If you know me, you know that I like to be outside in the woods. One of my biggest and most unexpected reverse culture shocks has been how loud and claustrophobic I have found the woods to be. Giant trees pushing 70 feet tall grow so close together here that their mighty branches embrace to block out the sky. The cascade of the wind flowing through leaves is a noisy living breath of the wood. Looming mountains accented by vibrant green against moist dark earth has been a strange sight to get used to again.
It’s hard when the most relaxing place you know is suddenly an assault to your senses. But, it does get better with time.
My plan for easing myself back into the good ol’ US of A was hiding out in the Adirondacks. With the help of some great friends I feel now, a week into this new season, a lot more at peace with being back in the USA. And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.
It’s really hard to experience life and death in Africa at a mission hospital and come back and continue “normal” life in suburban America. You can’t.
“Normal” has gone out the window. Along with a few other things.
It’s been a struggle to sit here in my nice air-conditioned house and think about the hospital. How can I just sit here with all my stuff and not be doing something to impact the world. Honestly, it’s easier to try to not think about Zimba, to push out the memories of what I saw. To let the distractions take over and not think so much about the rest of the world.
But, “I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it. I heard what I heard and I can’t go back. I know what I know and I can’t deny it, something on the road cut me to the soul” (check out this song)
When you have an experience that changes you, that changes what you know about life and how you interpret the world you can’t go back to the person you were before.
There’s a tricky line between realism and pessimism when it comes to missions work. As Christians, we know that in the end all things will be made right, but until we get to that final victory, we all experience joy mixed with sorrow and suffering in big and small ways every day. We fight hard and work hard for change that may never come or results that we may never see.
There’s also a tricky line between realism and pessimism when it comes to medical work. You can help as many people as you can and see amazing recoveries from terrible illnesses, but in the end, the simple fact is that we all will die.
Put them together and medical missions can be a very weighty thing. Coming face to face with the extremes of joy and sorrow every day is a lot to ask of someone.
But, you know what I learned from the Doctors in Zimba? They carry this ministry, this weighty thing, and yeah, sometimes it is heartbreaking. Sometimes it does bring you to your knees. But, the difference between realism and pessimism is hope. Hope that despite what may discourage us, this fight is worth it.
And despite the cost, the Doctors still choose to carry it anyways. Because they don’t carry it alone. The heart of Jesus inside them gives them the strength to love people enough to not give up.
Their witness to Love in such a heartbreaking situation has changed me. Just as it changes everyone who sees their sacrifice and passion. Their example of Christ’s love has made me realize that I cannot walk away from what I have seen.
I shared some of my deepest spiritual wrestlings with a close friend a few nights ago. She really helped me put into words what I’ve been feeling.
My experience in Zimba shattered my heart. Yes, “normal” has gone out the window but it’s more than that. Just as God grew some new things inside of me, he also put some things to death.
My safety net of naivety to the harsh reality of life and suffering is gone. Many of my assumptions about missions took a hard fall. But most of all my ability to be comfortable with the world as it is was taken away.
And I pray it never comes back.
The question now is how to live where I am with integrity to these convictions and not lose sight of the passion and hope to seek real change.
I guess that’s something I’ll have to figure out along the way.
I’m starting with simple steps and praying about what this means for the long term. There’s a book that’s a great help when trying to take these steps, it’s called True Religion by Palmer Chinchen. It’s a book worth buying, reading, putting into action and passing it on to a friend. You should check it out.