The last post I wrote I was getting set to head to Zimbabwe on an 2 week long missions trip. Even though I had been to South Africa and Zambia a few months before and somewhat knew what to expect from a third world country in the vast continent of Africa, I had no idea what it would be like to actually live in a small village far from the luxury of hotel rooms and gourmet chefs which had been our previous experience.
I also had a burning desire in my heart to actually be of some help, some real help and not go for my own selfish goals to "become a better person" and all that. We did do quite a few things and I think we were helpful, but in the end, I discovered that God did truly have me go to discover a few deep personal truths, especially about myself.
The problem has been though, that I had hoped to come home and instantly begin writing about my time in Zimbabwe, but in reality I have felt a bit off kilter since I've been back. I haven't quite been able to get my bearings among the tensions I feel now that I'm back in my American culture: living in such abundance vs. seeing great poverty firsthand, the independent "I Did It My Way" mentality vs. total dependence on the Living God, and the fast pace of the "time is money" axiom vs. time is irrelevant but relationships are everything.
The feeling of imbalance has reminded me of the moving walkways in the carnival "Fun House" when I was a kid. The ones that looked like a normal bridge to the other side, but as soon as I would take a step, it would start to heave up and down and move side to side. No matter how hard I would try to get across without hanging on to the side, I would have to give in and grab hold.
After a couple of weeks of being on this shaky path, I have finally settled in to the fact that I'm not sure I came home a "better person", but I did come home a different one. I think being off kilter and feeling off balance is my new normal and I suppose this new place that I'm in is what God had in mind for me all along. Now that I have decided to just hold on and go for it, I am excited to share my experiences.
I had no idea what to expect as we traveled from Harare to the mission, 5 hours away. The roads were surprisingly well maintained although very narrow, especially with the speed limit being about 70 mph. We zipped right down the narrow roads while the sides were filled with people walking to who knows where. I had to close my eyes as we passed by lots of school children walking to or from school without slowing down or moving over. I constantly prayed that we wouldn't hit anyone!
We had to stay at a lodge on the way since we left Harare late at night and were introduced to a constant reality of being in Zimbabwe. After we lugged our luggage into the lobby we were met by a greeting committee who had lit candles in their hands to show us to our rooms. It all seemed very exciting and cozy but we were soon to discover that having electricity in Zimbabwe was a luxury that was to be celebrated...when it was on. During our stay there it was on about half the time. We got so used to living without it that sometimes we forgot to even turn on lights when we had the chance!
Of course without electricity we were also without running water which we also adapted to quite well. It's funny how that happens. I went on this trip in "camping mode" and it served me well. It kept me from frustration or grumpiness when we had to cook dinner by candlelight, take cold showers or bucket baths and flush the toilet pouring buckets of water in the tank. None of us felt we could utter even one complaining word as we lived among the local people who lived with these challenges daily and were not leaving to go home to better conditions in a few short days.
As we traveled closer to the mission, I was awestruck by the beauty of the countryside. My visions of Africa had always been that of the desert and solitary trees standing in the sand. This area was lush, with groves of trees, rolling hills, and low mountains in the distance. Banana and mango trees were in abundance.
As we approached Mutambara Mission we saw groups of buildings including small homes, the boarding school for students 3rd-12th grade, the hospital that serves the greater area, and the farmland that the mission is developing. The compound was surrounded by a wire fence and razor wire in addition to a security gate in order to provide safety for the inhabitants. Outside the fence was a "tuck shop" or small market.
Half of our group settled into a small guest house and the others settled into the home of a missionary doctor and nurse couple from Nigeria that were serving at the hospital. I was in the guest house with 3 men which seems to be my lot in life after having 4 boys! The house had a small living area, small kitchen, bathroom and 2 bedrooms. It was ok for 2 weeks, that's all I will say! I never could bring myself to shower in our house and the doctor's wife was gracious to let me shower there. I was terribly thankful!
My first lesson of the trip came the next morning. The nurses at the hospital all gather in the little chapel on the hill for a chapel service each morning at 7:00. After that, the group of expectant mothers gather for their chapel service which is a required part of the hospital program serving women in the region with high risk pregnancies. I was not prepared for the richness of the experience.
Each group started out with singing with most of the songs being sung in Shona. A beautiful prayer time followed with everyone praying audibly, soft yet fervent which led into a short devotional, usually done by the local pastor overseeing the hospital and school, Pastor Joseph. It was all so beautiful that I found myself crying through the whole service!
I was so overwhelmed by the intense joy the people had and how intensely and without abandon they worshiped the God that they loved above all else and served without hesitation. At first I was confused by this since I had already seen the poverty, the living conditions, the lack of material possessions and had heard stories of great struggle in so many of their lives. Yet here they were praising God even if their lives were hard, frankly without a huge amount of hope for anything better.
All of a sudden I was convicted of how my joy seems to be so dependent on my circumstances. Sure I will have joy in my heart if I have enough money to pay my bills, if everyone is being nice to me, if my car is in working order, if I am happy about what's going on in the church, if I get to a Starbucks at least ever once in a while, if I can buy the latest style of jeans, if, if, if... The people I was suddenly surrounded by had joy in the Lord no matter what their "ifs" were because if they depended on their circumstances they would never have joy!
That was my first lesson, and a hard one to swallow and I would continue to be challenged by it in the days and weeks to come. Even as I write this I see how I have started to gravitate toward this "if" trap again. I suppose it will be a constant battle to not become consumed by our own comfort when we are so blessed to live in a comfortable place. I'm not complaining mind you! I just don't want to be controlled by it.
Philippians 4:4 says, "Rejoice in the Lord Always, again I say rejoice," There doesn't seem to be an "if" in there and there isn't anything at all about Starbucks. Darn! It's so hard to be joyful without good coffee! Next time I will tell you about lesson number two. It's even more sobering! Until then...