Our first week was incredibly exhausting. Along with adjusting to the time change, were making quite a few other adjustments as a team. Instead of deer crossing we have cow crossing, instead of corn fields we have an array of mountains, and instead of having all we need at our fingertips, were getting creative in improvising. On our first night in Swaziland, we spent the evening talking to Brian and Missy, who sort of act as our parents on campus. Brian was a pastor, and moved here with his wife and two kids a few years ago. As we began to hear an introduction as to what our next month was going to look like, all I could think was, ‘what did I just get myself into?’.
Morning start anywhere from 3-6 am, and bedtime on Campus days is around 7. Wednesday was our first Outreach day, and it came as quite a culture shock to all of us. As much as we could try to prepare ourselves, there is no preparing for a reality that is so different from ours. It started in the morning when I woke up with red dots all over my hand. I wasn’t sure what they were, but it wasn’t bothering me so I decided it wasn’t worth it to bring it up. After arriving on Campus, the staff was still loading the fleet with supplies for our day. We joined a large circle with all of the Swazi and International staff, one of the Swazis gave an encouraging devotional, we all prayed together, and then we did the TLC pre-outreach cheer, “to the work”. This week has been a big week as it is the first time in the history of TLC that they are sending out two different teams during the week, meaning TLC has grown so much that they are able to reach twice as many people.
The bus ride was around two and a half hours, although I can’t confirm that because I slept most of the time, as I’m sure the rest of us did. I did wake up, however, when we got on the roads closest to our destination as I felt similar to a kernel in a popcorn bag. All I could think of was how uncomfortable I was. My mind was heavy with the lack of sleep, issues I carried from home, the basic lack of familiarity of everything around me, a belly fully of food I wasn’t used to , and a car full of people I didn’t know. I felt the Lord tugging, pulling me from what was comfortable, but I wasn’t willing to go at that point, so I sat there bitter.
The houses were all that you’d expect in rural Swaziland: mud, brick, and straw huts. I wasn’t sure where we were going find a school around, but lo and behold we found one. Our vehicle was the first of the fleet, and you could already see the line forming of patients needing to be treated. May I add at this point that the entirety of the ride to this school was uphill, so those coming were traveling up one of the mountains.
Our vehicle was totally surrounded by school kids. They put their hands on the windows, just in hopes that we’d do the same and touch through the glass. When I got out, I immediately had a kid on each hand. As we herded through the kids, I turned around and saw a look of utter astonishment on the faces of my teammates. As few time as I can say this has happened to me, this by far was the largest group. Knowing that we would treat each kid and adult who made the journey, I knew this was going to be a long day, and on top of everything else I wasn’t sure I was ready to make that sacrifice. I would say we were there for at least an hour, trading hands from kid to kid. A few latched on, but about each finger had a kid. Those who latched on would put their arms around you and nuzzle into your side. Others would keep turning your hand over and feel every crevice up and down your fingers. It was then that I noticed the little bumps growing and multiplying.
We began unpacking the vans and setting up each room. I’ll explain later what each room is and what happens, but for now I’ll limit it to the rooms we spent the most time in. We all began orientation in room 2, which is triage. We take blood pressure, blood sugar, and tested for HIV for those who consented. The doctor comes in and reads the HIV tests, and then meets the patients for a personal consult in room 3. By this point, I could feel my hands swelling under the gloves. It still wasn’t anything big, but a few dots turned into a lot of dots. I could tell I was bitten by something when I was sleeping, probably a mosquito, but this must have been a relentless mosquito.
A few of us were pulled to room 7, which was prep for room 6, the surgical room. Abbie and I both got to spend time in room 6, and it was exhilarating. Although we weren’t able to take part in the surgeries, we prepared around 8 or more boys for circumcision. I believe that our team did a total of over 35 circumcisions. After surgery Missy took me to the doctor, and it was confirmed I was attacked (I’m actually laughing writing this, just because of how dramatic it all was). I counted 24 bites total on my hand and arm, and being allergic to mosquitos my hand was a balloon, so the pharmacy team helped out.
