I'll admit, I wasn't looking to make any "new friends" yesterday. Call me mean, selfish or whatever, it's the truth. I was on the last leg of a long day of flying. I was tired and just wanted to sit back in my chair, put on my noise-canceling headphones and get some sleep. That was before I read Andy Andrews tweet which read something like "Lord, I am traveling today. Create i me a noticer's heart so I can touch those I encounter along the way".
I decided I would give a quick "heading back to Phoenix?" question to the guy sitting next to me before turning on my headphones. His answer was a simple "yes" but the accent is what caught my attention. It was an unmistakable African accent so I probed. His name is James and he is from Sierra Leone Africa. James' story is all to common, yet all to unknown to most of the world. He fled Sierra Leone in 1992 amidst the civil war which ravaged that country. After spending 5 years in Gambia, the UN cleared the way for James and his children to head to the US. James is 45 years old and just received his associates degree. He is now studying social work at ASU and hopes to return to Sierra Leone one day.
I asked James his impression of the US after being here for the past 12 years. He simply said, "the US is truly the land of opportunity". By opportunity, James went on to say, "you can always find opportunity. Opportunity to eat, opportunity to work, opportunity to receive an education, opportunity to sleep in shelter", etc. "In Sierra Leone, it is simply survival". Each and every day James told me the people wake up with the goal to simply survive. Yet, he said, "the people in Sierra Leone are so happy. They are so close, and just enjoy life".
I also asked James about the increase in Christianity that I've seen across Africa. James told me that he has "never seen anything increase as fast as he has seen Christianity increase. Why, because when all you have is God, and you rely on God for everything, when you lay all of your hope in God, He becomes your everything"
I told James that I was going to write a few paragraphs from our talk in this blog. He asked me for the website and when I gave it to him, he was shocked. He knows of Hoops of Hope, knows of Austin and follows the difference all of you are making for the people of Africa. He said what encouragement all of you are to his people and wanted me to say thank you to you. So on behalf of my new friend, James, thank you for being a part of Hoops of Hope. And thank you Andy for encouraging me to put down my headphones and look outside my world.