Good Friday morning ...
It was on one of my earliest trips to Tanzania.
I was squatting around a dying wood fire before taking leave to my tent for the night, when one of the teen members of my TEAM came up alongside and squatted beside me. She poked a stick in the fire for a few minutes ... breathed out an exhausted sigh ... and then, out of the clear blue, said, "I'm way too soft to be in a place like this!"
In that quiet moment she was coming to grips with the truth about how westerners feel when immersed in a Third World environment. At some point, we all feel so very out of it.
It happens on every trip that each TEAM member comes to feel uncomfortable. They find themselves in not so pleasant surroundings. It's not clean; it's not critter-free; it has unusual smells, unfathomable night sounds, strange customs, food and language, and it sometimes feels unsafe.
This is a normal feeling as one experiences life as it has never been known before. It is the realization that there is a huge gap between the material comforts we take for granted at home and the basic human necessities that are provided in that primitive environment.
It is the realization that this is not some high school field trip where you make quick observations, check out a few artifacts, and move on ... soon to get back to your electronic gadgets or connect with whomever on social media. Nor is it some staged, well-planned trip to Africa which includes a game park safari and perhaps an occasional side visit to a local village where villagers perform and sell their trinkets and homemade wares ... then you return to your plush overnight accommodations with all the comforts of home.
On a mission team, we immerse ourselves into this totally new and different culture. And although we sometimes feel like aliens traveling through a time warp of hundreds of years of progress ... we recognize that this is the one-and-only real world for the people with whom we live temporarily. This is real life for the Maasai people.
The most difficult part of the Maasai experience is reconciling the contrasts between that world and our own ... and then incorporating the dramatic contrasts into a broader world view.
As teams make this assessment ... sometimes each member quietly alone and sometimes in group conversation ... we agree that we are not in Africa by accident. And as TEAM leader, I am intrigued to watch members learn, albeit slowly sometimes. I sense God becoming more real to them as they are drawn farther and farther away from the abundance and distractions of our lives back home.
Each day in Africa, we carve out time for prayer and devotions, morning and evening. It's a time when we as a TEAM are able to "peel away layers of the onion," as some of the emotional impact of the trip begins to wash over us. At some time, every TEAM member feels overwhelmed and perhaps a bit helpless. But this is a time when new doors are opened within us for God to step through. It's a time for us to learn new life lessons in a strange environment 7,000 miles from home.
I delight in observing the process.
As always, when the trip nears the end, the reality of the TEAM breaking up begins to set in as does saying goodbye to new-found Maasai friends. But then comes answering the very personal and even larger question of what this trip will mean in each of our individual lives.
The lessons, the stories, the laughs and the adventures that have come out of Africa for me could fill one of the Great Lakes. While many believe that our going to Tanzania is to help or "fix" some of the problems in that part of the world ... the reality is, it is we who get fixed. I think that for every person who has accompanied me on one of these trips, there is a profound and immediate effect. But more importantly, there are subsequent changes that take place later in their lives. These changes are the result of people allowing themselves to escape (however briefly) from the familiar and to walk into new, unexplored regions of their hearts and minds. And there ... somehow God does the rest.
It thrills my heart to be a small part.
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" [Hebrews 10:24-25].
"And don't forget to do good and to share with others in need. These are the sacrifices that please God" [Hebrews 13:16].
Have a great weekend in the Lord ...
PS - TEAM TANZANIA 2020 will leave for Tanzania on June 14th to work with Dr. Steve Friberg on a small dispensary building in the bush village of Piaya, located on the edge of the Serengeti. We will also share a simple Gospel message (Jesus is the One) to village children in several surrounding villages. Please pray for the eleven members of this TEAM ... for good health, safe travels, great opportunities to witness our faith, wonderful experiences living among the Maasai, and, most importantly, for God's will to be done in the lives of those we go to serve and in our own lives as well. THANK YOU!