Recently I was asked to write a summary of my gap year. My thoughts that poured out were different than what I expected, and I decided to post it here, so readers could see the big picture in one post.
My first 4 months were spent at an orphanage/school in Tanzania, near the Kenya border. I was the Creative Arts teacher for one semester – teaching music to three different classes and facilitating arts and crafts for the kids. Through the process of living in a village where very few people spoke English, and with the help of the RosettaStone computer program, by December I was conversational in Swahili. The people in my village, Ntagacha, spoke Swahili, and the tribal tongue, Kuria. I picked up a few Kuria words, but mainly focused on Swahili.
Teaching was far harder than I expected. I began teaching in English, and the kids had limited knowledge of English, so it was very difficult to get my point across in class and to keep control of the kids. However, by the end of the semester, each choir performed at the end-of-school ceremony, and they did so well. I was so proud of them.
I absolutely LOVED living in a village. Most of my free time I spent in the huts of village people, speaking to them, eating with them, and enjoying their beautiful culture and carefree lifestyle. Near our house was a mountain if you walked a half-mile in one direction, and I spent many a calm afternoon on top of the mountain, reading, journaling, and praying. One could see the entire valley, and even the mountains of Kenya. In the other direction on the dirt road were what we called “The Rocks,” which were huge rock outcroppings on top of a hill. Perfect places to play and to sit, enjoying the sunshine and listening to the sounds of the village: monkeys, people working in the chamba (field), the markets where the locals sold fruits and vegetables.
During my time in Tanzania, I read extensively. Many of the books both given to me, and ones that I picked up, were about Mother Teresa. I was enraptured by her selflessness and her devotion to the poorest of the poor, and I knew that during my second semester, I had to investigate one of the footprints of Mother Teresa. After a wonderful 2 week holiday with the Greers at Good Shepherd’s Fold Orphanage in Uganda (I whitewater rafted in Class 5 rapids on the Nile!), I caught a flight to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia that houses two centers started by Mother Teresa.
For the past few months, I’ve been working at Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity’s Home for the Destitute and Dying. I do everything from help dress wounds to sing to mentally handicapped kids to feed people who can’t do things for themselves. Mother Teresa has taught me more about life and about myself than anyone else this year. She always said, “The poorest of the poor are Jesus in his most distressing disguises,” and replied to people that she would never do what she did for a million dollars, but for the love of Christ, she was able. Every day, I walk by people who are dying with dignity, dying in the arms of someone who doesn’t know them but loves them, and there is no greater picture of the kingdom than this.
I spoke with a friend who had worked at the Home of the Dying a few years back, and she said that Jesus is so present in that center, hidden away in Addis Ababa, taking in those who are found dying on the streets. Sometimes I am overcome by the beauty of what I see. Some have said that looking into the eyes of the dying is a sacred thing, and I have to agree. When I realize that everything I do for one of the people at the Home of the Dying is something I am doing for Jesus himself, I am honored that I get to work there. Not to say that it isn’t hard. Some days I want to hit people. Some days I am so sick of being spit on by mentally handicapped boys, and some days I am so mad that the little boys with deformed bodies don’t appreciate that I’m trying to help them, and all they do is cry. But the vast mystery of it all overwhelms me when I step back and take a look at the big picture, and again, I’m surrounded by peace.
At this point, I have exactly two months until my departure date. I pray that I finish strong. This year has taught me more about life than I ever could have imagined, and I’ve changed in ways I never anticipated. Never again can I be apathetic about the poor and needy. There is a clarion call from on high for all of us to rise up and care for them. Caring for them has been one of the most beautiful things I have ever known. I’ve learned that the world is bursting with need, but all I can do is “small things with great love,” as Mother Teresa says. May we all follow her example and love anyone else more than ourselves. May we lay down our lives for our friends, as there is no greater love than this.