If you have never gone on a mission trip, I highly recommend you try it, at least once. I have a heart for mission. I had the wonderful opportunity to go on my first mission trip to a country in Africa, Botswana. It is right above South Africa. At the time I went, I was not yet a mom, but the passion and desire to be on mission still remains the same. In this season of my life, my mission is here at home, but I have found a few local opportunities to serve.
This trip to Africa occurred in 2008, so I am not able to recall all the details of the logistics, but I wanted to share how the experience made an impact in my life and changed my perspective. In my small Bible study group, we completed a wonderful study book called What Makes you Happy. The part that hit home for me the most of this series, is that one of the 6 parts of what makes me/us happy is…being selfless (giving ourselves away through caring for others, teaching others, protecting others). Have you ever helped someone and felt bad after it? I think for everyone, the answer is no. Sure you may feel sad about the circumstances, depending on what it is, but you generally feel a sense of purpose and reward. Another thing he, the speaker/author Andy Stanley, referenced was the Dead Sea. It is a unique body of water as it is being poured into, but unlike other bodies of water, there is no place for the water to pour out, so it sits there. The even crazier thing is that it is drying up, like up to 1 meter per year. Now there are several scientific reasons as to why this may be the case, but it is a good analogy for people who do not pour out to others, you feel empty and purposeless. We cannot fulfill our own happiness, no thing can fulfill our happiness, we are designed to be in community.
Just before the trip, I remember feeling tired of my reality. I just had so many surface level relationships and I was working two jobs and in school plus other activities. I just felt like everything I had, it did not seem to be enough. Like I had needs that were not being fulfilled. Ok fast forward to the trip…. I went with a small group of young adults through a local church, (you know that small church called Lakewood? Ok yes, not so small, but it was their first young adults trip of this type). Getting there was a nightmare. We ended up having to land elsewhere and be diverted to Dubai for the night, when were originally planning to stay in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was unfortunate we did not get that experience, but that just comes with the territory of traveling. Sometimes things go as planned, sometimes it does not. The main activities for the trip was to really just be the hands and feet of Jesus - identify needs and fill them and share the love of Christ. Little did I know that this trip would change my life! First of all, culturally it was a new experience, somewhat of a shock even. The country itself is not very populated, 80% of it is covered by the Kalahari desert. We stayed in Maun. There is a huge HIV/AIDS population in this country and there is a huge need for medication. I think it gave me an appreciation for the things I have here. Like the ease of taking a shower (vs a sponge bath in a bucket) and going to the restroom in a real toilet (vs digging up a hole in the ground).
During the trip, we connected with a family, who’s roof of their home, the hut, burned down. Most of the people live in mud huts with thatch roofs. We were tasked to re-build the roof and repair the damages. I worked with the thatch, which was so cool to learn. In addition, we walked around the village and helped with whatever we could. Let me tell you what was shocking, the kids, little ones, like 4 years old, walked around by themselves. There is no safety risk. There is just freedom. I can barely let my son out in the front yard without having to stand over him. To make this easier to read, I am going to try to bullet point my emotions. I am not the best with words, but here is my attempt.
A piece of my heart remains there and I think it forever will. I am so eager to go back and serve. The value here in america seems to be placed on acquiring wealth and status, only to find that it is not enough, you will want more. And you will still feel empty. There, despite not having a lot, they really had everything. The value is placed on relationship. There is a strong sense of community. They loved hard, they welcomed hard, they served hard, they cared hard, they were there for each other above all else, it was refreshing. It was honestly just what I needed at a time when I just felt there was no hope for humanity.
They are free! They were not confined to all the written and unwritten rules that we have here. I think this also relates to the strong sense of community they have in each other. Some kids ran around with clothes, some didn’t. Everyone looked out for each other and their kids. They had freedom to express themselves, freedom to worship God without regard to what the other person may be thinking. Again, another refreshing observation.
The wildlife is scary!!! OK this is not heartfelt, but this is a warning! They had these flat spiders everywhere (harmless but scary looking). They have huge snakes, bugs I never heard of, and the animals are, well I am sure you have heard or read about it or maybe even experienced it. This required me to be more brave than I could ever imagine. I remember one night, I was sitting outside and bat flew right over my head. While at the moment, my reaction was not that of a brave woman, I survived and am here to tell you this tale. That counts for something right? I know the wildlife alone is enough to deter some people from wanting to visit. Try not to let it.
I felt at home. The hugs, the love, the singing, the dancing, it just made my heart smile. I want more of that in my life. I want to go back. I want to bring my family with me. I fell in love with everyone I met. There is a little girl there that I wanted to take back with me so bad. Her name was Tebogo. Both of her parents were sick with AIDs and were not being properly treated. She was the cutest, sweetest little girl and I instantly connected with her. There is not a week that goes by that I have not thought of her, that is how big of an imprint she made on my life. I hope to one day see her again.
There are two cool things we got to do, that I highly recommend:
Visit the Okavango Delta. The lesson I learned from this is that when flying on a 9 seater plane, do not sit at the back. I spent most of this flight sick and even after it took me a long time to recover. The Okavanga Delta is really unique as it a vast ecosystem that is untouched by man and is home to some of the world’s most endangered species.
A safari! We stayed overnight in a tent with the wild. I definitely had to take nyquil to help me sleep. I was terrified. Seriously I do not think there are any words for this experience. I would do it again, but probably not stay overnight haha. The guys who did the tour did not even have weapons. The only thing I did not get to see on it that I (kind of) was hoping to see were lions. It was their mating season.
One thing I was just reminded of while writing this is how proud of me my dad was. He passed away less than a year after I took this trip. He not only helped me unload my bags but he parked and walked me as far in as they would allow. Hard not to tear up as I reflect on this memory. I hope I am still making him proud today as he looks down from heaven.
All these years later, I still feel the impact of that trip on my life. My encouragement for you reading is that I know life gets busy, but try to remember to make time for others. It not only will benefit someone else, but you yourself will feel even better! I will say this again, we are designed for relationship. What are some things that hold you back from helping others? Have you gone on a mission trip or do you serve locally? I would love to hear your experience.
As always, thanks for reading.