When I gave birth to my first child in West Africa, I was the typical American germ freak. After a few weeks, however, I realized that I couldn’t live my life by stressing out about every speck of dirt or foreign substance that she came into contact with. God has since given me the grace to accept situations that go against the grain of MY native culture, especially concerning sanitation and hygiene. My husband recently reminded me of one such experience.
Years ago, just before church, our toddler, Isaac, walked up to my husband with a lollipop in his mouth. A young African girl soon followed, and explained that Isaac had taken HER lollipop. My husband was a bit confused, not understanding why our son would blatantly take something that belonged to another child. He soon realized that Isaac had broken a great unspoken rule amongst the children here, “Take a lick and pass it on!” That’s how it works in the culture we serve in when it comes to lollipops. A child who acquires such a precious commodity is often generous enough to share. He will take a lick and pass it on. The next child understands that he, too, is to lick and pass. The lollipop will circle around the room until it is gone. Isaac was given a lick but decided that he didn’t want to pass it on. Pretty soon, however, he figured out the rules and learned to lick and pass. A room full of children in a foreign land, passing around the same lollipop, and our child participates! Can you believe it? It makes me laugh to think of it! Most of our American friends sitting in their sanitary bubble probably think we are crazy. I, however, have learned a few things along the way.
- I cannot be a germ freak and make it here. (I’m not sure how germ freaks make it anywhere.)
- There is no way to protect our children 100%. Sure, we could lock them in the house and try to seclude them from all germs, but they could still get sick. They, however, need a LIFE which means getting out to “take a lick” by experiencing the joys of the culture around them.
- Share with others and let them share with you. I have never shared a lollipop like my children have, but I have put things in my mouth that I was a little unsure of. I have eaten off of plates that were briefly rinsed in cold water because that was all that was available. I have shared a bowl of rice with several other ladies; we all ate with our hands. The worst part about that was it was so HOT! I could hardly hold it in my hands.
- If you want to fit in, “take a lick.” Am I totally comfortable with all that my children are exposed to? When I stop to think about it, no. (That’s why I don’t stop to think about it too much.) I don’t knowingly push them into dangerous or unhealthy situations, but some things that the Sanitary Police would not condone do happen. To be effective in the ministry, we have to get out of our comfort zones and trust the Lord.
I firmly believe that we are building up our immune systems. I have no proof of this, but I refuse to drive myself crazy thinking of all the dangers out there. To be a missionary in a third-world country, one has to accept things that aren’t normal to the typical American. They are, however, normal to the people we serve. The Apostle Paul talked about becoming all things to all men. That is what my son did when he learned to share a lollipop. He taught us all not to worry but to just take a lick. If the Lord has placed any of you on the homefront or abroad in a situation you have a hard time accepting, “take a lick!” Accept it, and keep on going, knowing that the Lord will take care of everything.