The “No Where Near Complete” List

So we come to the end of this particular journey.  I hope there will be more to come.  Some of what I experienced will never leave me,  some I’m sure will fade with time.  There are some experiences that I’m still processing and some that I will never be able to fully process.  But for this evening, if I had to boil what I’ve learned down to a short and tidy list it might look something like this:

  • One person can not change the entire world, but you can help change the world for one person.
  • A smile and laughter are universal and can cross any language barriers.
  • Being a part of the family of God is a bond that transcends culture, language, economic status, and nationality.
  • The economy class on a Boeing 777 was not designed with sleeping comfort in mind.
  • Most of us in the western world are incredibly ignorant and unaware of how rich we really are.
  • Pack light, but be prepared.  (If you can reconcile those two then…bonus!)
  • Always go for the window seat!
  • The world is breathtakingly beautiful and also tragically broken.  See and delight in the beauty, but don’t ignore the broken.
  • Have patience and kindness for the airline customer service employee.  They didn’t cause your plane to be late and they are the only one who can really help you.
  • We take things for granted:  I have a new appreciation for indoor plumbing, the Indiana Department of Transportation, clean water, immunizations, access to quality healthcare, a secure home…..really this list could go on forever.
  • We are too distracted and too busy in America.  Distracted by a flood of useless information and busy doing things that have no lasting value.
  • When your bus passes a child jumping up and down, waving, and yelling “Wazunga!”, it makes you smile to know you brought that kid some fun just by being white and funny looking.
  • Words are important.  Words of encouragement to a child are invaluable.
  • Monkeys can and will steal a yogurt right out of your hand.
  • I love a good photo, but don’t miss experiencing the moment while trying to document the moment.
  • I could go for a cold Stoney Tangawizi right now.  (African kicked-up ginger ale)
  • When you are exhausted and at the breaking point, God will put people in your path that will show you mercy and kindness….don’t forget to pass it on.

The world is home to a vast sea of humanity.  God sees and knows them all.  There are none too small to be noticed, none too poor to be dismissed.  There are none too powerful to be beyond need of Him and none too broken for His forgiveness.  I saw a seemingly unending parade of faces and people.  They passed me in the airport. They served me dinner.  Their faces flew by as I traveled down an African highway.  They tagged and transported my luggage.  Face after face; all of them known and loved by God.  For those 12 days, I hope I was able to serve as His hands and feet.  I hope they saw Jesus in me.

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Enter as Strangers…Leave as Family

I remember seeing an interview with an actor where he said that one of the things he liked most about going to the movies or theater was this:  you entered with people from different places and different walks of life but you exited as a collective group because you had just shared a common experience.  Now if you take that sentiment and multipy it many times over you get what I got to experience with the 39 other people that I traveled with.  That common experience reaching much farther and deeper than a movie or play ever could.

A couple of weeks before I left I received the list of who I would be making this trip with…their names and where they were from.  I was excited to see that they were coming from all parts of the United States.  From Alaska to Florida, from Pennsylvania to California and everywhere in between.  Young, not as young, married, single, and widowed, we met sharing this common bond:  we believed in the mission of Compassion International and we had committed to investing in the life of a child.

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Over the course of 12 days, I came to realized what an amazing and talented group of people that God had seen fit to put together for this trip.  People like Dinah and Kelly.   Dinah works for Compassion in Colorado Springs.  Her husband, Kelly is an incredibly talented musician and artist who makes his own guitars.  You can see his work at www.montarado.com.  There was Don & Laura who were my group leaders.  I found out for a time they lived in a town in Indiana that was only 10 miles from a town where I used to live in Illinois.  Margaret and Lauren who shared my safari vehicle with me.  I found out near the end of the trip that Lauren was a highly skilled doctor.  Made me feel better that he was around when people started getting sick later in the week.

God had me meet up with Terri & Harlan early in Washington D.C. while waiting on a flight.  Instead of worrying about navigating JFK in New York, I just followed them.  They were on their 2nd trip to Tanzania.  Fun people, Harlan and I would share our “excitement” for rice for the duration of the trip.  I later discovered that Harlan has written several books about computer security.  At least I think that’s what they are about, after I read the title and description I quickly discovered that he’s far more intelligent than me.  Stacie and her daughter Emma.  Emma had been writing blog entries the entire time we were in Tanzania.  The talent displayed by this middle schooler was great.

