“Our Hope is that as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand so that we can preach the gospel in the region beyond you” 2 Corinthians 10:15
I once told my Seventh grade teacher that I was going to live in Africa. His response, though he tried to hide it, was one of quiet distain. Like I was too quite and naive to explore beyond the boundaries of my own state never mind that of another country and continent. Dont get me wrong, he was one of my favorite teachers but in that moment I felt as though my hope and direction of where I felt the Lord calling me was too great. Africa was far too different a place for me to step foot in. My love for the culture and my lifelong fascination with missionary work was temporarily hindered. He wasnt the first to question my adamant perusal of a world only understood through pictures and books.
Up until now, I have lived in Africa but I haven’t really lived in Africa. I have lived under the umbrella of organizations and lived on the outskirts of the real Africa. I have been reminded of the four lepers that are mentioned in 2 Kings 7. They lived on the outskirts of the city and were constantly on a two way street of fear and rejection by the people beyond the gates. They had a skin disease that separated them and in reality i think i have developed my own “skin disease”; a yovo complex of sorts. Everywhere I go the color of my skin is pointed out, sometimes in the singsong way taught to young students in the schools and other times its said on a dare or with such malice that I want to respond with the same hint of contempt. I have heard many stories about Africa and many involve the local name for a white person. In Uganda it was Muzungu but here it is Yovo or Oyibo I once thought i would never tire of hearing it but in all honesty lately it is one of the struggles of my day to day. Whats in a name? Apparently more than we know.Just in that name alone, there is a separation between me and the people. The walls are immediately built and fear or past rememberance is quickly established. So many times, especially in our shop I see how people change at the first sight of me. Some immediately become shy and intimated others start demanding things and acting like they have something to prove to me. Its taxing but i realize that its also me that has the built in “yovo complex” because even the Yovo complex has two sides of the coin.
Aside from grocery markets, which I rarely step foot into, everything I buy everywhere i go and everything I do I have to barter for. The problem with that is my french is limited and my knowledge of actual prices is even more dismal. Of course the color of my skin raises the prices to almost double or triple what the locals normally pay. I once had a friend offer to call me a motorcycle taxi to a place i traveled to often. Thanks to my husband i know the acceptable price to travel to this place, but this friend wanted to negotiate almost double the usual price just to make the Kekano (motobike men) happy. Say what? Even our local friends who know that we are missionaries in this country just starting to establish ourselves want me to pay more than I should just to make the people happy. Needless to say I was not happy, I think I actually gave hime a snarky remark just because he became one more person to take advantage of my skin color. I am living here and I don’t want to start off paying through the roof for everything because that will set the tone for the rest of my time here; however long that might be.
Even when I am ministering i find myself relying on my husband to explain things further through
the context of the culture. In prison, everything is translated twice. In french and the local language Fo. Sometimes i have to wait longer before i can begin my next thought because when it is translated things are added to what I said. As soon as i arrive anywhere I am put on the spot to speak because everyone wants to hear from the Yovo. Believe me as much as i try to eat the food and wear the clothes, I don’t blend in well here. This is where my part of the “yovo complex” sets in.
Do you understand why i find myself relating to the lepers yet? In the story of 2 Kings, the lepers ask the question “why stay here until we die?” In other words whats the point of being in a place and not living in it. I mean really living in it. I find myself sometimes so put off by the reaction that my skin color invokes. I can’t communicate directly with the people because of the language barriers as well as an air of fear and intimidation that comes from being a yovo. The Yovo complex is rooted in fear. It is fear personified even on my end.
The Yovo complex is:
Inflated prices just at the sight of me.
The mentality that I have everything and that every picture I take will be used to make me money.
That even though you can speak English you are afraid to because your English is inferior.
Questions of my presence here because why am i in Africa when I have everything I can want in America.
The Yovo Complex is also:
Fear of being ripped off and paying more than you should because of where you come from.
Living on the outskirts of the city and not being able to fully be one with the people.
Washing everything in antibacterial because of a fear or where its been or what has touched it.
It is listening to all the traveler warnings and avoiding the local food.
Being filled with indignation and indifference because of all the above things in the first list.
Even after a year of being here I still struggle with these things. My Name is Rebekah and I am recovering from a yovo Complex. For the first time since my arrival I think I am finally beginning to live here. I am not just living afraid of every outcome. I am no longer going to allow myself to succumb to the fear of the differences. What i did in America I can do here. I can walk around my neighborhood and be free. I can find the same foods to cook with and interact with people. I can just be me.God has called me here and though I don’t always understand it because believe me, as some of you know and have experienced, I can be a shy and quiet person. My personality doesn’t always measure up to the boisterous living of this place. I have noticed that the majority of communication is either loud, louder or loudest with facial expressions to match! As I said, sometimes i wonder why God called me here but I am here and my faith is growing. I want to be all here and I want the love of God to permeate even the darkest corner of this place. I want the lies that have infiltrated this culture and have gone against God’s image of his people to stop. I want the little girl who looks at me with awe and calls me a beautiful yovo to know that she is beautiful, that she is a princess in the sight of the King. I want the prisoners to know that God’s grace is as sufficient for them as it is for me. I want those that feel that they are inferior to
understand that they have what it takes to be more than a conqueror. I want to move past the language barriers and move freely in this place.I don’t want to build something new here, i want to come alongside of these people and encourage them to see themselves as God sees them because His love is being extended to the regions beyond myself. Gods sphere of influence has expanded far beyond my own comprehension.My faith is in action and i want to hear the word of the Lord.Hear what it says; hear it, heed it, believe it and live it out in this place.