I was also moved to the shoe department, which besides surgery was my favorite. We fitted hundreds of boys and girls with shoes. I cannot put into words the feeling of seeing their face when they turned around with a pair of shoes in their hands. We finished up with shoes around 6 o’clock, and returned to room 2 with the rest of the team. The Luke Commission stays until the last person is served, we don’t turn anyone away, so our tables were set up until around 10. We packed up and went in to room 5 with the pharmacy. The line was not going to end any time soon. The other team there left around 10:30, and my team fell asleep around then, so I finished up the pharmacy with the Swazi staff member.
The last person came through the pharmacy line sometime after 12, which compared to our 7pm bedtime felt like an eternity later. Somehow between rushing to help with the pharmacy and my team falling asleep, we discovered my phone had been taken. None of that to complain, but all of that to say that uncomfortable became pretty defeated real quick. We finished packing up the room, and after talking to the police and the village leader about my phone (who were incredibly concerned due to the impact of the Luke Commission on the community), it began to rain.
I think it was close to 1:30 by the time we rolled out, and at the time we had been planning on 2-3 hours of sleep that night. I was finally able to close my eyes on the bus, when I was awakened by mad swerving and Hannahs arm catching my chest and holding me to the seat. Apparently the cow who act like deer crossing the road decided to jump in front of our vehicle, and we hit it but mostly swerved out of the way. In Swaziland, you have to file a police report even if you hit an animal for your vehicle to be fixed, so we didn’t finish that until around 3:30am. Hannah and I made the smart decision that we weren’t going to use the restroom all day and wait to use the toilets on Campus, so at this point we had gone about 24 hours without using the restroom.
We stopped to get gas, and we decided we couldn’t wait any longer, so we took a plunge and went in the Swaziland Puma station. Hannah and I got out of the car and tried the front door (which was locked), but were urged to follow the service man to to the back of the building away from our van (at this point we both had looks of terror on our face). However, there was some point in the Swaziland gas station restroom that I realized how absolutely crazy all the things that happened that day were. I got attacked by a bug, had my phone stolen, hit a cow, and was standing in a shower in a gas station in Swaziland with an energizer headlamp strapped to my head, and I laughed.
Very few times in my life have I recognized in the moment when God was stretching me, making me intentionally uncomfortable and putting me in a place with my hands by my sides shouting “eyes on me”. Sometimes it takes being put in that place for the scales on our eyes to shed, taking us out of bitterness and allowing our hearts to soften to a different perspective. During lunch today, Brian said something that spoke exactly to the way I was feeling. We were talking about all the occurrences of the night before, and how he knew that whether we were saying it or not, we were all uncomfortable. But than he said, “I think when we are uncomfortable that it’s a good thing, because God can really begin to work through us.”
We have another clinic before the week is over and another work day on Campus, but now theres a comfort in the uncomfortable. And to be honest, the more I think about it the more I realize that being comfortable is about the opposite of what the Bible calls us to be. The gospel isn’t meant to be a comfort for us because it takes us away from things that make us uncomfortable, but because it gives us strength and hope in the discomfort. It’s meant to push us even further, to allow us to press in to the discomfort, because that’s where the broken lie. Our work here, all the crazy days, all the unfortunate mishaps that are sure to be ahead only push us further into the realization that outside of our comfort zone lies a pretty messed up world. Where we had shelter in the rain, the moms with babies on their back standing in line at the pharmacy still had to walk back home. Most of the people we treated wouldn’t receive health care until The Luke Commission returned. Where I have people around me, although not familiar, most of the kids have lost their families to HIV. Where I have bumps on my arms, I held the hands of kids with giant infected sores on their heads whose stomachs were caved in.
I think sometimes God makes us uncomfortable so that He can show us a greater picture of love. Love isn’t restricted to what we know, it extends to what we don’t. The further we go, the more we can understand how it moves, and how far it will go to reach us. It truly is selfless, it is kind, and it isn’t proud. It takes being uncomfortable to understand that if what’s driving us is anything but love, than whatever we try to do will end up draining us and leaving whatever is left over pretty empty. And love changes things. Another thing Brian said a few days ago was, “I think God truly can change a culture through you, but it involves consistent love. It may not be in a couple days but you can see generational changes. It has to be consistent, they have to see it active.” Active love is uncomfortable, and at times it takes you across boarders, but each boarder brings a new dimension of love, and each dimension of love has changed us to know our Creator, and thats a comfort that’s worth being uncomfortable for.