Every year I lead a team of both first-time and seasoned travelers on a trip to Kenya. Before we go, I give everyone a packet with preparations for the trips: packing lists, tentative itineraries, cultural tips, and more. It can be difficult for a first-time traveler to accept that the daily itinerary is always tentative and it will always look different than what I first planned.
The American culture is one of control. When I look at my upcoming work week on Sunday night, I know what to expect. I'll be working from nine to five, sitting in the same room, in the same chair, at the same desk. On Wednesdays I eat lunch with my grandparents. On Friday evenings, I meet up with my boyfriend. I plan my weekends days in advance. There are certainly unexpected emergencies that might come up, but for the most part, Americans plan things and things go how we plan them.
This is not the case in Africa.
When I make an itinerary for a mission trip to Kenya, it must be flexible. And the happiness of a group depends on the team's own flexibility when things change up to the very last moment.
We might be waiting for our bus driver, who overslept by three hours, and drastically miss our tea-time with a friend in another village.
We might be driving down a dirt road when our matatu gets stuck in the mud and suddenly we are faced with a mile walk... with a blind girl who can't maneuver her way across the uneven roads now carried on my brother's back.
We might have someone ill... or stop to pray for a widowed mother... or take a random trip to a new village where none of us has ever been before, simply because someone we trust asked us to go.
Mission trips aren't predictable. When the schedule suddenly changes, I see two kinds of people on my team. One has accepted the reality of being in another country with a totally different culture (that does not value timeliness in the same way that ours does). When things change, they laugh and see the joy in the spontaneity. The other type of person struggles desperately to maintain the control they thought they had back in the United States. When things change, stress tightens their faces and widens their eyes. Tensely, they examine and re-examine what was changed instead of enjoying what is new and unexpected.
Every year I tell my team to be willing to embrace change or else the third world will be a truly stressful experience.
When I am on the international mission field, my perspective on time and schedules change. Our car breaks down? I laugh and prepare for a hike. We pick up three people to fit in an already over-crowded vehicle? This is Africa. We visit five schools instead of three? The more the merrier.
But in Texas, when my schedule changes very radically, my heart can seize in my chest. The other day, I became lost on the way to visit a new church in a new city where I'll be moving soon. We ended up fifteen minutes late and I hated that. My blood pressure rose, my pulse raced, and my hands shook with nerves as we had to walk into a new building and feel curious eyes on us as we stepped into the building a few minutes after the songs began.
See, as much as I tell my summer teams to focus on the Lord's plans instead of their own plans, I like my control too.
I want my time to be the Lord's time. If I don't allow him to make changes in my carefully organized day-to-day, then I am not leaving room for him to work in my life.
Recently a single mom contacted me and told me how overwhelmed she was feeling. With three kids under the age of four, she was running on almost no sleep and she felt like she couldn't parent in the state she was in. It was a work night for me. The control part of me screamed, "They are her kids, you have work, you need to pack to go to Kenya, you have your own plans," but the Spirit in me whispered, "You have the ability to take some of her hurt and stress and fears. What's holding you back?" That night, I kept the youngest children to give this single mama a break. With two babies crawling around my living room floor, my week looked drastically different than how I had planned on Sunday night. But it was beautiful.
When I let the Lord take control of my schedule, my life is more joyful, more selfless, and more purposeful than what I ever could plan on my own.