I shared life changing experiences with people like Jeanie, Dave, Stephanie and others as we prayed over a beautiful girl so affected by Compassion’s investment in her life.  I got the benefit of sharing dinner with Robert, another Compassion employee, as he shared a unique perspective on the trip.  Robert is African-American.  He said he didn’t come looking for it, he couldn’t explain it, and it would take some time to process it, but traveling to Tanzania was like coming home.  It was a perspective on the trip that I could never have, but I was glad that he shared it with us.

I laughed with Krista as she realized that a phrase on a gift she had received from her sponsored child translated to “God Bless Your Marriage”.  Three days after we returned home, Krista’s boyfriend proposed.  Congratulations Krista!

I prayed with Elizabeth after she was notified of a family issue happening at home in Alaska.  It wasn’t life or death, but was still troubling to be so far away and not be able to do anything about it.  I danced in the African rain with Stephanie.

I am thankful for my roommate Amanda.  After I had to practically empty my luggage on the floor looking for something I had in my hand only moments before I’m sure she was wondering what she was in for.

All the time we were under the watchful care of our trip leaders, Sean & Keith.  Sean had 70 trips under his belt and wisely guided us through this entire experience.  Keith had a wonderful sense of humor and by the end of the trip I do believe we were cracking each other up joking about rednecks on planes.

There are so many more, and if anyone from our group is reading this what I want to say is Thank You!  Thanks for sharing this life-changing experience with me.  Thank you for making the time away from my family not as painful as it could have been.  I hope that I was able to bring just a fraction of the happiness to your lives that you did to mine.

Asante sana

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My wonderful family group: Teisha, Tawnya, Don, Laura, Kelley, & Dinah

If getting there is 1/2 the fun, then coming home is…..

Our flight out of Kilimanjaro had a fairly late departure time (sometime between 9 & 10 PM).  We flew to the capital city of Dar es Salaam and sat on the plane while the staff cleaned up the cabin and a new flight crew came on board.  The interesting fact for this otherwise non-descript part of the trip was that at one point we were over the Indian ocean as we descended into the airport.  Wished I could have seen it, but it was night.

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We took off for the 10 hour overnight flight to Amsterdam.  I was sitting with a group of students from an international school in Europe.  The kid next to me had a British accent.  The next leg of the trip further confirmed that I don’t sleep well on planes.  The teenagers on the other had could sleep just fine bent into the shape of pretzels with their mouths hanging open.  At one point I told my seat buddy that if he needed to get up, please don’t hesitate in letting me know even if it meant waking me up.  Kid never got up during the entire 10 hour flight!

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Tulip fields in the Netherlands

We landed in Amsterdam for a 3 hour layover.  I spent part of the time trying to exchange some dollars for euros to take home.  I was getting nowhere at the currency exchanges.  I had the rate all messed up in my head.  I thought the dollar was stronger agains the euro and when it came time to pay for my drink at Starbucks and I was told that it would be 8 dollars, I’m sure my jaw hit the floor.  Oh well, I handed her a 10 and ended up with a few euro coins to throw in my pocket.

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Somewhere over Great Britain

The next leg to New York went smoothly.  I watched a few movies and the clouds cleared just in time for me to catch a glimpse of Great Britain and Ireland as we flew over.  I loved being able to see new parts of the world, but there’s nothing quite like touching down back in your home country.  As an added nice touch as we went through customs we got a much needed, “Welcome Home” from the agent.

Gathering up our luggage it was time to say our goodbyes to the wonderful people who had become family over the past 12 days.  After a round of hugs I headed to terminal 7 to see if I could possibly catch an earlier flight home.  It was around 3pm at this point.  My flight didn’t leave for Washington until 7:30 PM.  After an hour layover in D.C. my flight to Indy was scheduled to land around midnight.  I asked at the United counter and was told that there were no direct flights to Indy.  I must have looked really tired because upon a second look from the United employee,  she said she would see what she could do.  She mentioned LaGuardia, but I didn’t want to have to go to another airport.  I told her it was OK, but she insisted on looking a little more.  She said their was a direct Delta flight that was leaving in about an hour, and I could try it.  If I didn’t make it in time, then come back and see her and she would put me back on my original flight.  At any rate I wouldn’t have lost anything.

