I am prone to forgetting so I want to memorialize my very first mission trip. I want to put my memories in writing for my grandchildren and their children, but also for me. Because remembering is sweet.
(Ignore the dates on the photos. They were all taken in March, 2007.)
Sudan – Part 1
After we left Uganda, we headed for Sudan, to a town called Bor. On our way, we stopped to stay in tent city. It was a ‘hotel’ made up of what looked like army tents with two cots in each tent. Quite nice, really. It was in tent city that I first came to appreciate the headlamp. The headlamp was a small flashlight that sat on your forehead, held in place by an elastic band around your head. When my team leader first stressed the importance of bringing one, I really didn’t understand why. Besides, I looked every bit as silly as I felt wearing it. But the first time I had to go to the bathroom in the dark, I discovered what really mattered. I needed that flashlight on my head because my hands would be busy holding onto the pole that would keep me from falling into the hole in the ground that was the toilet. Awesome.
It was in tent city that I would meet a most beautiful girl from Kenya (I can’t for the life of me remember her name). She worked at tent city and was our hostess, more or less. She liked us and hung around our team a lot. She told me she missed Kenya. She missed her home and her family. I don’t know what brought her to Sudan, but I got the impression she couldn’t afford to leave. The day before we left, she was sitting with us in the meal tent and someone led her, weeping, to Jesus. Later, she came to a couple of us, with her small bible, and asked if we would show her what to do. We showed her where she should begin reading and we prayed for her. My heart has always remembered her, even if my mind cannot recall her name.
Our first night in tent city, our team sat at an outdoor table by a group of trees, planning and yawning. There was a group of people not far from us, sitting around talking. One of them was a young man who, upon realizing we were American, came over to us to say hello. His story was stunning. He was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan and was among those who had been allowed to resettle in the United States. Almost all of his family members had been killed in the war, and his village had been destroyed. He was one of the boys who escaped on foot into the bush, finally ending up in Kenya. After relocating to the U.S., he finished his schooling and got a good job. But Sudan was his home, and he had returned because he wanted to rebuild his village and look for members of his family. That day was his first day back in Sudan since fleeing for his life.
It is these things, these stories of people longing for their home, that pushed against the walls of my heart, trying to make room for something bigger than my own life. There is something so powerful about ‘home’, that a lost boy from poverty would grow into a man surrounded by wealth, and return to poverty, because it’s home, and it matters to him. And a girl from Kenya so lonely you could see it on her face, and for whatever reason, she was there, in Sudan in a tent city, when a group of missionaries needed a place to stay. To be present at that moment that had been arranged by God, watching a young woman cry as Jesus entered her heart, was so surreal to me. I don’t think it was that I suddenly felt very small so much as it was that the moment seemed suddenly so very big. As though nothing else in all the earth mattered at that moment, except that God had arranged a meeting.
As all of this comes to me at this moment, I know what I want…what I’ve been wanting since I returned. I want something to push against my heart. Something bigger than me and my life to push its way in. I want moments that are so much bigger than me, moments where nothing else matters except what God is doing.