Saturday, October 29, 2016

When the Evening Comes

     It was 93 degrees in Togo when I started writing this, and I was trying to remember what autumn weather even feels like. I was also trying to figure out what angle I should approach this subject from. You see, I am very happy here. I really am. The things I've been a part of here in Togo have been so rewarding and I'm so thankful for this opportunity. But happiness isn't the only emotion I've felt during my time in Togo.
     I can post a million pictures, and the one that will get the most attention will always be the one of me in the customary female missionary uniform of a long skirt and conservative shirt, looking like a seasoned pro holding a smiling child. It does not seem to matter to anyone that I did not actually help that child in any way. All I did was hold her for a few minutes and try to play with her without being able to speak her language. It makes me feel guilty when people give me compliments after seeing pictures like that, because I know the truth behind the smiling faces. At this very moment that child is still living in poverty as I sit in what must be one of the nicest houses in Togo, using the internet and being cooled by a fan.
     I have never had any formal missionary training. I feel more comfortable talking about my beliefs in writing than in a face to face conversation. That being said, something about my trip to Honduras grabbed my attention and didn't let go. I've known since the end of that trip that I didn't want it to be my last experience with mission work.
     Missionaries go out to hard places and do hard work. They also come back home and spend time with their families. They have meals, play games and laugh about silly things. When you take away the cute pictures of the smiling children, the inspiring Pinterest quotes about being a missionary, and all of the other frills surrounding the concept of mission work, once you push all of that aside you have to face the truth. Missionaries are humans trying their best to lead other humans to salvation. They aren't, or at least I personally am not, on some higher plane of spirituality. Just because I'm on a mission trip doesn't mean all of my negative characteristics have been put on hold. I'm still working on trying not to get cranky when I'm hot, tired, or hungry. I'm working on it, but I still have a long way to go and I get frustrated with myself when I fail.
     Missionaries also get to witness some of the purest moments of happiness you could imagine. Like yesterday, when a seventeen year old boy smiled and sang a song on the first day of school he's ever had. Moments like that are, to me, what make the difficult moments worthwhile.
     The students here at the school always end their days with singing, and hearing their voices every night is one of my favorite parts of being here. It helps clear my mind to be ready for a new day. A new day with new mistakes and new challenges, and also new happiness and hope.
     It's raining as I finish writing this, which means the heat has gone away for a short time. Tomorrow, a new day will dawn and the challenges and joys will start again. But first, I will get to hear my new friends singing in the evening, like they always do.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pray About Everything

     In the past 4 days, I have traveled across the ocean, seen Africa for the first time, heard stories from children who were treated badly because of something that is not their fault, met people living in conditions I have never seen anything like before. I've also eaten passion fruit, played games and baked muffins. I feel like I've done more in four days than any other time in my life.
     What keeps popping into my mind is a quote that is on our wall at church in the room where we have youth group. "Pray about everything, worry about nothing." The funny thing is, this quote is on the wall over the spot where I normally sit, so I never really noticed it until someone pointed it out. I can't reveal the full details of this story because what happens in youth group stays in youth group, but it's a great story. I don't know why out of all the things I've learned at church, this phrase is the one that I keep thinking of, but I find myself remembering it constantly whenever I see problems here that I know I cannot fix.
     I learned in Honduras that you can't go on mission trips and expect to fix everything, so I arrived in Africa aware that I would see heartbreak that I don't have the power to heal. What I am finding out is that what I can do is remember the stories of the people I meet, and I can share them. It seems to mean so much to them just that someone would take the time to listen. I can't fix their problems, but I guess that's not my job anyway. I know their stories now, and I will pray for them. I will tell others about them so they can pray for them to. I will try not to worry about anything, because that does no good. Pray about everything, worry about nothing. Repeat daily.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What Are You Afraid Of?

     One of the most common questions I get asked by people who know I'm going to Africa is if I am scared. I say no, but I guess a more truthful answer would be that no, I'm not scared of the typical things you might expect. I'm not scared that something bad will happen. Terrorism, plane crashes, the long list of strange diseases they warned me about at the travel clinic, those things don't scare me so much because they can happen pretty much anywhere. I don't like to pass up experiences like this because of what might happen, that's just not the way I prefer to operate.
What I'm scared of is that I will not be able to come back from Africa and just go on living the same way that I'm living now. What I'm even more scared of is that no one will fully be able to understand my emotions after the trip. When I returned from Honduras, I found myself at a loss for words whenever anyone would ask me how my trip was, and it was so very frustrating. I want so badly to express the emotions that trip brought out, but they never seem to come out quite right. You don't come back from an experience like that and just pick up where you left off. It's almost as if you're living in a new reality, where everything around you is just as it always was, but the way you perceive it, the way you react, has shifted because you've had an experience that completely changed the way you see things.
 The intensity of that experience is something that I never did learn how to translate, but at least I had friends who had the same experience, so we all can share an unspoken understanding. This time, it's just me, and that's what scares me the most. Not because I'm afraid of travelling alone, but because I'm afraid of feeling alone. I'm afraid that one day I'll be sitting around talking with friends, and I'll mention Africa, maybe a person I meet there or an experience I have, and they'll just smile and nod and move on. Not because they don't care, but because they don't realize the depth of my feelings because I've learned not to be so outwardly intense all the time.
This week, I've been way more on edge than I usually am. I've been short tempered with people I love, and I'm not happy with myself about that. Looking back, I wish I had explained that everything just feels very intense right now, because I know I'm about to experience something huge. I'm not mad at anyone for not fully understanding the way I feel about mission trips and how they affect me. I don't expect anyone to understand an experience they've never had, and I know that even people who have had a similar experience will most likely express their feelings about it in a different way. I'm just learning to accept that. Please don't read this and think that I am just being dramatic. One of the reasons I hesitated to write it is because I don't want to sound like I am complaining about nothing or trying to get attention.
I am so excited to go to Africa, and I truly believe that this is God's plan for me right now. I may never know why I am such an emotional person, but I hope that I can learn how to express that part of my personality in a better way. More than anything, I hope that I can get to the point where it truly doesn't matter if anyone else understands, because I am doing what I believe God has called me to do. Maybe, that's one of the lessons this experience is going to teach me. I hope so.