Delta was in terminal 2.  Long story short, after a running trip to the airtrain to terminal 2 I arrived too late to get on the flight with my checked luggage.  I made my way back to United where the very nice lady apologized profusely that it hadn’t worked.  No problem, I said.  I appreciated the effort on her part.  I grabbed some McDonalds and called Mom.  I was interupted by a call from United.  My flight had been delayed.  After they gave me the new arrival time, I knew there was no way that I was going to make the connection.  I headed to the gate and on my way checked the flight status.  It went from delayed to cancelled!  Now I’m having visions of spending the night in NYC.  Not the worst thing in the world, but at this point I just wanted to be home.  I found a United employeed at one of the gates and told her what I was dealing with.  She said, “OK…you are on flight blah, blah, blah at 7:30 AM tomorrow morning”   You’ve got nothing else??  Please.  She looked again and found a direct flight leaving at 7:45 pm from…..LaGuardia.  After asking enough questions of her to get step by step directions from her (I was exhausted at this point), I found myself in a seemingly unending line for the taxis.  It was at this moment, after almost 48 hours of no quality sleep, that I hit my breaking point.  I’m not normally an overemotional person, but here I was standing with all my luggage waiting for a taxi…in tears.  I apologized to those around me and was quickly assured by these lovely strangers that they understood and I would have plenty of time.  A couple of them even offered to let me go in front of them and I quickly accepted.

Haveem the taxi driver loaded my luggage and pointed the cab toward LaGuardia.  I found myself again apologizing for being in such an emotional state.  He kindly said that I could take a nap; he would get me there in time.  Haveem dropped my off at Delta and as he unloaded my luggage I told him he was my hero!  After a kind Delta employee helped me check in and assured me that he would get me home, I found my gate and saw the most beautiful sight….my plane, ready at the gate and being loaded.

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I even managed to sleep a little on the flight home.  We descended and the clouds began to light up from the city lights below.  We dropped through the clouds and Indy has never looked better.  Flight attendant came over the speakers with those wonderful words, “Welcome to Indianapolis.”

Tanzania – The Last Day

After a full week of visiting Compassion’s child centers, safari, and spending the day with Mwajuma and Fadhila I felt I had squeezed everything I possibly could out of the trip.  I joked with Sean, our trip leader, on Monday night that he could drive me to the airport now because he had nothing left to offer me.

Tuesday would be our last day in Tanzania.  We spent the morning at Compassion’s Tanzanian country office.  I have to admit I was feeling tired that morning and not overly excited about going, but I’m so glad we had the opportunity.  It really was great to see the care of the staff and the scope of their work.  Not only do they handle the details with sponsorship, they are pouring so much into programs to alleviate poverty country-wide.  We heard about clean water programs, building programs, and other interventions.  Partnering with Compassion really is a large-scope & holistic approach to meeting needs.

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I stopped by the mail room before lunch and saw the team in action sorting letter, both incoming and outgoing.  I was really tempted to go to the box for Mwajuma or Fadhila’s center and see if I had caught up with one of my letters.

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I also fulfilled a mission for a special family back in Brownsburg.  Brad & Jen Murray and their 7-year old quadruplet boys sponsor a little boy in Tanzania.  Jen writes a wonderful blog over at www.4tunate.net  I offered room in my suitcase to take a small backpack of gifts that I could leave at the country office and then they would be forwarded on to their child.  I had met up with the family before I left on my trip and we prayed together over their gift for the trip and for their sponsored child.  I gave the little stuffed bear that was included a squeeze and left him in Philbert’s capable hands.

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We said our goodbyes to the wonderful staff and made a quick stop at a market in Arusha for a few souvenirs.  Bartering was the order of the day and it was a bit overwhelming, but I found a few items to bring home to my family.  After a quick stop at a store for some Tanzanian coffee, it was time to finish packing and load up for the airport.

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It had been a long trip, but an unforgettable trip.  Tanzania would keep a small part of my heart, and I headed to Kilimanjaro Airport happy, thankful, and grateful.

The Day We Had Been Waiting For

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I have to admit I was a little nervous about this day.  You know that feeling when you build an event up in your mind.  You want it to be something wonderful and are nervous that it might not turn out the way you had hoped it would.  That was not the case today.  Meeting my girls, especially Mwajuma was everything I had hoped it would be and so much more.  I found myself trying not to show favoritism toward Mwajuma.  After all, she had been a part of my life for over 6 years.  But we quickly settled into comfortable conversation.  My translator for the day was great and help to make the day go smoothly.  I asked them more detailed questions about their families and they did the same in return.  Writing to the girls has been great, but I quickly discovered that there are some limits.  I began to learn more about my girls and their families in those few minutes than I had previously in all my letters.

