I can't speak for my other team members, but I can tell you that as I planned for my recent mission trip to Uganda, I pictured myself in all sorts of situations... working, eating, sleeping, etc. And for all of those scenarios, I packed what I imagined I'd need to wear, take, apply, read, spray, wipe, and more. The trouble with all of this is that I 'pictured myself'. When I arrived in Uganda, I pretty quickly learned that it wasn't about me at all.
My suitcase decided to stay in Brussels when I went on to Entebbe. Every day I was told it would arrive tomorrow. Tomorrow ended up being five days later. I was without all of my pre-meditated 'necessities' and I was uncomfortable winging it. I borrowed clothes and basic toiletries. My first day in the village was makeup-less, supply-less and, basically, me-less. I didn't know it at the time, but it turned out to be the most amazing thing that could have happened to me.
I remember our first journey to Bombo. We were awestruck by everything we were seeing. From behind our cameras we watched the scene unfold. We took photos of buildings and animals and villagers. At this point, we were separate from the place we were seeing and separate from one another... a bus full of individuals on our way to the experience of a lifetime.
Once we arrived, we figured out in a hurry that anything that kept us separate had to be abandoned if we wanted our trip to be a success. The children didn't like our sunglasses. The women were wary of our cameras. We were immediately challenged by our preconceived notions of being supervisors or workers, or being on this team or that. What we brought with us- physically and mentally- was part of our individual plans, but wasn't part of the master plan and one by one we needed to submit.
Sunglasses came off. Cameras were tucked away. Executives became painters. Kids became leaders. It didn't matter what we looked like. We didn't think about eating or drinking, or even basic comforts. We slowly and surely became one... with the village and as a team. It couldn't have worked any other way.
As that first day wore on, we hugged people we barely knew. We held hands with villagers whose names we'll never learn. We laughed and cried together. It was a feeling closer than family. It was if we were welcoming and sharing time with parts of ourselves, parts we hadn't known before this journey. There were the joyous parts, the nurturing parts, the compassionate parts, the laboring parts, the humorous parts, the playful parts and, most of all, the loving parts.
To experience this kind of selfless and boundless love is a divine gift. In this love, there is no worry, no stress, no longing and no pain. There is no you or me or him or her. There is nothing else.
The things of our everyday lives were absent from us and we didn't miss them. Imagine no phones, no internet, no tv, no radio, no plumbing, no clocks, no cars, no stores, no deadlines and no mirrors.
The problems of the villagers' everyday lives, I'd like to believe, were temporarily overshadowed by the hope and love we shared together.
During the course of our trip, we worked and played with children who don't know what they don't have and absolutely radiated love. We held sick babies and rejoiced in their healing during our stay. We sat under trees with village women. We employed and worked alongside the men. We sang and danced. We played games. And we labored until our bodies surrendured.
We left some tangible things behind- water buckets with filter systems for safe drinking, a newly-painted medical clinic, supplies for the nurses and patients, and gifts for the children. Mostly, though, what we left in Bombo were our hearts.
The smiles on the villagers' faces, the hugs we received, and the brightness they embodied as we said goodbye affirmed that they were glad for our visit. But not nearly as glad, I'm sure, as we were to visit them.
Leaving the village on the last day, we grieved knowing we might not see those beautiful people again. Many of us also worried we may not again see the parts of ourselves that were so evident in the village or experience the kind of unconditional love we gave and received there.
When my suitcase did show up, although I was so happy to reunite with my things, I found myself choosing to wear the same worn out and paint-stained clothes from the day before. I felt most comfortable that way and I noticed the same from most of my teammates.
I thank God for giving me the chance to be part of something so much bigger than myself and to let me lavish in amazing love. It is my prayer that I will be able to put into practice some of the things we experienced in Africa. I don't expect my co-workers to hold my hand or spontaneously erupt in beautiful song, but I do think I might get away with a few more hugs and the quiet understanding that we are all one. From the depths of Sin City to the center of Bombo, we are all part of one body, and loving one another really means loving every bit of ourselves.
We could all take a lesson from Bombo. The people there don't see their reflections on a regular basis. For the most part, they aren't caught up in competition, politics or furthering themselves as individuals. They simply live and love... and they do it together. It's amazing how hard it is for us, with all of the resources we have, to understand that that's what life is all about.