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Random Thoughts on My Junk

February 22, 2017

I did it today.  I dumped my stuff on Africa.  Of course, that is hyperbole, as my nerdy 7-year-old would say.

I gave away almost four bins of stuff to my worker and told him I didn’t want it anymore and please make it go away.  Seems simple, right?

I didn’t need the clutter; I refuse to let my giant house fill just because I could; I don’t want to save things “just in case” even though I live in a place where that is actually logical; most of it is stained clothing, worn out clothing, books we don’t need, shoes the kids have never worn (and were hand-me-downs to us), and baby items that were no longer worth passing on (even though, yes, our team has a new baby arriving in a few weeks, yay).

All that to say, I couldn’t hold on to it, and no one else in my circle of friends wanted it, so I got rid of it.  Except that is the trouble with living in a place like this.  There are no thrift stores.  There is no Free Page on Craigslist.  There is a Facebook group for selling items (craigslist style), but it wasn’t that sort of stuff.  And offering things for free….trust me, you wouldn’t do that if you’ve lived here long enough to get to know the culture.

When you, who live in North America (I’m not really sure about Europe…someone enlighten me), don’t want something anymore you A) throw it away, or B) try to let it be redeemed by giving to a thrift store/donation center.  If I “throw it away” it will definitely be redeemed.  My trash gets “sorted” through each hand it passes.  But admittedly, most of the stuff I don’t want anymore still has SOME life left in it.  So if I throw it away, I FEEL like I’m telling the people who work in and around my house that it wasn’t even worth letting you decide if you’d like it…but you can dig it out of my trash.  Doesn’t that sound insulting?  Perhaps it is an error of my own perspective.  But that’s my reaction.  Because it’s happened before…ugh.

There aren’t places for me to drop it off.  So I asked around and pretty much everyone I’ve talked to does the same thing: they leave it somewhere around their property where their workers have knowledge that this is where stuff goes that is unwanted…and it disappears. One missionary even told me that she hands an unwanted thing to her worker and just shrugs and walks away.  It’s like, we (those of us who live here) all feel the same way…we know we are spoiled and we know we still don’t need that item, but we also know we want it gone and giving it away is our only chance to facilitate that.

But now I feel guilty for this crime against a continent that is flooding with the world’s crap.  The rich half (half is not the right word, I realize) of the world dumps its unwanted life onto Africa and economies are broken by this process.  Why make shoes when they are being shipped in?  Why make clothes when Goodwill shipping containers (or sea cans, for my Canadian friends) arrive daily?  Why bother with traditional basket-making when China sends over enough plastic bins to fill the entire continent?  (Though there are local plastic factories providing jobs and plastic bins are wonderful for sanitation and food preservation, so I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater.)  But, the crisis of junk flooding this continent is peaking.  And I feel like I have contributed in a small way.  I thought I was supposed to be here to help.

My worker was grateful.  He looked forward to looking through the books and building his English.  He was excited for my old clothes, maybe his wife could use them?  I pointed out the bags of baby items and, since he is also a pastor, suggested perhaps there are babies in his church.  He told me “God bless you.”  I don’t feel all that benevolent.

I go into our bedroom now, where I have been storing these bins since we unpacked from our mini furlough in December and I’m grateful for the return of the open space and the lack of cluttered bins in my face.  I’m glad that on the one hand, our unwanted items might make someone’s day.  They might help a bit.  They might be sold to provide a meal for someone.  Might.  But on the other hand…they might just make a problem worse.

So perhaps I’ve overthought my contribution to the crisis.  Or perhaps I’m just being thoughtful: being mindful of my place here in a foreign country.  We, missionaries and technical “experts,” bring talents and knowledge to the table of work here in Kinshasa, but we are no better than those we are here to serve.  We only add to the work to, hopefully, make it more productive.  Please pray that we are always mindful of what we bring, and the positive and negative consequences that result from us being here.

I know God’s plan is bigger than me and my junk.  I only hope that none of it gets in His way.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kim Hansen permalink
    February 22, 2017 0829

    Lisa, I have been getting your posts since you visited our church in Enid OK (a few years ago?). Thank you for your thoughtfulness in these posts and for sharing real life! Many missionaries report on their “ministry” each month, but don’t often enough let us in on life in whatever country they live. I have really appreciate and have been encouraged by your openness and realness! Thank you!! You all are often in my prayers!

  2. DEBORAH A ARNETT permalink
    February 28, 2017 0829

    Lisa, this post gives me another view point on Africa I never considered. Thank you for sharing your thoughts (concerns) so transparently. It brings questions to mind even of our own society when we donate our stuff how much are we really helping? Some does go overseas but, does it really help? Although here, thrift stores have a real purpose. I wonder what would happen if some enterprising Kinshasa workers actually decided to open a thrift store. Would the authorities license them to do so?

    • February 28, 2017 0829

      You make some excellent points – in a way, there is a thrift option here in Kinshasa, in that all the things that arrive via the Goodwill-type overflow ARE for sale. However, they are in an open market that is unsafe for me to visit. So, there are “thrift stores” in that the goods are sold and people locally do find some things useful, but the city is overflowing with unwanted items, too. And it eliminates local industry in terms of manufacturing. And, you hit the nail on the head, that it is impossible to cleanly operate a business here, of any kind, especially a charitable one….just ask the MAF guys. 🙂

  3. Nancy permalink
    May 31, 2017 0829

    Your reflections and sentiments here closely echo those in my own heart and mind. Thank you for sharing. I miss you and keep you in my prayers.

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