Beating the beans
Major Linda Manhardt, territorial education secretary, spent seven years in Africa—three years in Thika, Kenya, at the Training College, and four years as Principal of the Training College in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Here she tells of a lesson learned and experience shared with African comrades.
Prior to my first term overseas, I was sent to an organization called “Link Care Center,” which facilitated the transition into a culture so different from my own. One concept I learned there has become a part of who I am. That is the idea of being an “acceptable outsider.”
We were told to not even try to become “one of them,” because it just can’t happen. Much as I wanted to relate, I am not and never will be an African. I don’t look like one. I don’t share the same culture, worldview and values. The very way I think and reason is different than my African brothers and sisters. This is not a bad thing or a good thing—this is reality.
My task was to become an acceptable outsider. This was something I could prayerfully learn to do. To not offend by my presence. To offer what I could in a way that those whom I served could receive. To not impose my opinions and ideas on hearts and minds that were not ready to receive them. To earn love and respect—not demand it. To genuinely appreciate and accept the people, and learn from them.
Let me tell you a story about the harvest.
In Thika, we did not have enough money to buy food for our 100 cadets, so we grew much of what they ate. We grew maize, and tomatoes. We grew cabbage, bananas, coconuts and a type of spinach that can only be described as bitter. And we grew beans.
It was time for the bean harvest. In Africa, they do not pick the beans from the vine. They just wait. They never eat the pods—only the beans inside. Finally, the day came when the beans were dry enough. All classes were cancelled, and the men staff and cadets began to walk through the shamba (garden) and gather the dried plants—the entire plant.
The women were waiting for them. Canvases were spread on the ground, and they piled those dried plants high. I watched in amazement as the men kept coming. This was like no harvest I had ever heard of! At some point, someone decided that the pile was high enough. One of the cadets got on top of the pile and began beating it with a stick. He worked up a sweat and kept on beating. We sang as he worked, and when he tired, another cadet took his place. When the beating was done, the plants were lifted off and the dried beans covered the canvas beneath. Thousand of beans! I couldn’t believe my eyes!
Then the men began to remove the dried plants. As I watched them, I noticed one, two, lots of bean pods still left on the vines. I tried to get them to stop. I tried to tell them that if we just picked the pods from the vines in the first place we wouldn’t have to work so hard and no beans would be missed. They listened to me, thought about what I said, and shook their heads. Then they laughed! What a silly idea that must have seemed to them! This is the way they have always done it. To do it differently didn’t make sense.
I laughed with them. And later, when people were getting tired, I took my turn to “beat the beans.”
You see, sometimes it is more important to remain in a position to be able to relate and minister to others, than it is to be right. In my deepest heart, I knew that we would have harvested more beans my way. But the price was too high. More beans (productivity) is a Western outcome-based, tangible concept. Beating the beans is certainly more fun. It is a social experience that the whole community shares in. Everyone has a hand in it and is encouraged by those watching.
We are all surrounded by different cultures. In every congregation, we find those who are different from ourselves, with different perspectives and values. In what areas in life can we choose to “just beat the beans”—to swallow our pride and learn from others?