The other day we were asked a challenging question, which lead to a community culture conversation: What was most responsible for the growth that you experienced overseas in Guinea?
We had never thought about defining an overruling factor before. Of course, there have been umpteen challenges, growth points and stretching factors that we regularly highlight. But which had the most impact?
We found ourselves having a conversation as a team in front of our church audience that night, evaluating this question. The result? In a fashion, we each found ourselves approaching each other and naming one another responsible for our growth.
When we boarded an aeroplane in October, our families’ expectations were that we were flying the nest and becoming independent. Our western culture models independence as the ideal lifestyle, forgetting community culture. Yet little did we know that as we held hands on take off, prayed for a safe flight and left all things comfortable, we were about to become the most dependent we had ever been…
We depend on the body of Christ. Alone, we could not and would not have navigated a new culture, a wave of hardships and incredible joy. It was impossible. We left our familiarity but held onto each other, strengthening one another and running at God together in all that we did. We ate together, prayed together, worked together, read books together, studied God’s word together, worshipped together, lived under the same roof… One of our team values was “laugh together, cry together.”
Depending on each other was crucial.
Speaking of a new culture, the greatest change was switching from, “me,” to, “we.” In fact, when we claim to speak French, we can actually only conjugate the “nous” form! We never used, “I,” or “she,” throughout our six months. In Guinea you just don’t speak individually. Everything is about community. The things you do affect whole neighbourhoods and what you speak, you speak on behalf of your family or tribe. Community culture is quite literally the opposite of British lifestyle, where everyone thinks for themselves and actions don’t affect others.
The craziest thing is that we never questioned this. Somehow, we automatically switched into the community culture and it felt natural.
When we apply this to faith we see something greater. The Guinean church will never talk about, “my faith,” or say, “this is what I believe,” as we do in the west. Instead the church will always talk about, “our faith,” proclaiming, “this is what we believe!” Faith is not an individual belief or opinion. No, it’s a system of hearts coming together, abandoning certain individual values that misalign and pursuing the values and beliefs that Christ set, together.
This is the body of Christ that Apostle Paul talks about in the bible. This is a body of people from different backgrounds and tribes, coming together, to journey onwards. Prayer in Guinea is not individual either, but collective. Christians meet regularly (if not daily) to pray together and build one another up. They have not yet achieved the goal. At times tribal culture may cause disagreements but as a community they uplift this to God and make one kingdom decision together. In times of trouble, the body of Christ come alongside each other and depend upon one another for strength. Perhaps neither knows the answer but living alongside each other, they can try to move onwards as one.
Imagine if this was the vision of the western church today. Imagine if we lived together in a community culture – what would that look like? Would it be open doors, shared houses, a redefinition of the word, “family?” Perhaps we would scrap the “this is what I believe,” statements and move towards, “this is what the bible says we should believe and so let’s pursue it together.”
As a team this is something we are exploring together and are passionate about. Whilst we do not yet know the answers, we are eager to journey together and wait upon God to see just how and where He will use us to build his kingdom in this way. We don’t believe that there is space in the kingdom of heaven for lonely individuals or huge theological disagreements. In our advancing individualistic nation, it’s devastating to see division over what certain parts of the bible mean or how a church should “do church.”
For the church is not a group of individuals using the same theology to live their own lives. The church is a body of people who come together, believe in one God, lay down their own lives and move forwards together, as one multitude of kingdom builders. A body who hear the truth and share it. A community culture.
One of the best advantages of living in a “forgotten” country (Guinea), where no tourists are found, is the opportunity to discover landscapes that only few eyes have seen. Kambadaga falls are found in the Fouta Djallon and were described to us by a colleague as, “the most spectacular waterfall I have ever seen.”
We drove out to Kambadaga for the day which was surely an adventure. We started at the top with a classic picnic of local baguette bread and “laughing cow” cheese triangles, after which we then dived into the pools to cool from the hot African sun. You don’t quite realise the gravity of such a place however, until you drive out and view it across the valley. As you can see, Kambadaga is a humoungous cascade.
