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Village Wisdom – A Remarkable Book by Carrie Wagner

November 25th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Developing Areas

village wisdom bookIt’s somewhat fitting that my last post was about reading and how it can educate you, inspire you, and open new horizons, as I recently came across a book that does all three of those.

Carrie Wagner did something a lot of us say we want to do, but very few of us have the time, the courage, or the spirit of sacrifice to. She and her husband left her home for three years and lived in a village in Western Uganda, helping the villagers there build houses as a worker for Habitat for Humanity International. 15 years later, she returned with her husband and two children. This book is the account of that remarkable journey.

Most of us in the United States live in a bubble. We live in comfortable homes with air conditioning and flat screen TVs. We fill ourselves so full of food that we need to exercise to remove some of the excess–and we call that “suffering”.

But Carrie’s remarkable photographs and accounts, from letters to journal entries to prose, all open a window for us to see what everyday life is really like for those who aren’t as materially blessed as we are. Note that I don’t use the phrase “for those who are less fortunate than us”. Because one of the amazing things that Carrie finds is that while the residents of her little village in Uganda don’t have much physically, spiritually and communally they are the rich ones, and we are the poor ones. So while she was working to transform their lives, all the while it was her life that was undergoing the transformation.

Her book is filled with amazing photography that go beyond letting you see what life was life in Uganda. You really experience it. They are beautiful images of the simplicity of life. The smiles you see are genuine. Carrie wrote a poignant piece about one of her transformations, of how she started her travels snapping pictures, but realizing that in her subjects’ culture, being photographed was like taking a part of their soul away. And so as she developed relationships with her new friends, she became respectful of this. When she finally did take photographs of them, it was only when they consented to being photographed, in essence “giving a part of their soul” to her. And looking into their eyes, you can see into their souls.

We hear a lot of celebrities who do charity work and call them “role models”. But her book spends a good deal of time talking about a man who was a real role model: a man by the name of Job. This was a man who was always on the edge of poverty himself, and yet he cared for Carrie and her husband throughout their trip. He also cared deeply for his village, finding ways to advance them technologically by making bricks and even spearheading a campaign to build bridges over raging river waters where people died trying to cross. The bridge he built was a poignant symbol for the bridges that he built with Carrie and her husband.

Another poignant part of the book is the end, where she describes her and her husband’s return to the same village in Uganda fifteen years later, this time with her two boys. I was really touched how she allowed her children to experience all that she had, and even encouraged them to write journals of their own. And there’s a section of the book that has photographs of people she met 15 years ago juxtaposed with photos of the same people today.

I really appreciate the last few pages of Carrie’s book. She concludes by saying that one of the purposes of her book is to encourage those who want to serve, whether in Africa or in their own backyard. This part of the book was especially poignant for me. I’m sort of at a point in my own life where I need to ask myself what my purpose here on Earth is. I recently left a company in New York City where I made a decent paycheck, but at the end of the day I would go home and feel drained; I just didn’t want to deal with the backstabbing politics and the singular focus of everyone on making as much money as possible. I’ve always felt that the good Lord has a purpose for me somewhere, but I just haven’t found it yet. But in her encouragement, Carrie lays out a number of questions that spoke right to me of things to ask yourself when trying to find “your place”. I haven’t found it yet, but I really appreciate that her story has given me new hope to keep looking.

After reading the book, I really felt like I experienced some of what Carrie went through, if only in a vicarious way. Not everyone can go to Africa, and even fewer people can spend three years of their lives there. I really appreciate that Carrie has shared her story with us so we can. She doesn’t pull any punches–she is authentic and honest in describing the highs and lows of her journey, from the camaraderie and laughter she shared with her adopted community to the realities of poverty and corruption that are far too common. But at the end of the day, you marvel at her transformation and can’t help but be touched by it yourself.

I definitely recommend it for anyone who is interested in charity work, or in encouraging others to do something a little more meaningful than ruin their health by making as much money as they can. We live in a world today where many live in material excess, and many who don’t live in excess take to the streets demanding that they get “their share” of some of that excess. But there are those on the narrow road who know that fulfillment in life doesn’t come by getting more “stuff”, but by giving it.

On her Web site, you can purchase a copy of her book as well as an accompanying Educational Kit, which is perfect whether you’re a public school teacher, a homeschool teacher, or a Sunday school teacher. And as an extra bonus, for every book sold through her Website $5 will go directly to Job’s village in Uganda.


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