The first year we went to Sierra Leone, there were just three of us from LetthemLOL. Last year, we took a larger group. Eleven people. That meant eleven different people processing all that happened on our trip. A few weeks after we returned home, several people from the group were emailing about how they didn’t know how to answer people when they asked how the trip was. I had an extra year to figure out the answer to that so I wrote this and sent it to them to use as they saw fit. It’s basically a group answer to, “How was your trip?”
“How was your trip?” Wow…I don’t even know how to answer that. Do I answer it honestly? Because that may take more time than you have. Do I give a canned answer that will allow you to go on with your day undisturbed? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly reasonable and normal question. As normal as saying, “How are you?” But most people don’t answer that one honestly either. “I’m fine.” But not really.
“How was your trip?” Fine. But not really. The easiest way to answer the “how are you” question is to deflect it back; “Fine, how are you?” But that doesn’t work in this case.
“How was your trip?” Fine, how was yours? No, doesn’t fly. No, I’ll just have to be as honest as I can. I will tell you how my trip was but be aware that I don’t really think you will understand. It’s one of those, “you had to be there” kind of things.
“How was your trip?” Eye opening. I thought I had a clue what poverty was. I was clueless. The crushing weight of the need is overwhelming. How do I reconcile the fact that because I was born in a different country, I have the ability to make my life what I want it to be? I have opportunity. Most of the people in Sierra Leone work day in and day out with no hope of change on the horizon. They lack opportunity. They are not lazy. They don’t have that luxury. They must work as hard as they can…walk ridiculous distances for (contaminated) water…bury their babies….eat rice, just rice and maybe some cassava leaves, for EVERY meal (oh, and meals are just once a day)…live with malaria until it kills them…take their children out of school for lack of funds…my list could go on and on. All these things they do because they have no other options. It’s hard for us to fathom the lack of opportunity. I drew the lucky card. I wasn’t born there. There is no other difference. It’s the lottery of latitude/longitude. I won, they lost. It’s easy to ignore when you live half a world away. It’s not so easy when you look into a mother’s eyes as she watches her baby die because she had no way to help him when he got sick. Her eyes will always haunt me. But it’s good. Because I don’t want to be the same as I was when I first left home. I should be changed.
“How was your trip?” Exhausting. Emotionally, mentally and physically. I cried more in that ten days than I probably have in the last ten years. Why so many tears? Probably lots of individual reasons, but overall because it’s just not right that people have to live like that. To see what they live like; the lack of basic things like clean water, food and medicine was mentally and emotionally overwhelming. Without seeing it, it’s just unfathomable. I’ve been to third world countries before. I’ve seen poverty and horrible living conditions. But then we’d drive away from those “hard” places and into the “nicer” areas. That doesn’t happen in Sierra Leone. You drive for hours and hours and it’s all the same. Crushing poverty and lack. It’s just not right….and it makes me cry.
“How was your trip?” Hopeful. We are making a difference in this small corner of the world. As we returned home from our first trip to Sierra Leone, we had raised the funds for two wells. Now, less than a year later, we have the funds for 15 wells! As clean water is made available, the people begin to feel better and it’s changing their lives. When children don’t have to spend the day fetching water, they are freed to attend school and change their future. Last year, we watched a ten month old die for lack of medical care. This year, we saw over 600 patients and probably saved the lives of three little children. Thousands have already been touched by what we are doing and the ripple effect will be immeasurable. Hope is rising.
“How was your trip?” Awesome. In the true sense of the word. I am in awe. It was easier to feel God’s presence there…maybe because there is so little distraction. I needed to feel His presence. I asked Him for it continually and He answered. He was present. His joy was in the faces of the orphans as they celebrated the first pump of clean water fifty feet from their front door. His power was in the prayers offered in Krio for a friend who was ill. His heart was evident on the faces of my friends as they tended to hundreds and hundreds of the sick. His love was revealed in the reunions He orchestrated…ones we feared wouldn’t be possible. And His grace was in the timing of events all throughout our trip that could not have been anything but his doing. There are no “coincidences” in Africa.
“How was your trip?” Devastating. Life-changing. Hope-filled and hopeless at the same time. You may say that’s not possible, but it is. My trip was life wrecking…at least the life I lived before. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing…it’s just a forever thing. I am forever changed and I know that might be uncomfortable for the people around me. It’s uncomfortable for me too. But that’s okay. I used to think comfort was a much bigger deal than it is. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to live where I live. I’m thankful for all that is available to me. But I believe now that I know, I am responsible to make a difference. I can’t forget what I’ve seen or who I’ve met. Sometimes it seems like a dream, but it’s not. They are still drinking diseased water, dying of malnourishment and common sicknesses, right at this very moment. They asked me not to forget them, and I can’t. So, forgive me if I seem distracted at times. Part of my heart and mind are thousands of miles away on a dusty red road with a giggling child holding each of my hands. You should know I’m probably going back. And when I return next time, it’s okay to ask me how my trip was. Just know that I still might not be sure how to answer.