Missions Trips are an interesting lesson on giving up control. From the time we met at church before leaving for the airport, to the time I was dropped off at my apartment after returning to the United States, I had very little control over what was happening. My life was not my own, it belonged to the greater purpose for which we were traveling. Departure from the States went like this: we met at the church at 12:30pm Sunday afternoon. There was luggage to load, and the last minute repacking and shifting of suitcases, prayer for our safety and then we were off. There were six of us: Lou and Marilyn (our leaders), Robert, Jeanette, Ida and myself.
Each of us were allowed two checked suitcases (not to exceed 50 lbs) and two carry-on items. Each of us gave up the first suitcase to the team for packing supplies. I packed as little as possible into my second case so there would be room for any leftover supplies. When we were repacking the luggage, I ended up shifting my personal stuff into a huge duffel already full of supplies, which then became my second "checked luggage". Once we got to the airport, we weighed everything again, and there was some more shifting and repacking that took place to make sure each case (12 total) did not exceed the weight limit. There was a canvas store bag full of crayons leftover at the end. It was just too heavy for the checked luggage. Since I had only one carryon item, I volunteered to make that my second. I couldn't stand the thought of leaving any of the supplies behind.
We flew to Atlanta, and switched planes to catch a direct flight from there to Johannesburg. It was in Atlanta that my passport received its first stamp. It was epic (but only for me). The flight to Jo-burg was rather turbulent since we flew over two hurricanes. Dinner, breakfast, and lunch were included on the plane (average airplane food), my only sticking point being that I don't normally eat breakfast at 3am. I had trouble sleeping, and towards the end of the flight I told Robert that I wished I had one of those u shaped pillows they sell in the airport -- something to lean my head against. He reached up and showed me how to bend my headrest out. No kidding, y'all: The headrests bend out, creating a U with your head in the middle. Information I could have used ten hours earlier…just sayin….
We were met in Jo-burg by Marianne, Charmaine, and Wally. Marianne was our in-country missionary. She is hard to describe, except to say that she is a wonderful encourager, endlessly patient, and the kindest person I have ever met. Charmaine (aka "Mama C") is the Chairperson of Swa Vana, the charity we were going out there to support. Wally was our bus driver.
From the time we arrived in South Africa, until the time we left, Marianne was there to direct money exchanges, order breakfast and dinner, buy groceries, and be our tour guide. It was Marianne who gathered us at dinner that first night and advised us to eat yogurt. As someone who has traveled to many countries, she always eats the local yogurt when she gets there, and never has a problem with digestion. Now, I hate yogurt, but I followed her advice -- and no, I never did have even one issue with digestion the entire time I was in South Africa. (On an aside note -- I found that I don't like artificially sweetened fat-free yogurt…the regular stuff is nice.)
Now, the food in South Africa was wonderful. Everything is very fresh, and I don't believe that GMOs have made it over to Africa yet, so the meat actually tasted different, but in a good way. I will say though, that by the time we left I was longing for a burger that tasted like a burger. Their burgers and beef-based sausages are really delicious, but they don't taste anything like what I (as an American) was anticipating. Breakfast and dinner were provided everyday at the bed and breakfast where we were staying. Breakfast was a buffet which usually included eggs (either scrambled or sunny side up -- it rotated) sausage or bacon, toast, fruit, and cereal. I was introduced to pap, which is sort of like grits, but thicker with no flavor. Pap and rice are the staple grains of the children's diet out in the villages we visited. Pap is never served alone, it is always comes with a sauce of some type to spice it up. Dinner was always balanced with a meat, starch, vegetables, and a salad. Ida was our vegetarian, so she always had a separately prepared dish (which all of us would at least taste). I'm giving serious consideration to claiming vegetarianism on the next trip out. (JUST KIDDING…sorta…That food was really awesome). The first three days we ate lunch in the villages, but after that we packed fruit and yogurt to eat while we were out doing ministry.
A typical day's agenda went something like this:
8:30: Into the van and out to the villages.
4:00pm: Leave the villages :( and head back to the B&B
5-7pm: Shower and unwind
7pm: Dinner, followed by a group meeting where we reflected on our day, and set the next day's agenda.
Here's a high-level overview on the trip's schedule:
Sunday - Tuesday: Travel from the US to South Africa, visit the Apartheid Museum, and drive out to Hazyview.
Wednesday: Orientation. Visit each village and meet the caregivers.
Thursday - Saturday: Children's ministry.
Monday - Wednesday: Minister to the caregivers and teens.
Thursday: Drive through Kruger, move to Hippo Pools Lodge.
Friday: Moholoholo Wildlife Sanctuary
Saturday: Scenic route back to Jo-burg
Sunday: Church, visit the Baby Moses orphanage, lunch with our SA Family, and off to the airport.
While South Africa is one of the safer African countries, there are still certain precautions to take. The two inflexible rules were: don't go anywhere without clearing it with the trip leaders, and don't go alone. This was especially true when using ATM machines. Evidently a very helpful native who is teaching you how to use the ATM is actually taking your information, which he will then use to drain your bank account. Also, it was a little disconcerting the first time we stopped at the Spar for groceries to see an armored vehicle delivering cash to the bank guarded by men with machine guns. These people don't play. There is a boundary of orange cones set around the vehicle, clearing a path to the bank. Don't cross the cones. They are trained to shoot first and ask questions later. And no, I didn't risk taking pictures of them.
The weirdest thing about being back in the States was being back on my own agenda. I woke up Tuesday morning and couldn't figure out what to eat since someone was not presenting me with a breakfast buffet. I had a hard time accomplishing anything that day, since I had spent two weeks in a very structured environment. Do not think for one moment I am complaining. Being in South Africa was a privilege and I enjoyed every moment -- even the moments when I was in complete culture shock. I loved the team I was with, and I discovered family over there ( I already miss them like crazy). I'm just back to my original point: If you are an inflexible control freak, missions work might not be for you. Of course, God has a terrific sense of humor, and He just might send you on one to teach you a lesson.
Up next: Swa Vana