Most of our short term mission trips are just that - short. Unlike in-country staff, or long term missionaries, interns and fellows, for most HCW mission work, we are sharply focused on getting a specific task, racing against the calendar and clock to make the most impact and gather as much information as we can along the way to bring back to the US to share with our partners and leaders here. We try to build in "team" time in our short mission trips. We try to give our missioners time to have real conversations, and to make real connections with the people, with the country and with the culture. But it's just flashes. We don't have time to reach full understanding, even staff is limited, it wouldn't be enough if we went on all three two-week trips. Modern technology allows us to communicate daily, and to see one another (when the electricity and internet is working, which isn't that often) - but having three weekends in Sierra Leone this trip is going to be a blessing. I could see that this weekend, and I have one more to go!
This weekend, Cynthia Grant and I spent some time with our friends working on budgets and program plans, and some time playing, and some just hanging out in the Peace Hut, drinking fresh coconut water and munching on the nuts and fruits from the trees growing at the MTC. Wow, that was a treat!
Weekends at the MTC are for little things, like watching a huge lizard sun himself, and waiting for my phone to charge off a solar-battery charger like they have to use in the villages, and big things, like attending the funeral for the father of one of the children at the CRC, and realizing that I had just helped that child write a letter to his sponsor, and I didn't have any idea this tragedy was looming big in his life. Taking in the fact that nobody had seemed to think anything of it - because it isn't rare. And then taking in, that despite that commonality of death, a funeral isn't treated as a small thing, it's a huge community event that lasts for hours and involves everybody with speeches and songs and dancing and prayers and offerings to support the family.
The weekend is also for distractions and adventures, like the river, the market, having a dress made for the Bishop's celebration in a week, seeing Fudia's house, watching her throw candy out to the children all along the scary, winding, rutted road in the heart of the city that leads through her neighborhood to her house, and hearing the stories of her life.
Fudia took Cynthia and I back to the river, where we picked up an escort, Corporal Daniel, who insisted in safeguarding our excursion as we watched the families digging sand from the river bottom, and examined the new bridge being built. We walked close to the water this time. Corporal Daniel took us through the family campsites where women were cooking and washing clothes and feeding babies, and everybody else old enough to walk was engaged in the family business of digging and ferrying, and hauling and piling sand. It felt a little bit like prying, but almost everyone was gracious and welcoming, including two heads of families and a chieftain who was overseeing the work. Although I had the sense that they were probably glad to see us and our escort leave, particularly after Corporal Daniel barked a few orders, including insistence that one man had to put out his cigarette,.
I can't speak for Cynthia, but the time playing was even more instructive for me. Our partners in Sierra Leone are kind and patient, trusting in our good intentions, but having and taking the time to see things from a different angle on the weekend was enlightening.