August 20th, 2017
Sometimes, travelling makes me ponder life and purpose. Looking around at all the different types of people going places. Are they going home? On vacation? Humanitarian aide? I overheard one woman (with quite a big rock on her finger) talking about how she was sent to Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. What was her story? I sat next to an elderly African mama dressed in louder dress than I would ever dare. What had her eyes seen?
Yeah and that’s as far as I got so far. I’ve been successfully catnapping for most of my travels—which is awesome! Now, with two and half hours to go I am finally awake enough to form some (hopefully) coherent thoughts.
It’s kind of mind-blowing that this is my third trip over the ocean. Two years ago I had never been out of the country for more than a Niagara Falls drive-by. My relationship with Mercy Ships started as an almost whimsical adventure, and now is an exercise in faith, compassion and constant learning. Gosh, I was so naïve when I started out. I envisioned 7-day work weeks and being the least experienced nurse on board. I felt just a bit like a fraud. What did I know? My experience in each of their surgical specialties was minimal at best. Was I way over my head? Would they shame me for knowing absolutely no French?
Turns out, the work-life balance was, well, a lot more balanced than I imagined. I did have enough nursing experience. Oh, and we work with local day crew who help with translation. Truth be told, Mercy Ships is just as life-transforming as I thought it would be. However, it has changed ME in ways that I didn’t see coming.
If I could summarize what my experience has changed in me, it would be Perspective and Priorities. I have continued my education in the realm of experience, and I am not sure I can express it in a meaningful way. I’ve shied away from attempting this for quite some time, but today I will give it a try.
Perspective gained through experience has changed things I thought I knew. I thought I had a grasp on God’s sovereignty. I thought I had a grasp on politics. I thought I had a grasp on my place in the world.
Observing third-world Christians in action taught me priorities I thought I had a handle on. Observing my brothers and sisters with vastly different life-experiences challenged my knowledge and application of scripture. Falling in love with the team/community/mission of Mercy Ships shaped my goals. Working alongside long-term volunteers who were single, married, families or retired challenged my definition of sacrifice.
Real-talk, I was so in denial about ethnocentrism until I realized how little I knew of any other country’s history, issues, concerns, and elections. I still don’t know as much as I would like, but at least now I know that important things are happening outside of my home’s borders. I had an overall sense that God was omnipresent, but I will never forget the first local church service I attended in Madagascar. [I wrote a blog about it, titled “Closest Thing to Heaven.” I put the link at the bottom of this post.] I mean, it all sounds a bit ridiculous, but even the children’s song “He Holds the Whole World in His Hands”—did I not believe that? Maybe I knew it in my head, but my knowledge could not take the place of seeing and experiencing. Knowledge is something I love. I love to have it, I love to gain it, I love to share it. However, it’s all just a bit incomplete without the experience to verify its truth in the real-world—OUTSIDE of my head.
I’m not going to make any comments about American politics because it’s just not worth it, and…wait for it…it’s just not all that important. Somehow the imminent apocalypse predicted to accompany the last two presidents haven’t been any more than emotional tidal waves of exaggeration. Darn it, I talked about American politics. What I’m trying to get at is this. When African nations have elections, did you know a large point of scrutiny is whether or not a candidate has spent time in France? Did you know that fear of being puppeted and manipulated by long-distance colonists is still an active and legitimate concern? Did you know that Boko Haram is a larger threat in African nations than the “tribal disturbances” we may think of? Many of those “civil wars” are instigated by those in power so that they can manipulate the global view of a country as “unstable” for selfish gain? Africa is a beautiful continent, rich in mismanaged resources—the same can be said of its people.
I have learned that my place on the socioeconomic totem pole was not earned (despite Americanized views of success), but rather given. I have been granted an enormous, unmerited gift—and I’m talking about more than salvation. Salvation grants me eternal life after my body dies, but in this life…I was born, a woman, in 1990, in the U.S of A. (I am not speaking ill of any other country, only just stating the fact of where I was born. Many of the things I am about to say could also be said of other “first-world” countries.)
I was born into a culture and a family that valued my life, thoughts, and existence. I gained a 4-year degree in nursing, immediate job experience, and eventually supported myself financially without a spouse. None of these things were gained through any true hardship, only a bit of perseverance. To many of you that sounds normal, but to a whole world of people, it is absolutely not. These facts haven’t made me better than anyone else, but they sure have given me power and responsibility. The question truly is, “what will I do with this gift?” When I give account to God for how I used my life, did I, to quote Jon Foreman, “live it well?”
Link to the song: Live It Well
Climate control. In the realm of sociology, certain cultures are categorized as “warm culture” and “cold culture.” This is not actually a statement of a country’s geographical climate, but rather the climate of its culture. I was born into a “cold culture.” Being efficient and timely is important–not only important, supreme. I have now lived several times in a “warm culture.” Relationships in every area of life are important–not only important, supreme. And being late is not something that would strain a relationship here. In the states, yes. Schedules run tight and there’s rarely any margin to, for example, stop and chat with you uncle’s cousin on the side of the road. In summary, storing up wealth is not nearly as important here as storing up friends. I’ve taken bits of that home with me, but my “cold climate culture” has a way of seeping in even still. I’m frankly not interested in the “rat race” anymore, but I still feel forced to participate when I’m home. In Africa, it’s relationships over everything; and I can’t help thinking they’re onto something. What riches last into eternity? Certainly not wealth.
“Not wrong, just different.” It’s hard to continue in a mindset of black/white and right/wrong when you begin learning about the 40+ different cultures on board. Although I believe in universal truths, I have learned that those truths can be expressed or acted on differently based on the reality of the culture. At work for example, nurses from other countries have different ways of doing things. And oftentimes, its not wrong–just different. It’s a frequent refrain heard around the ship as we each encounter differences in one another.
Seeing my life from a different perspective and making my priorities based on a different system has made me question almost everything about my daily routine and my longterm goals. As Judah Smith puts it, “God thinks your career is cute.” But will I spend my life working in the direction of the ultimate resolution of this world’s suffering—Christ’s soon return? Is my life worth anything unless it’s spent doing THAT work? Even on a mission this good, my hope is in the direction of Jesus’ homecoming– when he will come and make everything right and new. No injustice will remain. Suffering will be over. Hope will be fully realized. Healing will be complete.
I’m back onboard this big, beautiful hospital ship again. Yet even here, I know this home is temporary. Here I will do His work as we await His soon return.