Did you know that missions trips have a lot in common with surprise birthday parties?
Yeah, me neither. Until now.
Think about it. Sometimes the events of the day catch you totally off-guard, sometimes you experience anxiety, excitement, and fear all at the same time, sometimes you stay up until the wee hours of the night enjoying great conversations with great friends, and sometimes you just can’t wait for everyone to leave so you can be alone to sleep.
Oh, and sometimes there’s cake.
I just got back from my trip to Uganda, and it was totally like a surprise birthday party—full of excitement, exhaustion, and every other emotion you can possibly imagine.
And yes, there was cake. (And yes, it was delicious.)
During this trip, the Lord taught me how to appreciate “the little things.” I’m talking about those moments when the smallest acts of love and kindness can leave the greatest impacts. There’s been experiences in my past when those moments have flown right over my head. But God has been gracious enough to wake me up to the fact that significant acts of love do not always express themselves in glorious acts of grandeur. Sometimes love looks simple. Here are some examples of what I mean:
– Mama Africa making me a hot cup of tea and cooking me breakfast every single morning before we started the day’s adventures.
– Papa Robert going out of his way to buy a mosquito net and hang it above my bed so I wouldn’t get bit at night.
– A little Ugandan girl named Suzan sprinting towards me shouting, “hey, it’s my friend,” right before jumping into my arms for a tight embrace.
– My friend Bertha driving 30 minutes out of her way to pick me up at the airport at 11:30pm on a Monday night with a handmade sign covered in glitter.
– And in rare circumstances, it looks like a man named Moses offering your family some expensive cows for your hand in marriage. (True story.)
Sometimes I overlook the little things. I’ve even taken them for granted. But during this trip, God opened my eyes to how powerful those seemingly simplistic moments of love can be. When I first started going on mission’s trips as a teenager my mentality was, “what can I offer these people?” As I matured, and as the Lord began to whip my heart and ego into shape, my mentality has changed into, “how can I love these people?” And let me tell you, when you’re cranky and sleep deprived and way outside of your comfort zone—loving people is really hard.
Now, this is where the power of Christ comes in. The bible says that His power is made perfect in our weaknesses. So when I am weak, I must remember that He is strong. When I feel like I can’t, I must remember that He can. When I am in a crummy and cranky mood, I must remember that it’s not an excuse to stop loving my neighbor as myself. (Even if that means taking the cramped middle seat during a long and bumpy car ride, or giving the burger and chips I just bought for lunch to a homeless guy on the street.)
There were many moments in Uganda when I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and completely worn out. My mind would be so focused on me and my own feelings, that I would completely disregard the feelings of everyone else. As the week went on, I began to notice more and more how Mama Africa never stopped serving us with a joyful heart, and how Papa Robert always had dinner ready for us after a long day. They graciously shared their cozy home, their delicious food, and their whole hearts with us. They were just as exhausted as I was, but they constantly put my needs above their own. And that’s when it hit me, “wow, these people (who just so happen to be three times my age) really know how to love well…”
I saw sacrifice. I saw kindness. I saw humility. I saw joy. I saw grace. I saw Jesus. And it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Especially because their love didn’t depend on my behavior. They gave it to me freely and unconditionally, and it’s something that I will cherish forever.
God has an even greater love for His children all over the world—and it’s a love that He calls us to share in every nation with every person without restriction. His love is personal and intimate. It’s deep and wide and overflowing. It’s unconditional, and it’s real. And I think the real reason God brought me to Uganda was to show me (through Mama Africa and Papa Robert) that His love really is the most incredible and life-changing thing in the universe. So if I learned anything these past few weeks, it’s this:
There is no life more powerfully lived than a life lived in love.