Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What do you do?

What do you do when you come home from Africa? What do you say? What do you do? How do you fit yourself back into the person you were before?

I've done this 5 times now. You'd think I'd know the answer...

You miss the faces, the little hands in yours, the smiles, the hugs, the love

You cherish the relationships you built with your team and partners overseas


 You cry, sometimes, when you do once simple things like going grocery shopping and walking into your closet, overwhelmed by the amount of "stuff" here

You marvel at the memories of selflessness and the giving spirits of those who have nothing by our standards

 But then what? What do you do?

It's hard. If you've ever done it, you know it's hard. And I don't know that there is one answer. For me, after 5 times, I think I'm learning; it doesn't always matter what you do. It matters that you do something.

It has never been my experience to learn nothing while overseas. Every experience brings new understanding to my life here, sheds more light on my life in the future, and expands my ability to love beyond my life in America. But how easily, how conveniently, and how subtly I can slip back into who I was before. I don't think that is ever His intention.

I don't think that everyone is called to drop everything and move over there forever. I don't believe I should yell at people I see not finishing their food because there are starving children in Africa. But I don't believe I was privileged to go over there just for some happy memories.

So if this applies at all to you, I can't tell you what to do. I can't tell you that anything you do is wrong. But do something. Let yourself be changed. Let yourself be new. Let yourself be different.

Even when your friends are sick of hearing about Africa. Even when your teammates aren't calling to tell you how much they miss it anymore. Even when no one understands why you can't be the person you were before.

Dare to change. Dare to tell. Dare to grow in the new skin you now wear. Dare to do...even if you have to do it alone.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Malawian Fingerprints

There's a song that talks about love. It talks about looking at the world, at people, through love's eyes. It's an interesting concept; looking at love as a person instead of just an idea or feeling. Part of the song goes like this:

I see what I made in your mother's womb.
I see the day I fell in love with you.
I see your tomorrows; nothing left to chance.
I see my Father's fingerprints!

That's about how our special needs camp in Malawi went. I saw these kid's hearts, their joys, their talents, their passions, the people whose lives they made better, the contributions they had to make to their world. We saw, on these kids, our Father's fingerprints. My team and I were blessed, for one short week, to get to see these amazing kids through love's eyes.

 Because, here's the thing: We didn't know much about Malawi. We didn't know the culture, we hadn't seen how these kids and their parents were treated in their communities. We went in knowing little about all the people who had left them in their lives because of their disability; parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, entire villages. Some kids, we went in not even knowing their disability for their society didn't know the name for it. We walked in and saw beautiful children, smart children, loving children.

We put on skits. The kids sat and stared. They didn't see grown adults in home made costumes running around speaking a language they didn't understand, bound to a translator to get their point across. They saw a puppet (who failed at everything) meet the woodcarver who made him and find out how uniquely and lovingly he was made.
They saw kids making choices about how to help a classmate, make a friend feel included, and choose service over selfishness. They say a king who wanted to help prepare his feast, but had to come, disguised as a peasant in order for the people to let him help them. They saw a man who calmed the storms with a word and fed thousands with one basket of food. They saw a bug in the jungle who thought he was too small to serve the lion king learn how to serve by listening and being a friend. There were kids who had never seen a skit before who sat enthralled by what was being taught as these stories came alive for them.

We made crafts, children and adults alike, that were hung proudly in huts all over central Malawi. A heart shaped sun catcher, a wreath of cut out hands, a Popsicle picture frame, all became treasures to people who never had time or resources to be creative and rarely heard that their work was beautiful.

We played games with hoola-hoops, balls, inflatable pools, water balloons, newspaper, and slip and slides. They had fun just for the sake of fun.
They had enough toys for everyone to play a game the way it was meant to be played and a place for everyone regardless of ability.

As the week went on, we learned about their struggles, their pain, their losses. We were told that the most normal looking child was tormented by epilepsy and outcast because of it. We heard stories from our kids who, as babies, were abandoned when their parents learned that their skin was without pigmentation. We learned of the hurt, but we didn't see it. Not at camp. Not in a safe place where everyone was different in some way. Not when everyone was an important part of the team. Not where these crazy Americans loved them so much that they chased their buses waving and yelling "see you tomorrow" every day when they went home.

At camp...we met love. We saw how love saw these kids. But we also felt how love saw us, through these kids.

The song ends:

I see your story, I see my name, written on every beautiful face.
You see the struggle, you see the shame.
I see the reason I came!

I came for your story, I came for your wounds,
To show you what love sees...
When I see you!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Still walking... A day in the the life of a Malawian

If you missed the beginning of the story, you can read the first post about my trip here :-)

We started our trip full speed ahead. We were told of the "cultural immersion" day kind of in passing; "yeah, we'll go to the village and it'll be great" or "you'll get a good look at Malawian culture". Well yes, both were true... very true!

My team and I happily hopped on the bus that day, ready for an adventure. We had no idea just how far the day would take us. We wound our way through the busy, crowded streets just outside the big city, bumping along steadily before stopping at a seemingly random point, surrounded by people. We were given partners, a handful of colorful bills, and a list of words in Chichewa (the language of Malawi) and set free on the unsuspecting market.

Charged with the task of gathering the necessities of the day, we fumbled through the language and the open air market itself. It was a bustling plethora of colors, potent scents, smoke, barefooted children, laughter, and shouts of Chichewa. It was all that I remembered :-). While others looked amazed, shocked, or completely lost, I felt myself walking with a stupid grin on my face, breathing in the air that felt so very African to me.

We eventually gathered our goods and headed to our destination for the day. Splitting into our pairs again, we made our way to the homes we were to be "immersed" in. They weren't kidding when they said that word: "immersion". We met with our families, and then jumped right into their plans for the day. Cooking, cleaning, mudding huts, or gathering water and carrying it on our heads, each pair set to helping their families. This is where it got messy. You would think, having actually lived with an african family for months in the past, I would have rocked this task. Think again.

Where to start... I had no idea what to say to my family, I spilled their clean washing water we had just gotten, dumped the clean dishes in the dirt, knocked the pot we were cooking in into the fire countless times, oh yeah, and sliced my finger open with the new knife we had brought them as a gift, and bled all over their vegetables... yeah, just that. Did I mention they had a hard time believing me when I told them this was my 5th trip to Africa?

This day stretched our team. Some spent the day praying not to get sick from touching raw goat meat, snotty toddler faces, holding hands with countless small, dirty children, and then proceeding to eat 2 meals with those same, unwashed hands (no utensils). Some spend the day near tears at the poverty and struggle they were surrounded by for the first time. I spent the day in awe of the spirit of those around me, and the love of my Father and willingness to send and use me, despite my oh so apparent weaknesses.

 As my struggles and embarrassment chugged along that day, do you know what my Malawian family did? They smiled. They laughed. They made sure I was ok, they fixed my mistakes, they hugged me and thanked me for coming. They showed me a love I had no business receiving and accepted me just as I was. They showed me grace. Grace; when I was clumsy, prideful, and awkward.

I had no idea at the time, but I met some of my best friends that day; some of the girls I would come to love and never forget. I didn't know until way later; but I met my sponsor child that day. That time of laughter and mistakes that day are priceless now. The pictures are precious. And I almost missed it by being caught up in what I couldn't do, instead of what He was doing.

And this was all before our task, our love, our full and beautiful work with the special needs kids even started...