They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I feel the truth of that aching within me as I sit with a request for a piece of writing totaling a thousand words to describe my recent trip to visit the Hadzabe tribe in Tanzania.
As I stutteringly try and try again to string coherent sentences together, instead I find myself continually drawn back to the photos pulled up on my screen. How could words convey the strength and the dignity of these people? How could mere words communicate their hopeful defiance in the face of a physically grueling life? How could even one thousand words declare the wildness and freedom of their spirits?
If I could paint you a picture, I would delicately detail Amili’s wide grin, contrasted so starkly against his dark chocolate skin. Music would be more helpful to try to translate Tela’s quick laughter that dances and shines in nearly visible beams of light. The story of Onwas and his life is etched in deep lines on his face, sunk into the depth of his eyes.
In one thousand words, I could not show you that.
The unique, sharp smell of African bodies baking in the sun; the perfect combination of spicy ginger tea and the chapatti that tastes immediately like home, immediately familiar, as if I’d been eating it my entire life; the unexpected brush against my arm as a member of the quieter, neighboring tribe sneaks up behind me to softly and curiously touch my white skin.
All the words in all the world fall short of such experiences.
The fiery boldness that is housed within Mariamu, a tiny bush woman, who fearlessly stands in the face of government officials, refusing to be pushed aside. The grief of the young boys who blow bubbles and eat bananas with us during the day, then return home to abusive, alcoholic parents at night. The hunger that goes deeper than the empty bellies of the Hadza who are searching for something to ease the heaviness of their hearts. The determination in the faces of those who, at the time of our parting, declare their commitment to continuing to preach the good news of Christ and His Kingdom to those who have never heard, to their own people, in their own language. The glory of standing back and watching as one of these does just that, speaking with all the lulls and clicks and lilts of his language to ears that can hear and understand, while those of us who are simply visiting sit on the sidelines, cheering him on.
Charged with a one-thousand-word-essay, and flooded with memories such as these, I am at a loss.
CS Lewis once wrote:
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.”
This powerfully communicates the necessity of ceasing our endless striving for answers, for an intellectual understanding of a profound mystery that can only be grasped in the secret places of the heart. It is an invitation to lay down our thirst for knowledge and come face to face with the Holy.
As the image of this God who is so unspeakably other is housed within His people, His beloved, I wonder if we face a similar necessity within the world of our fellow creatures: to look in people’s eyes rather than reading their résumés. To listen to their stories rather than categorizing them as one of “those people”. To take them by their hands and rejoice in their sacred humanity, rather than memorializing them through well-intentioned gestures from a distance.
Because what other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.
I do not have one thousand words to tell you about the uniqueness of the Hadzabe people, and the richness of the time I spent with them. Instead, I have an invitation:
Come and see.
You do not have to travel to the African wilderness to find someone who looks different than you, who speaks differently than you, who has a different story than you. You do not have to get on a plane to encounter someone who is hurting and waiting for someone to speak a word of kindness.
Let’s pull our faces away from the telescope, through which we are straining to know the stories of hope and healing from the faraway places, because in seemingly dark days we are desperate to feel inspired. As Caleb Bislow says, “There comes a point where you have to get tired of being inspired… At some point you have to get tired of reading books and watching movies about people who do interesting, courageous things, and begin to do those things yourself. Or let the dream die.”
Let’s turn our attention back to the hopeless, the desperate, and the downtrodden that are right in front of us. Let’s also keep stretching beyond the point we think we can reach, to grasp hands with those who are far-off, and those who are shockingly different from us.
Then maybe we won’t need a thousand words… because even in the midst of division and darkness and confusion and threats, when faced with the holiness of God in the sacredness of other people, all questions and all fears just might die away.
For a taste of some of the beauty Laura experienced while with the Hadza people, enjoy listening to the Hadza singing Scripture in their native language:
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