Two weeks ago I got back from Africa. Since I got back, I've been going through the motions of normal life while trying to process the backlog of thoughts, experiences, and emotions that built up over the course of our 18 days abroad.
I've been trying to think of a good summation of the experience, a quick one-liner that I can toss about in answer to the inevitable question of, "How was your trip to Africa?" and I'm coming up short. How on earth do you cram your reactions to a trip like this into one pat answer? The thing is, you can't. Not unless you had a completely superficial time, in which case a superficial response would be appropriate.
I did not have a superficial time. During this trip I felt excited, horrified, homesick, silly, peaceful, comfortable, uncomfortable, and awed. There were moments I could barely contain myself from joy and others where I felt like just staying upright and working were the most difficult things I've done.
We flew, we drove, we built and knocked down, we fed the hungry and were fed ourselves. We sang, and listened to the songs pouring out of a people who seem to have joy despite the grimness of their circumstances. We spent a day sprucing up a children's ward of a hospital, painting walls with tears pouring down our faces while the little girl who was burned from the waist down screamed in torture having her bandages removed. We were stretched beyond the scope of our normal experience, put on the spot, forced to get along even when we were tired and getting on each other's nerves. We bought bags sewn by prostitutes who are trying to learn a trade other than the selling of their bodies.
We ate fresh sugar at a sugar mill and stood ten feet away from a wall of fire watching them burn down the sugar cane fields.
We met so many awesome people who have made it their purpose in life to bring hope and the love of God to the country of Swaziland.
Right now, the only word I can think of to describe how I feel is full. Full of joy that I got to go, and that I am back home. Full of longing to go back, to spend time with the people I met and the ones I already knew and was around every day. I feel full of the desire to keep helping, and full to overflowing with thoughts I can't yet make sense of. I am full of gratefulness to God for His love, His provision, and His infinite patience. For the first time I understand the response of Mary in the gospels, that she kept all the things she heard and pondered them in her heart. It's not something that can be instantly understood, categorized, and filed away. It means more than that, and I suspect that I will spend more time that one would think trying to make sense of the ways in which my time in Africa changed me.
I pray I have the opportunity to go back one day. I truly loved it in Swaziland.