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TIA: This is Africa

We’re in Africa today. We’re debriefing our World Race team in Nelspruit, South Africa.  We’ve missed our team and are anxious to catch up with them and all that’s been changing in their lives!   TIA – “This is Africa.” You hear the phrase a lot over here. It’s a way of helping yo…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
We’re in Africa today. We’re debriefing our World Race team in
Nelspruit, South Africa.  We’ve missed our team and are anxious to
catch up with them and all that’s been changing in their lives!
TIA – “This is Africa.” You hear the phrase a lot over here. It’s a way of helping you adjust your expectations.  Things just don’t operate the way Americans think they should. Karen and I left the States for Africa on Friday. We flew through the night and arrived in Jo-burg the next day. When we stepped off the plane, we automatically adjusted to TIA. This story that AIM missionary Dennis Brock tells illustrates the principle:

South Africa is in the middle of a huge energy crisis. In the past few months it has not been uncommon to have the power turned off for four, six, or eight hours at a time. South Africa calls these power outages “load shedding,” and when it happens everything is forced to shut down: gas stations, hospitals, government offices, stores, restaurants- the list goes on and on. This has been a very hard thing for the many South Africans who were used to having an uninterrupted power supply.  A couple months ago I faced this challenge first hand in an amusing experience.
A colleague and I were on our way to the Johannesburg Airport to pick up a visiting team. We made a stop at a mall in the city of Witbank to get some lunch. And then something hit me – you know that feeling that you need to get to a bathroom ASAP! The “red alert, emergency, battle-stations” feeling, that if you don’t make it to a bathroom you will be in some serious trouble! Yeah that was me. So I ran to a nearby gas station and asked an attendant if I could use their bathroom   “Sorry but you cannot!” was their harsh reply.


“Because the power is out and it is not safe for you to use the bathroom!”

I pleaded and told him I really would be okay to use it, but the attendant wouldn’t budge. He pointed me in the direction of another public restroom. It was 300+ yards away, but I was in serious trouble, and I am sure I ran faster than any Olympic athlete to get there.

When I arrived I found that the entrance was designed to keep people from seeing inside, using two doors and incorporating a 180 degree turn. The result was that I walked into complete and utter darkness.   “Oh no! What do I do?”

There were no windows and no chance of light emanating from the double-door entrance. I couldn’t see a thing, and I had no sense of direction. Then I noticed that someone was right next to me in the darkness – a little bit freaky, I might add!!!

He then switched on his cell phone and was using the little bit of light to find the exit. I begged him to borrow me his cell phone so that I could find a toilet (I had left my cell in the car, and going back to get it was not an option). He wouldn’t let me have his phone and would only say “Sorry but I have to go.”

“Please, please, please sir!” I continued to beg but he exited the bathroom and left me once again in the black abyss. I called out: “Is anyone in here? Can anyone help me find the toilet? Please!” But there was no response.

I had to do something. I reached out my hands into the darkness and tried to feel my way to a bathroom stall. AND THEN my left hand touched something…at first it felt like a bunch of small wet pebbles, that were both warm and cold. But to my utter horror I realized that my left hand was submerged in a urinal. Those weren’t pebbles from a stream, but those little air freshener things…

“Aaggghhhh!” I screamed and almost vomited. But I had to push on. I reached out into the darkness again and after a few minutes eventually found a toilet stall.  
The remaining details are too horrific to even write on this blog…but as I sat alone in the darkness of that stall, I thanked God that I had finally found a toilet but also laughed hysterically and said “Things like this always happen to me!” When I got back to the car my friend asked. “Did you find a bathroom?” I felt dirty and said “I don’t want to talk about it. Just get us the heck out of Witbank.” I then held my left hand out of the window as we drove the next hour and a half until we reached another gas station where the electricity was on. Yes, THIS IS missions, and these kinds of things seem to always happen to me.

Comments (13)

  • Hi Seth.

    I am meeting with the Africa Desk of USAID in the context of my ongoing work with The Congressional Committee on Adoption. That will happen in a few weeks.

    In the meantime I am proud of your efforts.


  • Love that Mr. Brock and LOVE that AFRICA!!!!!

    When I lived there I would frequently say THIS IS AFRICA and feel like I needed to pinch myself because I’d be so overwhelmed by how amazingly different it was from America and often so absolutely beautiful…like the fog roaming about the lush green Swazi mountains or the monkeys running across the road in front of my car on my way to the grocery store. When I went back last January with Children’s HopeChest I not only was feeling THIS IS AFRICA but also feeling THIS IS HOME!

    Hope you have a blessedly awesome time with the World Racers. If Stephanie Fisk is there, give her a big ole hug for me. I’ve come to really love and appreciate that girl thru our emails, her blog writings, and our one or two phone calls. Tell her I’m praying for her and can’t wait to hear how things are going in Southern Africa for her team.

    Praying for you and Karen and all those you touch this week,

  • The effects of blackouts could be overwhelming in places where people are use to enjoying constant power supply. However, imagine the challenge spiritual darkness presents. It’s sad to note that the more you stay in the dark (spiritual or physical), your eyes adjust to it and in time, you could accept it as normal if there’s no hope for light.

    I had a good laugh reading your experience Seth. It brought back a few memories of similar experience. Yes… this is Africa!!

  • Matthew 3:13

    “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by JOHN.”

    Way to follow Jesus, Dennis Brock!

    Blessings on your journey Barnes’!

  • ok. i hope you’ve learned from this experience why it’s imperative to always, always, ALWAYS have your headlamp with you. sick. i laughed out loud and grimmaced in disgust at the same time reading this!

    My favorite part is you begging the guy for his phone and then calling out for someone to help you find the toilet!! Bah…now that’s hilarious!

    I hope for my sake you come home with more funny stories! I love it!

  • Sorry, I am just cracking up at this story. I’m reminded of the summer my son was on a missions trip to Zambia and had to, for the first time, use a sqatty potty (hole in the ground.) I think they had erected a shower curtain around it for privacy, but they discovered that the local kids had figured out a way to peer over the top of the shower curtain!!

  • TIA. I remember the most horrifying experience of my life when the power was out, I didn’t have cell phone service and no one to wash my wee wee.

    Dude, don’t be a pussy. If the bathroom is out of order, you pee on a bush. You don’t have to go to Africa to man up a little but I am surprised you survived there at all.

  • Because stupid white colonists effed it up. Read a book called “Lost Cities of Africa.” It’s about whites coming in and stealing land, killing blacks, and colonizing Africa, and the devasting toll it has taken on the entire continent, and how the damage they did reverberates to this day. Disgusting, really. And I’m white. It’s really horrifying all of the repercussions that have crippled a beautiful continent from 4 centuries of whites ravaging Africa and its peoples.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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