Knowing Your Audience

(from Eric McLaughlin)

We have lost count of how many opportunities we have been given to share about our lives in Kenya and our plans in Burundi.  It's something over thirty.  And they have never been the same.  We have talked to first-graders and we have given grand rounds to groups of doctors.  High-schoolers and veteran missionaries.  All parts of the country.

We had a great time last night, as Rachel and I got to share for the vespers service at my grandparents retirement community in Golden Valley, Minnesota (pictured on the right).

It was special for several reasons.  First, they had a beautiful grand piano there, so I begged the opportunity to lead everyone in a hymn to start.  Second, they probably get the prize for most enthusiastic reception (we talked with many people for a long time afterwards).  Third, several there were retired African missionaries with the covenant church, some of them medical, and some that even worked in Congo with one of our Tenwek neighbors.

The unique nature of the group last night got me thinking about our current role as "witnesses".  We have news to share.  At best, this is a chance to bridge the gap between people in the US who really want to connect with African issues, and those same issues which, try as you might, still can seem too distant and remote to get close to your heart.  At worst, we are talking with people who don't want to care.

But there are a million variations between these two extremes, and part of our challenge is figuring out where someone (or some group) is, and then trying to strike the right chord to meet them where they are.  Perhaps this is best illustrated by what NOT to do.  Examples:

Other person:  "Wow, I'm just starting to realize how much need is out there, and that I should do something about it."
Me:  "Here is a copy of When Helping Hurts."  (though a great book and highly useful for other people)

High school junior:  "You mean that, for lack of doctors and simple things like a blood transfusion, people are dying?"
Me:  "Yeah, we would routinely see people with Hemoglobins in the 2's, and a couple times in the 1s.  The amount of heme disease there is really incredible.  It would be fascinating to know if anyone has done the studies to see what the underlying cause is."  (though medical folks really engage some of these details)

Another person:  "Really, you had to wash all your vegetables in bleach water before eating them?  What was that like?"
Me:  "That's nothing!  Let me tell you about the real challenges of coping with losing patients and the finer points of trying to educate across cultures."

And then there are the times like last night, where the gap is surprisingly minimal, and the first question is "Do you know John and Linda Spriegel?  We worked with them at a bush hospital in the Congo."  Why yes, we do.  We worked with them everyday and lived about 70 yards from them.  Wow. =)

Overall, it's an enjoyable challenge, because the moments of connection are evident, and are a reward in themselves.  We care greatly about the things we are doing and sharing about.  This doesn't mean that everyone has to share all our enthusiasm, but to see the light come on in someone's eyes is a beautiful thing that we get to be a part of.  Maybe you, the reader, are one of those people.  You have been a blessing to us.

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