As you follow the river to the head of the fall, you pass a wire bridge that is used by locals to cross the falls. If you are daring enough, you can take up the river crossing challenge however neither one of us fancied risking the rickety bridge! Our colleague had a shot but as you can see, we stuck to the wooden ladder and went no further!
Finally, we followed the trail through the bush to the head of the waterfall. We payed a local guide to show us the way and spent so long standing in awe! We had the place to ourselves and with the supervision of our long-term colleagues, went right up to the edge and peered over…
What a drop! Lying down and peeping over the edge allows you to grasp the sheer incredibility of this place. You feel the mist rising against your face and the gushing sound of water fills you with adrenaline. I’m quite a dare devil and I loved it! When you stand up again, you view the surrounding valley of the Green Green Guinea.
Guinea is seen as “undesirable,” or “forgotten,” and even it’s natives are unaware of it’s beauty. As a result, tourism has never really hit this place. Whilst a few travellers may stumble across the beauty of this resource rich African land, it’s beauties will probably only ever be shared with a few, relative to large touristic tropics. In a way this is reassuring – Kambadaga will always be protected. Yet at the same time, I so wish that the people of Guinea would appreciate their own wonders and develop them!
Exploring Kambadaga really does make you feel like you’re on top of the world and I am incredibly grateful for the privelage I had to encounter this unknown wonder. If there’s anything I really took from this day, it was a desire to visit more “forgotten places.” To forget the generic tourist destinations, pick an “undesirable” spot on the map and just go. You never know what you may find. And you may just have it all to yourself!
Which country has always been at the bottom of your list?
It’s time that I introduced you all to my “housemates.” Meet Team Guinea! Seven months ago I met three wonderful girls for the first time and flew across the world to live with them for six months. I left all my other friends behind and quite literally, ended up stuck with them…
Lauren, Cara and Mhairi have been the best team mates I could have asked for! We worked together, lived together, cooked together and pretty much didn’t spend any time apart for six months! In some ways this has been incredible but of course, living together does have challenges too and we have learnt to navigate our way through all of these things together – ups and downs. Most importantly, I’m incredibly proud of these three girls and all that they have accomplished this year.
After learning to live alongside each other as a team, we are now best friends and whilst its was definitely difficult at times, we certainly are glad we did it. Today I’m sharing our top ten tips for team living, whether you are currently about to live with flatmates for the first time at university, or are working in a team of colleagues.
- Have give and take. Living with house mates or team members really can be a challenge. If you think about your family, you don’t always agree with one another, or be kind to each other. Families argue. They contrast yet have grace for each other and are built on love! If your family doesn’t always get along, your house won’t either! Accept that, choose which battles are important to fight, and leave those that really won’t matter in the long term.
- Cook good food together! As a team in Guinea, we found that cooking together was such a relaxing and enriching activity. When we all came together to share ideas, tastes, skills, we didn’t just manage to cook something incredible but when we shared it, we could all enjoy the reward of our creation. Our favourites were curry complete with homemade naan bread, pancake brunches, lasagne, stews, soups…
- Laugh together, cry together. This was one of our team values! We had to understand that sharing in good times was just as important as accompanying one another in tough times. Having this as a grounding allowed us to support one another, to encourage each other and have a deepened understanding of each other’s emotions, circumstances, joys and tribulations.
- Be quick to forgive. Seriously – grudges are no good for team living! Anything unsaid can build up to cause explosive arguments. If something was upsetting us or annoying us, we would honestly tell our team member, resolve the problem and then move on, forgetting it happened. We all make mistakes and living together is difficult! I definitely learnt to be patient with my team.
- Share the roles. Now it’s not a healthy team if one person is carrying a heavier load. It’s vital that you share roles and each take up a fair amount jobs. It’s not just about getting a fair rest but also learning to serve your house mates, proving that you care for and value them as individuals. In our house we decided to create a “day off” rota so that each day, one team member would be excused from all cooking and washing up. This was brilliant! There were still three people to share the load, and we’d all get the chance to put our feet up twice a week.
