Once a Mission 4 Water well is completed, you just see the finished product. You see the beautiful blue bucket and blue pump system. You see the total feet dug to clean water. You see the drawings we tried really hard to create of our NCC logo and the Washington, DC flag. And most importantly, you see crystal clear water that is now clean for the community members to drink. But what you don’t see if all of the work that went into. You don’t see the layers and heaps of dirt that were removed. You don’t see the bent poles and auger bits (or the stuck auger bit). You don’t see the blistered hands and ripped gloves. You don’t see the rock pieces, sandstone, quartz, and crazy hard dirt that were drilled, chiseled, and shoveled through. You don’t see the piping that was cut and sealed together. You don’t see the mound of tiny pebbles that now fill the drilled out. You don’t see the hand mixed cement that is made stronger by mixing in shovel-full after shovel-full of quartz. What can only be observed now is purely surface level because everything beneath the surface (the process of making a well) has now been covered up.
At the end of our trip, we had some decompression time that allowed us to see some of the beautiful terrain and animals that Uganda has to offer and allowed us to process what had happened to each of us individually and as a group from the day we signed up for the trip to Day 13 of our time in Uganda. What people see when they look at our pictures from the day or what people saw when they saw us touring Uganda was all surface level—a group of muzungus just wanting to see some elephants and giraffes. What they don’t see is all of the internal reflection, analyzing, overanalyzing, frustration, happiness, sadness, confusion, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of emotion processing that was occurring beneath the surface.
The “Surface Level” of the Day
On this day, we had a crazy packed day to do so many fun things in Murchison Falls National Park—including a safari, relaxing at the pool time, a great team buffet lunch, a Nile river cruise, hiking up a crazy difficult trail to get to the top of Murchison Falls—the waterfall that basically powers the Nile River. We all woke up dark and early to prepare ourselves for the day by gathering our backpacks of all the items we may need that day, getting our bag breakfast, and making some coffee to go so that we could head down to the Nile River, board a ferry, and go see some animals. There are some countries in Africa that you travel to where you must go on a safari. Everyone you know expects you to go on a safari; you expect to go on safari; and it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t go on safari. So we on safari! After seeing white rhinos the day before, we were all on the lookout for the other 4 of the Big 5—lion, elephants, rhinos, jaguars, and hippos. (Yes Rashida, I’m not sure how giraffes didn’t make the Big 5, but I’m sure they are in the Top 10.) We successfully spotted the elephants, hippos, and lions, but the elusive jaguar did not make an appearance. At one point we came across a pack of elephants that were right next to the street, and we were able to just stop and observe them while they just hung out and then eventually cross the street right behind our bus! The beauty of all of the animals combined with the landscape truly shows you how wonderful of an artist God truly is.
After the safari, we headed to a hotel to hang out at the pool and relax for a little bit, and then have a nice all team lunch together before heading out on our next adventure to boat down the Nile River to Murchison Falls. While boating along down the river in a boat I probably would have preferred to be a little bigger initially once I saw my first clutter of hippos 10 feet out that was larger than our boat, we saw so many hippos, cape buffalos (which I kept calling water buffalos), and numerous species of birds including the kingfisher diving into the water near our boat to catch some fish. No crocodiles, but I’m sure a number of people on our team were more than ok with that. As we made our way closer to Murchison Falls, we began to hear the roar of the falls, and of course, our anticipation only grew. Once we got closer to the waterfall, we pulled over to a boat dock, and we would have to hike the rest of the way. Following the trail up to the falls, our view of the falls was blocked by trees/rocks/terrains…you know, nature, but every once in awhile we would get a peek to show us how much progress we had made and how powerful this waterfall was going to be. Around 45 minutes later, we ALL finally made it to the top, and this waterfall did not disappoint. I’m sure you have seen pictures posted by other team members but no picture or video or boomerang we took could ever do this place justice. The water drops, crashes, swirls, and flips through several different rock drop offs and formations. Plus safety standards are different in other countries so you can get seriously close to the edge—causing to you to feel even smaller and insignificant next to the strength, power, and might of this waterfall. We eventually made our way back down the trail and to the boat to finish our boat ride back to where we started our day.
