Next week I’m going to Uganda to visit an AIDs charity for ten days. I’m not that nervous, perhaps not as nervous as I should be.
Three years ago I co-led a trip to Cambodia where 13 of us served a local charity for ten days. We saw heartbreaking things, many of the students we took were challenged to their core by the poverty, the genocidal aftermath, the reality. I wasn’t that affected. I saw and I wept, but most of the time my eyes were on them, on the students.
On that trip, my main priority was those students. Making sure they were ok, that they were processing all they saw, that they were serving as best they could and that they were coping with translating that reality back into a hugely privileged, western context - that was where my mind was at. The shocking things were seen largely through the lens of how they were impacting them.
Now I’m heading back into a similar fierce reality without any students to take care of, and that’s scary. It can be easy to detach ourselves when we’re taking care of others. To prioritise those we have responsibility for and fail to experience ourselves the reality we’re helping them process.
A student worker I know recently joined an amateur dramatics group because she spent all her time with Christians. She was encouraging her students to get out there and live in the real world but wasn’t doing it herself. At the weekend I heard a talk about serving the lowest of the low and wondered when the last time I did that was. When was the last time I encouraged those I lead to do so? Probably more recently. This teaching, oversight and guidance is good, needed, done in love of those we lead and in full belief in the things we teach. Its only one part of a leader’s life though - the other part is living it ourselves when no one else is around.
When we live to help others with their realities and fail to live out our own we can become disconnected, apathetic, hypocritical, cynical or develop oppressively high expectations.
Writing this is raising the level of nerves within me - nerves about what will happen when I’ve no-one else to look after and I see the world with my own eyes, rather than through others’. Nervous of the mess I’ll be in. Hopeful for the change that will bring. Grateful for the opportunity to venture further into the realities of our world and experience for myself the day to day of real life so that I, hopefully, might better be able to serve it.
I’m going on this trip with Tearfund. If you’d like help taking your students on an overseas charity trip (highly recommended!) then check them out here.
Please pray for those, like Tearfund, who open our eyes to some of the most tragic realities of the world and help us to start to do whatever we can to serve those in need.