- Employ each other’s strengths. It’s pointless forcing the quiet team member to stand up and present a whole lesson to a class of 80. Likewise it’s silly to ask the outgoing, active one to just work on the sidelines and do all the administration. This applies to living together too! Pick out one another’s strengths and delegate roles based upon that. For example, I am strong in Mathematics and was encouraged to manage our team’s finances and food budgets. Lauren however was really good at coming up with social activities to do on an evening, so we’d often get her to plan a film night or worship night whenever we needed some down time…
- Celebrate each other! We all love to be built up! So celebrate each other’s successes as friends and compliment one another’s efforts.
- Find a mutual activity. You can’t just live together and never socialise together. Discovering mutual interests or trying new things together is an important for bonding and also maintaining a good relationship with your house mates. In Guinea this looked like watching films, playing games and journalling together. Now in the UK, it’s going for walks and even doing crazy things like going to a trampoline park to destress for an hour!
- Take the short straw. There will always be jobs that no-one wants to do. Sometimes you just have to big yourself up and do them because if you all stand around, you’ll be there for ever! I hate to admit it, but I even had to unblock a toilet and kill a mouse for my team! These things need doing and if you just get it over with, you can move on as a team. Your housemates will really appreciate you for serving them in that too!
- Have hyper moments! Sometimes you just need to scream hysterically at each other or dance stupidly around the house. It’s these crazy memories that really build a happy team – you’ll remember wild nights forever!
We are still living together and learning to navigate through life together… We are now spending eight weeks travelling around the UK, talking about our trip and meeting one another’s families. With this comes new challenges and these ten lessons still play a huge role in our team!
What tips do you have for living with house mates?
If you have read my recent relaunch post, New Perspectives, you will know that I have recently returned from six months in Guinea, West Africa. Guinea Conakry has such a beautiful landscape! Whilst it may not have your typical safari wildlife, it has mountains of jungle, plantation and other greenery.
Flying over Guinea on our arrival was exhilarating. Expectations of desert were tossed away as we encountered such a glowing green landscape! Whilst I’m not quite sure whether this is fortunate or not, I know that seldom people know of Guinea’s existence, and even fewer have visited. It was an honour to spend so much time in such a jaw dropping country!
Here are a few of my best photos from the sixth months, although they can never truly do it justice!
There’s something about riding sideways in the back of a jeep watching a landscape go by that pulls at heart strings you never knew you had. I just spent six months living and working in Guinea. Each time we left our home and drove out of town I’d sit fascinated by the country before me.
West Africa used to be a tragic poverished spot on a map. Now it’s a population of welcoming people yes in need, but human and struggling just like westerners. Now to me, West Africa is a home where I am welcomed…
Alongside retreats in mountains watching monkeys swing in trees and exploring islands off the capital, I experienced some tough things. I experienced what it is like to have no water for weeks when city supply is cut; the frustration of teachers struggling to control huge class numbers; the devastating truth that first aid is limited and hospitals not reliable; the value that children lack; underlying superstitious fear that results in FGM…
Yet all the same Guinea is a beautiful country slowly developping. The spirit of the people we met is one of wanting to learn and grow.
Guinea became normal to me. My house felt like my home. Whilst I knew it was temporary, I embraced it all: food, routine, language… I can’t even imagine a night’s sleep undisturbed by the islamic call to prayer or a tarmaced road leading to a house that doesnt require three turns of the key to unlock. Cleaning teeth with tap water is a no go and what on earth is a hot shower?
Yet underneath the surface lies something deeper. Living in Guinea has changed my heart. My perspective upon what is necessary has completely changed my desires and priorities. My unwillingness to leave the comforts of a western life and western career no longer exists and my eyes are open to what mission really is: living alongside others.
Six months have been transforming and whilst my identity remains in Christ, my character has been radically shaped. It’s not something that I can pin point and neither is it something anyone will ever understand. That’s so hard for me to process right now as I return to my old life with a completely different outlook. As I relaunch this blog I can only try to explain part of that. It’s almost as if I’ve moved to a completely new place when in fact these places and people are incredibly familiar…
I am excited to reunite with my readers but I ask your patience and understanding. My return brings new perspectives, new desires and a developped character attatched to the same identity.
How have you been growing since October?