepping into the midst of frenzied rush hour [read: every hour] traffic with a sort of reckless daring that suggests that the little 5’3 white girl somehow belongs in the middle of the crowded road. Much to my teammates chagrin, I have been hit by a car on three separate occasions since moving to this sidewalk-less country. I may only

A shot of Rome from the top of the Spanish steps-another city that felt incredibly organized after Dakar.

 be 5’3, but every inch of me is stubborn to a fault and there is some sort of inexplicable compulsive tenacity in me that truly would rather get flattened into the dirt by a car rapide [a wildly colorful Senegalese van-bus] than give up the right of way. [Thus, ever-practical Christy is constantly pulling me out of the way of on-coming traffic.]

What’s the moral of this story? There isn’t one, and I’ll probably get hit by at least two more cars before making it safely onto the plane home. I’ll give you this though: life is never boring in Senegal.

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Of Racism and the Gospel. [Red and Yellow, Black and White.]

Hady came over last week for help on an English essay about racism. Her opening sentence was as follows:

“There are four races of people in the world: the blacks, the whites, the reds and the yellows.”

Explaining the mildly politically incorrect implications of that statement was no easy task. Ironically, Hady’s assignment was to [in English] explain how we can eradicate racism from the world.

 My job is to do one thing in a thousand different, imaginative ways. I spend my days showing girls how even the seemingly insignificant details of their lives are connected to the truth of the gospel and point towards

Hady and I at my birthday party several weeks ago.

 their desperate need for Jesus. Conversations about dating, marriage, food, movies, holidays, cultural traditions, music, the economy, poverty, racism-these are all things that I use to talk about our need for a Savior.

Islam is an entirely performance based religion. If the “good” that you do in your lifetime outweighs the bad, you have a shot at Allah arbitrarily deciding to let you into Paradise after you die. [Though it is important to note that there is never a guarantee of salvation for a Muslim, even if his good deeds turn out to outweigh the bad. Shortly before he died, Muhammad himself told his followers that he didn’t know if Allah would let him into Paradise. Everything is dependent upon the “merciful will of Allah”, who might decide to send everybody to hell on any given day if he hasn’t had enough coffee that morning.]

And so, a Muslim tries to be good. Straining, frantically, fearfully, blindly grasping for an assurance that simply cannot be found in Islam: that they have done enough. It is petrifying, maddening, and absolutely exhausting.

The gospel goes to war with the idea that we can ever do anything to be good enough for God. This is entirely counter intuitive for my girls. Islam looks at a topic like racism, and says “be better”. The gospel cures racism by telling us that God accepted us in the midst of the filth of our sin-and wants to give us new hearts that crave Him and the desires of His heart rather than the desires of our old, sinful nature.

In his book “Breaking the Islam Code” [A great read if you’re at all interested in better understanding what I’m doing in Senegal and why], JD Greear talks about this very thing. He says:

When our acceptance is based on our performance, we merely exacerbate two root sins in our heart: pride and fear. Our religious devotion is fueled by our fear of rejection and love of praise. Pride begets more sin, and fear of God does not create love for him, but an anxiety to prove ourselves to him and to others.

 The sin of racism arises, ultimately, out of insecurity. The racist feels the need to look down on other people (in his case, a whole race of people) to bolster his own self-image. If you try to change the racist by saying, “Don’t be a racist, because racists are bad people,” you are implying to him that bad people will be rejected. And if he wants to avoid rejection, he should conform to the moral behavior that will gain him acceptance. You are appealing to his fear and insecurity-the very things that prompted the racism to begin with! The gospel, on the other hand, attempts to cure the sin of racism not by threatening rejection, but by showing us the unconditional acceptance we have received in the cross. How could those of us who have been accepted by Christ refuse to accept others?

My girls are correct about the very thing that most terrifies them-they are not good enough to stand before a holy God. But praise Jesus, he loved people like Hady and you and I enough to be “good” on our behalf! The brilliant news of the gospel is that I was DEAD in my sin-but God sent Jesus to earth to live the perfect, holy life that I should have lived FOR me. Then in the greatest act of selfless love mankind has ever seen, Jesus died the gruesome death that I should have died as the punishment for all of the “bad” in my life. When I decided to follow Jesus Christ, He redeemed my heart and made it new-and in so doing, took me from death to life. I can confidently rest in the knowledge that my relationship with God is entirely secure because my salvation has nothing to do with what I can do-and everything to do with what has already been done for me.

Somewhere in between correcting comma splices and explaining that there are more than four races of people in the world, I got to explain to Hady that the only way to eradicate racism [or any other sin] from the world is for Jesus to redeem our sinful hearts. That’s what most of my days look like in Dakar.

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