Mwajuma & Fadhila are about the same age.  Mwajuma is 15 and Fadhila had just turned 16.  They both live in Morogoro, but attend centers in different parts of the city.  I found out that as they were traveling together the kids began asking what each other’s sponsor’s names were.  The girls both said their sponsor’s name was Heidi, but they thought they were meeting 2 different people who happened to have the same name.  They did not know that they shared the same sponsor until I grabbed them both in a big hug when I saw them.

We shared a morning tea break and the girls got out the presents they had brought for me.  Mwajuma brought me a printed cloth that she tied around me as a skirt and another beautiful cloth that she wrapped around my shoulders.  She also brought me a elephant carved out of wood which is now proudly displayed in our home.  Fadhila brought me some bracelets.  Then she pulled out an envelope.  In it was a letter that her father had written to me.  It was hard to hold it together as she read such beautiful words.  He thanked me for caring for Fadhila.  He said that his children are like my children and my children are like his.  It was another moment of many that I experienced that confirmed that what we do as sponsors truly does make a difference.

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I had brought them photo albums filled with photos of my family.  One of the photos was a map with the route I took to Tanzania mapped out.  They were surprised when I told them it took 4 different planes to get me there.  One of them stated that it must have been expensive.  I got to look both of them in the eye and tell them they were worth it.

IMG_1745 IMG_1647Our day was full.  There was time for conversation, but there was plenty of time for fun as well.  The girls wanted to swim, but we ran out of time.  Instead we dipped our toes in the pool and Mwajuma quickly decided that the water was way too cold to swim in.  We kicked around soccer balls, passed the camera around and took a lot of photos, made bracelets together, and most of all we laughed.

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Later in the day I gave them the gifts I had brought.  For each of them I had a backpack filled with school supplies, some candy, a bracelet, and other items including a Swahili New Testaments that had been brought to Africa by one of our group members.

IMG_1734 All too soon the day was coming to an end.  We took the chance to pray together.  After a group photo it was time to walk the girls to the bus and say goodbye.  I took a moment with each of them to hold them, look them in the eye, and tell them how much I loved them and that I was proud of them.  Fadhila first and then Mwajuma.  By the time I hugged Mwajuma, I was sobbing.  It was hard to watch their bus leave.  Probably the hardest part was knowing that more and likely I would not see them again.  I was asked by some in our group if I would be coming back.  Anything is possible, but the truth is that it is unlikely.  The girls are in their mid-teens and will age out of the program in several years.  If I am ever blessed with the opportunity to travel again with Compassion, I will choose to go to Thailand and meet our other sponsored child, Wannaporn.

However I realize what a gift I have been given.  Most sponsors never get to meet their children.  I had just spent an unforgettable day with 2 of mine.  I will hold the memory of that day in my heart for the rest of my life, and I will never be the same for it.

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A Day Over 6 Years in the Making

Again, another day that merits more than one post

First a little background….

A little over six years ago we choose this little 9 year old girl from Tanzania to be a part of our family.

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We wrote to her, financially supported her, and prayed for her.  I knew that I would love to meet her, but I really didn’t see that ever happening.  Instead we committed her to God’s care and trusted that our prayers, support and encouragement would make a difference in her life.  Yet through the years there was a small prayer in my heart, hardly ever verbalized….”God you know my heart on this matter, for this girl, for Africa….whatever your will is.”

I became a volunteer Child Advocate for Compassion a little over a year ago.  Soon after I attended an advocate’s conference in Chicago.  I spoke with sponsors that had traveled to meet their children.  I saw the difference that it had made for them.  I realized the benefit to their advocacy by that “closing of the gap” between sponsor and child.  That small prayer grew stronger in my heart.

The next day after returning from Chicago I opened my e-mail to see a message from Compassion announcing the next round of sponsor tours.  Then there was another message that came from God and it was this:  “Last week during Compassion Sunday you stood before your entire church family and said that if I was calling them to do something then I would provide the necessary resources to accomplish it.  I will provid what you need to go see your child.”  After discussing it with my husband I moved forward and registered to go to Tanzania.  God (who’s word can always be trusted) through generous friends and family, additional photography jobs, and extra provision through Dusty’s work, did provide the money needed for the trip.  That’s how I found myself in Arusha on March 17th with almost 40 other sponsors eagerly awaiting our children’s arrival.

