February 25, 2016

Pole Pole- Kiswahili for “slowly"

Pole Pole is one of my favorite Swahili phrases. The first time I heard it was when I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2012, the same trip when I was first introduced to CARE for AIDS. Mountain climbing is one of my favorite things in the world, but when you’re trekking at high altitude, your body simply isn’t able to move as quickly as normal. Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. It’s more like a zombie walk than anything. I have the tendency to move faster than I should when climbing, so my (very patient) guide Stanley constantly called to me, trying to moderate my enthusiasm. “Pole, pole! Don’t go too fast! We’ll get to our goal- pole pole!"

Climbing isn’t the only thing in Africa that moves slowly. Meals are pole pole, church services are pole pole, Nairobi traffic is definitely pole pole. Coming from a hectic life in Atlanta, the slower pace takes a few days to get used to. I notice it every time I go to Kenya on our Impact Trips. We’re usually fighting traffic to get to the airport, organizing bags, checking passports, going through security. We land in Amsterdam and grab breakfast and maybe a quick nap before jumping on another flight to Nairobi. There is the rush of baggage claim, grabbing luggage and counting bags alongside hundreds of other passengers, and shuffling through customs. 

But once we’re outside the airport, you begin to notice pole pole in action. Traffic is crawling, if not at a standstill, but no one seems to be in too much of a hurry. If we have time, we go out to dinner, but if not, we order food to come to the house, either way seems to work. Church lasts two hours, or maybe three- no one really seems concerned either way- then we sit down to share a meal. At night we talk through the day’s ups and downs instead of checking Facebook or binge watching our latest Netflix obsession. We sit in client’s homes with no other agenda except to learn about their lives and pray.

Pole Pole means I’m less distracted. I take time to learn about the people around me. I pay more attention to the work God is doing in and around me. This slower pace can be frustrating if you expect (as I often do) things to work on a tight schedule, but there is a beautiful simplicity and trust that develops when you let go of your plans and open yourself to God’s plans.

In the liturgical Christian calendar, Lent is the season of pole pole. Forty days dedicated to going slow, praying, fasting and preparing with hopeful expectation that God will do something great in our lives. A reminder that deep abiding faith isn’t instant, it’s cultivated over time, slowly. It’s the reason that many people give something up for Lent as a reminder that, if we let Him, God will make us whole.

If I’m honest, I have a hard time with the idea of Lent. Slow is not a speed that I strive for. Not in business, not in my family, not in my relationships. I want everything to happen now, if not yesterday. My wife even has the audacity to call it impatience (imagine that!). But in the midst of our over scheduled and often over committed lives, if we let Him, God will sanctify us. Often more slowly that we want, but it happens. And if we continue on, we’ll get to our goal- pole pole.

During this season of lent we want to invite you to join us in prayer around specific topics. We have created a prayer guide that you can access here