I recently read an article posted on Facebook about a mother who laments her loss of “the village I never had. The one with mothers doing the washing side by side, clucking and laughing hysterically, tired in body but quick in spirit…We’d laugh…we’d be skilled at finding the joy in the mundane…We’d cry…We’d love you, not with the sappy love of greeting cards, but with an appreciative love that has full knowledge of how your colors add to our patchwork…The [village] we traded for homes that, despite being a stone’s throw, feel miles apart from each other.”
Despite its particular focus on the loneliness of mothers in western society, it also resonated with me, for I too have sensed the loneliness that comes with “locked front doors, blinking devices and afternoons alone.” We have traded the vulnerability and responsibility of community living for the comforts and conveniences of private living. The article opened up my eyes even more to the sweet simplicity and intimacy of this village life in Cameroon.
Last weekend we went up to a Fulani village to celebrate Sallah, the feast at the end of Ramadan. I got to share in their village life for a couple of days—sitting on a stool in the grass to wash dishes that held the bread and milk tea served for breakfast, grinding handfuls of garlic and ginger to add to the pot of Jelof rice balancing over the open fire, talking and singing with other women in the dark and smoky cookhouse, running to a nearby compound to borrow some salt, painting swirls of henna on hands and feet, and greeting women in their new and colorful Sallah dresses as they carry various dishes of food to the neighboring compounds to share with family members. Who knows where all the children came from, but far removed from any need of computers, tablets, or TVs to entertain them, they delighted in dancing, jumping, running, and laughing amidst the balloons and bubbles we brought for the celebration.
These characteristics of village living are not unique to these compounds in the mountains of Cameroon, far removed from electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing. These characteristics of village living also hold true to the Jacksons’ home, frequently called the ‘Jackson Village”. While computers, tablets, and TVs often provide us with entertainment and even sometimes distract from simpler pleasures, and while we do have indoor plumbing, certain benefits of village life still hold true in the house. We laugh together, we cry together, we love each other “with an appreciative love that has full knowledge of how your colors add to our patchwork”. While baking cakes, washing dishes, fixing broken phones, and helping with schoolwork all demonstrate care, completing tasks is not necessary to communicate love in the village. Just being there, just sitting, listening, encouraging, laughing, is often enough. In contrast to a western society that so emphasizes being useful to have value, village society communicates that you have value regardless of what you do.
Even after living in Cameroon for two years, I still cling to those American values of usefulness and productivity. It was somewhat challenging for me during this past month to not always see evidences of how I was making a difference. Without the typical and even expected stories of running a VBS or building houses, how do I communicate why I was there? Yes, I helped with some formatting and printing of the children’s ministry curriculum, I organized some ministry resources, and I helped the girls with their college application essays, and I praise God that I could help in those ways. But I was primarily there to be there. I was there to laugh, to cry, to love with the Jackson Village. To share lunch on the veranda, to sing and dance while washing dishes, to play game after game of Monopoly Deal, to hike through a creek to a hidden waterfall, to share in their rest and healing from the past year and a half.
Thank you so much to all of you who prayed for me and who made it possible for me to go. While there are very few numbers to share that prove my “usefulness” from this past month, and while even I struggle to see all that God was doing this summer through my presence there, I am confident that he brought me there, and I am so blessed by the opportunity I had to share again in their “village life”.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” Ephesians 3:20-21.