Our trip ended with a brilliant day of animal tracking where I had the opportunity to fully indulge my inner idiot crawling along the ground trying not to scare antelope (much to the amusement of the team who declared Ben and I ‘properly insane’). We then had a couple of hours alone in the game reserve. We were dropped off half a kilometre from each other, our watches removed and told the van would be back ‘at some time, later.’ After such an intense time it was really quite brilliant to have time to process and reflect before our long journey back to the UK and where better to think than in the sunshine watched some Zebra have a wander?
And what did I make of it? All those wonderful experiences, all those amazing people? I’m still processing it all now to be honest. The first thing that really struck me was how much I enjoyed leading the team with Ben. I loved seeing them grow and develop as they took on, and overcame, new challenges. It was freeing to have a focus beyond myself, to be watching and observing and cheering others on to their goals. I knew the team would be good fun but there is something really brilliant about teenagers that makes them such great company. An amazing sense of fun, to be sure, but also an openness to life, a willingness to be affected and changed.
Being back home I miss the company, the laughter over the campfire and each day being so utterly extraordinary. I was instantly fed up of TV and computers. My Blackberry is off a lot more these days. I’m craving conversation much more and finding the constant bombardment with news and social media hard to take. I keep thinking of my spot on the veranda where I sat whenever I got a minute and read a book or just took some thinking time.
I realised how infrequently I take the time to stop and just stare into space when I’m at home. There is always entertainment, a magazine to be read, a TV programme to catch up on. As one of the girls put it ‘instead of watching someone else life on TV or reading about someone else’s life on Facebook, you just actually live your own life.’ Your focus is on who you are with, on what is happening right now rather than what someone else may or may not be doing elsewhere.
But biggest of all is the imprint left by the people I met. People like Donata and Foibe. I’ve been given renewed energy and enthusiasm for the journey I’m on. At my interview for ordained ministry one of the interviewers gave a morning reflection which ended with a sentence that has really stuck with me ‘God will give you people for whom to care.’ I think all of us sitting there, offering up our futures to an unknown ending, craved that. I’m encouraged that when I had people for whom to care I felt more alive than when my only real care is myself.
The people I met were the most extraordinary example of service I’ve ever seen. Walking for miles to feed someone else, suffering hardship and taking it on with a level of determination that I’ve not seen matched anywhere else. I truly felt like I was in the presence of the spirit of God, with people who understood what it really meant to walk in the footsteps of Jesus – quite literally in Donata’s case! And all this lays down a big challenge for me. I’ve always hungered after the extraordinary and felt that life in the footsteps of Jesus has to more than a few hymns and turning up on Sundays. It always has been more than that for me but seeing faith in action in Zambia shows me that there is so much more.
At the moment I have more questions than answers. I’m working out what all of this means for my life here in the UK. In a way I’m holding on the tension of travelling between two different worlds. Holding on to the feeling of inequality, holding on to the challenge of radical service, holding on to the desire for quiet in the noise of my world. Because I don’t want to transition right back into what I was before. I want to be changed by Zambia.
Last week I read a verse from Jesus’ famous speech, The Beatitudes in Matthews Gospel. It says:
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.’
Righteousness is an old fashioned word to us today but it basically means right-ness, justice. On the last leg of the mountain climb me and a group of girls were walking together in the baking hot sun. Our water had ran out and there was no access to any more until we reached our camp three hours away. I have never been that thirsty in my life. When we finally hit the stream we were straight in there, drinking out of our hands, desperate to quench our thirst.
Thirst isn’t a comfortable thing so to thirst for righteousness is to seek it with the same desperation that we looked for water, as something you need and cannot live without. These difficulties in adjusting back to life here and these hard questions that are putting a spanner in how I usually spend my time and the norms I live with feel a bit like thirsting for something. So I’m waiting expectantly knowing that there is something more than sticking my hand in my pocket and giving a tenner that is to come from this trip.
And so that was Zambia, better, more life changing that I could ever have predicted. But I do have one prediction this time that I’m pretty confident of – that was not my last time in Africa!