"Africa changed my life."
I've heard those words slip from the lips of a handful of my granola-eating, modern-music-loving friends who "find themselves" in places only Joseph Conrad dreamed of visiting. You know the places - where roads and clean water are still coming attractions.
Then it happened to me.
In May, I traveled to Uganda with Steve Swigert, a Noble Research Institute agricultural economist, who has spent the last two years providing expert counsel to Watoto Childcare Ministries as they build a sustainable agricultural system to feed 3,000 orphans. (In the winter issue of Legacy, I'll detail the Noble Research Institute's contribution to Watoto. Until then, check out my trip blog at www.noble.org/blog/a-noble-journey.)
The process of traveling to Uganda, albeit uncomfortable at times, does not change you. Fill out passport forms. Get shots. Read horrifying Ugandan history. Pack multiple giant bags. Get a few more shots. Spend 20 hours on a plane with a screaming child. I'm still the same freckle-faced ginger, just sore and cranky. Then I landed.
Physically, the sights and sounds aren't just foreign, they are otherworldly. The smooth concrete life of the United States, the order of our square wheat fields and the comfort of our city grids are replaced with what at first seems like chaos. The whirlwind of traffic draws you closer to God. The crush of people is ever present. The country's natural beauty (lush, rolling hills and valleys that lead to the shores of Lake Victoria) is juxtaposed by oppressive poverty.
Then you begin to adjust. You press ever so slightly into the rhythm of their life. For 10 days, I experienced Uganda, and it was redefining. Sunrises over Lake Victoria. Meeting the children at the Watoto villages. Driving past a seemingly endless valley of shanties and slums. Hearing the ladies at Living Hope sing. A boat ride to the mouth of the Nile River. Meeting an 8-year-old boy named Innocent who showed me the joy I had lost. Getting sick on Day 8.
I saw sites that I will never forget. I laughed harder than I have in years. I cried like a baby. Most of all, I fell in love with the Ugandan people. Despite decades of bloody revolution that claimed almost a whole generation, despite minimal resources, their love and generosity is boundless. They'll give you what little food they have. No questions asked.
When I stood in the presence of such grace, when I fully comprehended the depth of need, when I shared that human connection, I was no longer allowed to ignore the reality that I was among the most blessed people on the planet. I am the blessed of the blessed, and then, like falling out of a tree, I experienced true humility.
On the plane ride home, I reflected on my 10 days, and I knew it without a doubt - Africa had changed my life.