I live on an oversized ferry parked up alongside a central African country. I live with 450 people. I see the same people everyday. Some say “Hello”. Some don’t. Some say “How are you?”; some mean it and some don’t. I find myself searching and longing for rawness and a realness that is apparently rare, regardless of environment.
For the first few months I struggled – dealing with the abundant life I have here in terms of beauty, fun and adventure, but the emptiness I sometimes feel in terms of relationships, family and community. As odd as it may sound I found it incredibly hard to build relationships here. Confusing? A big ship filled with people that are passionate, inspiring and want to make the world a better place? You would think (and i did) that it would be a land flowing with friendships and a never ending stream of possible relationships. However, although my expectations of many things regarding living in Africa were accurate, I was well off the mark with this one.
My first impression of the ship was how spiritually dry it felt. Perhaps the reality of a faith based organisation – living out love in action to some of the worlds poorest people – has it’s toll spiritually in terms of how much more can be given out. Maybe when you give all your time and engery to the local people whom we are here to serve, there is nothing left for your neighbour? But my question was, and still is, how do we fill up? Where is that energy coming from? How can we give 100% to the mission and still be able to support, encourage and love our shipmates?
I was surprised because the Mercy Ships training in the US was so focused on God and everything was built on prayer. The management team there were incredibly inspiring and constantly chasing after God. I see that here too; but in individuals, not as a group. Not as a community. Somewhere there is a disconnection.
I see people that are striving to make a difference in the world. People that have massive amounts of integrity and I want to learn from that. People that love the poor, are committed to serving others, have compassion for people and a thirst for God/ However, I don’t see that on a day to day basis in the community, collectively. I see business, I see a quick and professional “Hello, how are you?”
I arrived on Ship just before Christmas and many people were preparing their bags and their hearts for their departure date. I felt like there was no room for me as the people staying were mourning the loss of their ship mates. After a few months and still lacking genuine relationships that go further than how are you? I’m fine: I began to wonder, is it me? What am I doing wrong? Why does this community not feel like home? A little while longer and I had a handful of very special people in my life that I felt I could be free with and the community started feeling a little smaller. I’m not saying that there weren’t people during that time that I could talk to or laugh with … there were many, but I mean people to be vulnerable with, to have coffee with, to be your stupid self with, people that want to hang out with you! There was only a handful of them.
Last week I went on holiday with a small group of friends (photo minute~ Ode to Congo and Her Country) for a week and when we came back there was a note on my door saying “Welcome home”. Inside was a card from one very cool lady. I said to Ally, “why has she sent this to us, is she leaving?” Ally replied “no, she’s just good at community”. I paused and thought
“Wow, I want to be good at community!”
I got in to the cabin only to be met by a few iMessages and Facebook messages from concerned Congolese colleagues who thought I had left for England. Then I went to work the next day and all my patients asked where I had been. People stopped me in the corridors and said
“It’s so good to have you back, we missed you!”
And I began to wonder did I come back to the right ship? Was I wrong about how I felt before? Were my perceptions all wrong? Where ever I was I felt like I had come back home.
I realised this week that Home is not something I can make happen with pictures on the walls or keepsakes; It’s somewhere I feel welcomed and comfortable being me and that place can be created by your community. Your community can make you feel important and create that thing we call HOME! I realised that I am cared for and that I can belong here. And that was all changed by an outward expression of love and appreciation from others. People that took time to say a simple “we missed you!” or put a note on the door made me feel at home.
This made me realise that I have the ability to make others feel at home. I have the power to make someone feel loved and like they belong or the ability to make someone feel uncomfortable. There’s a well known saying;
“Be the change you want to see”
Which is argueably some form of shortened version of something Gandhi maybe, may have possibly said…
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
Well I do want to change and live in a way that positively impacts those around me. It’s the greatest commandment right? First love God and then your neighbour… simples.
And so I embarked on a small challenge. To see if I could do it…. If I could be good at community. So I did what I know… I baked. I delivered cheese scones. A few to office spaces, a few to my husband having a nap and a few to some cabins. In return I got a lot of smiles, a few speechless faces and pure joy manifested in a little bit of hysterical laughter. That was nice, of course it makes you feel good to make others happy, but wait there’s more. I also got the favour returned. Someone made me flapjacks for my night shifts and then I had a percy pig delivery to my door.
It’s not just about gifts or acts of service but about indiscriminate acts of kindness. Just loving one another. What would this ship look like if we just loved each other? If we said the good things that run through our minds out loud like “I missed you” or “I’m so glad you are here”. I’ve realised that I often have positive thoughts about people, however, I’m far more likely to speak out about the negative things than the positive ones. I felt at home just because people came out and said the positive things. So I tried that out too; today I met a new crew member and when she opened her mouth I was all happy inside to hear an Irish accent. I worked with a lot of Irish nurses in London and so it was just like being at home. I thought about it for a while before giving my self a talking to, “Amy just say it!” So I did I gave her an almighty hug and declared;
“Oh It’s so good to hear an Irish accent again, I have missed that so much. I’m so glad you are here!”
A few hours later she found me and thanked me for making her feel at HOME. She said that was the first time she had really felt like she belonged here!
Is it right or wrong that the acts of others can make the difference between belonging and not belonging?
Should I just be able to feel at home through being at peace with myself and God?
I don’t know.
But I do know that I too can make a difference. It’s a big ship with a lot of people but for today I’m going to start a new mission. To love others with kind words, indiscriminate acts of kindness and attempt to make other people feel at home:
To be good at community! And then maybe change the world!
These are completely my own thoughts and ponderings and do not represent Mercy Ships … they just represent me and my observations about life here on the Africa Mercy.