I was serving in rural Kenya with a mission team building an aquaponics system that would benefit a local church. It was hard work, and we were behind schedule. One afternoon, with precious few hours of daylight left to work, a local woman came to visit and see the project. Our team leader asked me to visit with this woman under the shade of a mango tree. While my exhausted body was internally shouting “hallelujah” for the break, I was cringing at the thought of my team members continuing to sweat under the blazing sun while I sat and drank water in the shade. Every time one of them passed by our chairs, I explained that our team leader asked me to tend to our visitor.
I’m ashamed now as I reflect on how devalued I must have made my Kenyan friend feel. I was too busy trying to convince everyone that I wasn’t a slacker to see how she must have felt to repeatedly hear that I was told to sit with her. I valued the project more than I valued her. I saw her as a distraction to the work I was there to do instead of a sister in Christ worthy of my undivided attention. Being fully present with her under the mango tree was the ministry priority.
Perhaps my team leader picked me to sit under the mango tree because she knew I valued productivity over presence. God certainly did. I thought I was there to help her, but I learned how to be with her. I’m grateful for the lesson I learned that day.