Because you are, I am.
Four years ago, I visited a remote community in the desert region of northern Kenya called Marsabit. I had heard about this community since the day I started with Blood:Water—about the people’s resilience in the difficult environment, about their pursuit of health care and access to water, about the joy they had in the midst of their harsh circumstances and war-torn past. That visit feels as if it were yesterday as I can still see their faces and I still hear their stories echo in my mind.
Well, today, I am on my way to visiting them again. I look forward to visiting with the Marsabit community to see how we have continued to partner with those I call friends. They may not remember me, but I surely remember them. You see, I feel linked to them even years after we first met. Although our stories are much different, they are the same.
I think those feelings I have are an example of the Swahili word Ubuntu, which means “Because you are, I am.” I am more together than I am alone. Another African proverb highlights it as well—go alone and go fast, go together and go far. We invite each other into our stories, and we become intractably linked. This theme echoes in my family as well as my faith. Because of who my wife and children are—they have made me who I am. I am just a piece without them as a whole. Additionally of what Christ has done in my life, I am His child and have an eternal hope. Because of who He is, I am.
I saw how the theme of Ubuntu works itself out even through the movies I’ve watched as I’ve traveled today. In The Butler, I saw how a divided, yet unified family contributed to the continued fight for civil rights and how our differences will continue to divide us as long as we don’t invite each other into our stories and see how we are because of others. I also saw a TED Talk about former South Africa President Nelson Mandela by Boyd Varty. He highlighted that it was with humility that Mandela made the fight for freedom not about him but about everyone. If you look closely, Ubuntu is a theme in many movies—a story of interdependence, a story of mutuality, a story of that ‘we need each other.’
As I prepare to visit my friends in Marsabit, I pray my heart remembers the theme of Ubuntu. It’s easy for me to recognize our differences. It’s harder to live out our similarities. We have to fight daily against reversing the phrase to “Because I am, you are,” making it one of dependence and authority. No, we’ve all seen the effects of that mindset and the beauty of the opposite.
There are differences that are visible and invisible. There are also similarities that are visible and invisible. It’s in celebrating and recognizing those differences and similarities that Ubuntu can find itself, and we can look each other in the eye and say, “Because of you, I am.”