The first thing I remember seeing upon departure from the Johannesburg airport was a billboard for a South African travel agency boasting the words, “You call it Africa. We call it home.” It struck me as odd for a few minutes; what kind of marketing is that? Of course Africans call Africa home. They live there. I’m not African…why would I call it home? That phrase has been nagging in the back of my mind. It has taken me some time, but finally, I understand.
Have you ever imagined how a particular event or conversation would go, only to find yourself disappointed because it was nothing like you imagined? In the weeks preceding our departure I dreamt and daydreamt about being weighed down with kiddos at the Care Points, laughing, giggling, tickling, singing. Time and time again, I talked myself out of these naive, idealistic visions in order to keep myself from being disappointed and ruining this trip for myself. Looking back on the last 10 days, I am remembering that this trip was not only everything I had anticipated, but so much more. Within minutes of our arrival at Mvutjini the first day, kids were clinging to our legs, waists, and hands. We laughed, giggled, tickled, sang. We’ve prayed. We’ve cried. We’ve felt motion sick in the back of the khombi; we’ve been splattered with chicken blood. More importantly, we’ve learned. We’ve grown. We’ve been uncomfortable and pushed through it. We’ve followed in the steps of Jesus, visiting the old, the needy, the orphaned, the sick, the lame, the poorest of the poor. Unflinchingly, we’ve laid hands on each of these with total and utter disregard for ourselves.
In the last 10 days, a lot of things have happened; some things we have the words for, as you’ve seen here, that we are eager to share. But the things we don’t have the words for…what about those? Over and over, small occurrences have taken place that could only be attributed to God: the heart that is broken for all the right reasons, as a result of prayer; the overwhelming sense of peace that settles inner turmoil when a comfort zone is infracted upon; the oddity of being in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time, yet feeling that sense of belonging that some people never find. Each of us has extended love farther and in more ways than we thought possible, and already we are reaping the rewards. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we will each be returning to the United States a different person. The sights alone–naked children, children viewed as burdens by their parents, children in need of love–these are enough to break even the most hardened of hearts, but we didn’t come with hardened hearts. Some of us came with hearts that were weary, hearts that were anxious, hearts that were angry or sad or lonely, but all of those hearts were open to the upcoming experiences.
About having children, Elizabeth Stone once said, “It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.” Going to Africa is exactly the same. You get here, unsure of what’s to come, but then, you fall in love…but then you blink and your time is up and you’re boarding the plane from Johannesburg to Indianapolis and you’re unsure of where and why and how the time has gone, yet grateful for every second, every sticky high five, every sweaty hug, because you got to be there and you were exactly where you needed to be.
Now, it is time for us to be elsewhere. It is time for us to leave this wonderful place. Good bye, Mvutjini, Njojane, Section 19. Good bye Swaziland. It’s harder than we thought it would be to say good bye, and for one very simple reason:
You call it Africa.
We now call it home.