It’s been almost five months since I spent two weeks in Jinja, Uganda with my sister Gretchen and her husband Gene Tate. I actually find it amazing that it has been that long as the experience is still fresh in my mind yet at the same time it seems as though it happened so long ago and is but a memory. I think reality is that it is somewhere in-between the two. Recent enough to still have an impact on my thinking and long enough ago that it is more of a fuzzy peaceful memory and not a sharp pressing urgency to deal with.
Gretchen and Gene recently came down to visit us. We had a great time, relaxing and it was enjoyable in every way. It was Easter weekend and we went to church, enjoyed a pot-luck breakfast and then had the entire family for lunch. My husband heated the swimming pool so the grandchildren could swim and it was a raucous good time in the back yard. We realized it had been two years since they’d been to our home and when I thought back to the previous visit I realized that thanks to Africa I now see my brother-in-law in a whole new light.
The last occasion of their visit was our youngest daughter’s wedding. Now anyone who has been through the wedding of a child, especially a daughter will understand that it is a time of hustle, bustle, stress, run here, run there, trauma and drama. Although I thought I had it “all together” with this being my fourth child to marry (and third daughter). I’m sure that I actually was a frazzled mess. I do recognize that I am a tad bit of a controlling personality. I hear my children scoffing at the label “tad bit”. Weddings that I am planning seem to bring it out in me. Not that I’m a total control freak but I often have a plan and like to make lists and stick to them and not have my lists or plans disrupted. Gretchen and Gene have helped with all my daughter’s weddings. I have to say they have been amazing. Gretchen has cooked, cleaned, organized and Gene has been a total “go-to get it done” guy. BUT there comes this little issue of lists. Before they arrived for the most recent wedding my oldest daughter, who is a scheduler for a large machinery shop, had sat down with me and made a list of what needed accomplished, who needed to do it, when it needed completion etc. This is what she does for a living and she’s really good with it. I had typed it all up, all organized, it was in order and it was how I wanted it. Gretchen and Gene showed up and jumped right in to help but Gene picked up my list. Ohhhhhhh… my precious perfectly not written on, in order list. And then he proceeded to WRITE ON IT!!!! He started to change it and add to it, and make notations and….. well, it made it messy. Now I can look back on it and laugh, I must have been so stressed to have this bother me at the time but yes, it did. My daughter just told me to breathe and don’t worry about it because Gretchen and Gene had things in control. Which was the problem. I realized that I had always looked at Gene as a person a “tad bit” driven and controlling (sorry Gene). I never quite understood Gene’s need to know and set every specific detail, I was like “hey, let it go and flow with it baby.” lol I know, this is like the pot calling the kettle black.
Africa changed all that.
I went to Africa a bit hesitant for only one reason. I didn’t know if I could handle Gene and who I thought he was for two whole weeks. Gene and Gretchen were probably thinking the same thing about me but we were all determined that it would work. I honestly figured I could go out and take a long walk or escape if need be. I told Gretchen I was a bit worried and didn’t know if I could handle Gene and his “do it my way” for two weeks and she laughed and told me not to worry. She said the real Gene came out in Africa and I would be surprised. So I began to pray that God would show me the real Gene Tate and, well honestly, for me to survive the Gene Tate I thought I knew.
The very first night we arrived in Entebbe, Uganda I should have immediately gotten a clue. I was pretty tired, having traveled about 25 hours to get there but it was instantly obvious that the Gene that met us at the airport wasn’t the same Gene I saw at their farm in Texas. No rush, no hurry, just a happy “how was your trip,” and relaxed greeting. Relaxed. I hadn’t seen Gene this relaxed in years. In that one moment outside the airport, I saw a Gene Tate I’m not sure I’d ever met before. Or wait, maybe I’d met him, I’d just never recognized him because of my own issues. (A separate post that will probably never get written unless my sister or Gene takes over my blog)
In the following two weeks I watched my brother-in-law and my sister impart great wisdom and knowledge to many people. They did this with great passion and excitement and humility. I watched Gene teach his classes and interact with people on a level I’d never seen before. I always knew Gene was knowledgeable on his subject. I never had any doubt about his passion, I just hadn’t seen it in action before combined with the calmness that he exhibited in Africa. Gene was …. not stressed. Yup, that it was it. He didn’t show any great stress. He didn’t fuss when things didn’t go the way he wanted them to or had planned. He didn’t rush to get things done as fast as possible, or faster. He would sit and talk. The Gene Tate I had always known was more direct, he was more controlling, more insistent upon his way or his opinions. Who was this guy? Are you sure this is the same guy who wrote on my pristine list and made it his?
The Gene Tate I got to know in Africa was all about relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with man. As the days passed I learned that this is the real Gene Tate and unfortunately our American society and personal history has masked this truth from me. Now I know that many people know the relational Gene Tate. They’ve worked with him and experienced the “African” Gene here in the states. I just hadn’t. I met Gene back in 1979 when he married my sister and wasn’t a Christian. I have watched him throughout the years with long-held ideas of who he is without really knowing him. Now that’s not to say that we haven’t had a great time as family. Gene is a lot of fun, we laugh, we talk, we have struggled together to raise families. It’s been good. My relationship with Gene has always been good. It’s my self-imposed idea of who Gene is deep down that was wrong. And wrong on my part.
My sister has told me that our American culture does drive them in a different way as it also does me. We live in a technological society that pushes us. We drive 70 mph. We want instant results and instant answers. We have the world at our fingertips. As much as we expect our world to serve us instantly our world in return demands us to behave as expected. Everyone wants answers quickly and wants communication instantly (text messages have replaced answering machines which replaced the person calling back). The world is impatient and we react to it by being driven and stressed ourselves. Gene is American and in the states he does fall prey to our society’s drive as much as I do. In Africa the world slows down. We didn’t have internet because someone had stolen the cable. We had to wait for dinner because, well it just wasn’t done (no fast food drive through!). We had to walk places or wait for a driver to go into town. Life isn’t instant in Africa. Some people I’m sure react with frustration to this but Gene reacts with slowing his life and focusing on what is important. God and people. The food will cook, the driver will arrive, the people will show up for class eventually. I know Gene had his frustrations with some things (I shared the same frustrations many times) but Gene was quick to accept that cultural differences were simply that, not an insult to him or lack of interest. They were just cultural differences. Watching how he time and time again turned things over to God and didn’t stress over them because he knew he couldn’t control them was pretty awesome. I just hope Gretchen and Gene survived getting to know the “real” me or the “African” me as much as I did them.
The “African” Gene Tate is the real Gene. Just as the “American” Gene is the real Gene. Together they form a complex individual who cares first and foremost about God and applies that great love of God to people. I had for years looked at Gene through eyes of family and family history without ever considering that what I saw was just an illusion and not a solid truth. Going to Uganda shattered my preconceived ideas, which was really good. But it took Africa to do it. For that I am sorry.
For more information on the work Gretchen and Gene Tate do go to Living Seeds Initiative or find them on Facebook.