In addition to Mwajuma, I would also be meeting Fadhila.  Fadhila is my correspondent child.  She has a financial sponsor, but the letter writing and correspondence is my responsibility.

Introductions were to take place one at a time to avoid confusion.  Our group wanted to be singing and clapping when the arrived.  We ended up in two lines and when the kids all arrived, they all began working their way down the line shaking hands.

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I was near the end and I began to worry that I wouldn’t recognize them.  After all I received a photo from them about once a year and I really had no concept of how tall they were.  Children began to see their sponsors and grab onto them.  I was taking in the moment while shaking hands and scanning faces.  I caught a woman looking at me.  She held up a paper with Fadhila’s name.  She was my translator for the day, but I still didn’t see Fadhila or Mwajuma.  I waited as they made their way around the group.  Suddenly there was Fadhila right in front of me.  I joyfully embraced her!  When I let go I looked to my right and there was Mwajuma.  I couldn’t help but to exclaim her name and grab her tightly.

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I remember earlier in the week that one of the staff members at a center we were visiting prayed this prayer, “God, you have made our prayer a reality!”  There in that moment God had made a prayer over 6 years in the making a living, breathing reality.

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Tarangire National Park – Cue Up the Theme to “The Lion King”

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After an incredibly rewarding week in Singida and a wonderful day in Katesh we arrived at Maramboi Tented Camp.  The place was everything that you think of when thinking “safari”.  We enjoyed dinner together and spent the time unwinding and decompressing from all that we had experienced.  We also had ventured back into the land of  wi-fi so I was able to Facetime with Dusty.  After about a week of not being able to communicate except for short texts I was very glad to see my family!

Thanks to the abundance of hot water and water pressure I had the best shower ever, collapsed into a very comfortable bed, and was asleep in no time.  The next thing I remember is waking up to the loud sound of something outside my tent.  Now these were permanent structures but they walls were still canvas.  I sat up in bed and listened.  The staff had assured us that everything was very safe, but I’m still thinking, “Great…I will be the first causality in the history of this place when this huge lion tears through my wall!”  Whatever was outside the tent kept moving around in the bushes and then it made a snorting sound like a pig.  A warthog had woke me up at 5 AM!  Now I was getting mildly annoyed.  I was awake and couldn’t go back to sleep because of Pumbaa.  I decided to just enjoy the experience.  How many of you can say that you’ve been woke up by a warthog?

Sunday morning dawned bright, warm, & beautiful.  We sat on the large deck overlooking the area.  Hundreds, possibly thousands of flamingos formed a pink line of the far side of the distant lake.  A warthog and her wartlets rummaged around our deck.  I told my new friends that I missed seeing my church family today, but what a treat to see God’s creation in this way!

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We loaded up in our Land Rover’s and headed a short distance away to Tarangire National Park.  Immanuel, our driver, would help to make this day even more special.  He was so full of enthusiasm; as if he was seeing all of this for the first time also.  I mean you have to love a driver that will stop the vehicle and back it up just to show you a huge millipede on the road.

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We entered Tarangire and for the next 4 hours I got to see wildlife that I had only seen in zoos.  It was incredible.  It may sound a bit cheesy, but the word I can think of to describe it was “glee”.  I was like a wide-eyed kid.  We saw more warthogs (or as Immanuel called them “lion sausage”) giraffes, baboons, zebras, lions, elephants, and so much more.  There were birds of all sizes and colors.  Immanuel was pointing out animals, looking up pictures for us in his guidebooks, and giving us all kinds of facts about what we were seeing.  All the time with that contagious level of joy and enthusiasm.

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We stopped for a picnic lunch and had even more fun.  If you travel to the beach you have to deal with pesky birds trying to steal your food.  Well on safari you have to watch the pesky monkeys trying to grab a snack.  Several of our group’s lunches fell victim to sneaky monkeys.

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The day was picture perfect.  The scenery was breathtaking.  Even though I tried my best there is no way to capture in a photo or on video the scope of the beautiful landscape.  Simply put it’s a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Here’s a few video clips….including the naughty monkeys!