And this is just a Reader’s digest version of the details of our day because trying to fit everything we did and saw that day would make this more than just part of a blog post, and probably multiple blog posts.
The “Below the Surface Level” of the Day
I’m sure you all are thinking something along the lines of “This sounds amazing!” or “I can’t believe you fit that in to one day…” But after months of preparation, 12 amazing and challenging days in Uganda, and the realization that we only had one full day left in country before we began our journey back to Washington, DC, there was so much more happening below the surface. So many questions circling through our heads “How is this trip almost over?” “How am I feeling?” “How do I explain what all happened on the trip?” “What did I learn from the trip?” “What are my good memories?” “What were my more challenging memories?” “How do I go back to the States?” “How do I go back to my normal life?” “How do I take the lessons learned in Uganda and apply them to my everyday life back in America?” “How do I be intentional with my time, with my thoughts, with my friends in America like I was with them in Uganda?” “How do I go from having a clear purpose of digging wells to feeling pulled in all directions when I get back?” “How do I have so many questions?” “What questions or things haven’t I thought about yet?” “How do I prepare for this transition?” Are you stressed and overwhelmed yet processing through all those questions yet? Because we were.
One of the benefits of going on a mission trip is removing the daily distractions that exist in America that can take away from how we live out our faith, how much time we have for devotional, and how often we take time to pray and thank God for everything He has done for us or to discuss the challenges we are facing with Him. We are distracted Christian in America and living intentionally for others is one of the most difficult things that we will face in our daily lives as Christians. When we are on mission, we were intentional with loving Ugandans as God loved them. We are intentional with starting each day with personal and group devotionals to start our days focused on God. We were intentional with serving Ugandans and our teammates. We were intentional with sharing our testimonies and building our friendship at a deeper, more vulnerable level. We were intentional with praying to celebrate our victories and praying to ask for God’s help in our challenges. Every part of our days were designed to be intentional so that we lived the life that God calls us to because that is what a mission is. But as we begin to ponder all of the questions building beneath the surface, our first task will be to find answers to those questions. The second task will be to figure out how to live out those answers. You know…something like putting the whole “a little less talk and a lot more action” concept in to practice.
How do you participant in an amazing mission trip, and then go back to the States the same person but also a different person? The decompression time on the back-end of a trip allows us to have a better transition from Uganda to America because the things we experienced—the poverty, the simplicity of life, and the struggles for water, just to name a few—will not always make sense in an American context. In David Platt’s book “Radical,” he talks about how the American dream and American culture can, in some instances, be a direct contradiction to the Christian dream and Kingdom culture. Given the spiritual focus on God that occurs on mission trips, I began to wonder if decompression isn’t necessarily about reverting and transitioning back to the ways of America. I wonder if it’s more about transitioning to something better—transitioning to a more holistic viewpoint of what it really means to be a Christian in America. Transitioning to a life where we now know the abundances we have been blessed with may not always a good thing. Transitioning to a life where my priority is more on starting my day off with devotional time and pray so that I can be better in tune with God’s voice rather than hitting the snooze numerous times or spending 20 minutes just picking out an outfit. Transitioning to a life where thanking God for all of my blessings is an ever present understanding and an active dialogue with Him instead of accepting my blessings as a given. Transitioning to a life where I’m no longer accepting of small talk with the community around me but am now desiring to know people at a deeper level—at a level where we can come together and see each other as Christ sees us. Transitioning to a life where being intentional with my friendships takes priority over my social media based intentionality.
What if we challenged ourselves to be fully changed by our trip? What if we challenged ourselves to live intentionally in America? What if we challenged ourselves to bring mission to our everyday lives because our mission is not just a mission trip? First and foremost, it’s about being on mission every day in our work, in our families, in our community. So maybe rather than just transitioning from Uganda to America, we transition by bringing Uganda to America.
~ Ami (#WaterHitters)