Taking my children on mission trips is something I’ve dreamed of for quite some time. Elliott and I spent months planning, fundraising and dreaming about what his first experience might be like. I’ve mentioned before that I could educate him but not truly prepare him for what he would see, hear and… smell. He handled the airplane and bus travel like a champ. He hauled the luggage full of donations and kept track of his boarding pass in his traveler’s wallet around his neck. He was really serious about taking care of his things.
After what seemed like a lifetime of travel we pulled into Canaan Children’s Home (by the way, the Canaan kids need sponsorships so feel free to click that link to learn more!). I watched as he leaned out the window taking everything in and seeing his new friends for the first time. Then I watched as the kids realized we had an American kiddo on the bus. Their sweet faces lit up as they too saw their new friend for the first time. The bus stopped and we filed out of the bus greeted with the usual hugs and, you-are-welcomes and hand-holding. It’s always good to see the kids, and observe their faces when the recognize that you’ve kept your promise and come back. However, Elliott received much more than the typical hugs and hand-holding. The kids lifted him up and he kinda crowd-surfed into the grassy area nearby where the kids made an effort to get to know him. I kept watching and observing, wondering when and if his personal space quota would be exceeded but he was just as thrilled to be close to them, to get to know them. Moments later he ran off, hand in hand with some of the boys to retrieve a football and begin what would be a long week of play.
I didn’t take Elliott to Uganda to show him all he had to be thankful for at home. To make him appreciate his toys or his comfortable room. I took him to Uganda to show him that friendships cross cultural boundaries, that Jesus is the same for all of us and that ocean expanses don’t separate us from our responsibility to care for and love each other. This is something he began to understand in those first moments.
He continued to work hard the rest of the week. He carried every heavy thing he could get his hands on. I watched him grow under the influence of some of the finest college students I’ve ever met. He always sat with the guys and I would overhear the best things being shared. I told them this, and I’ll say it again, I could not have picked a better group of people to invest in my son’s young life. I believe that their impact on him will be something he remembers for a lifetime. He still talks about each of them by name and wonders what they are doing back at school.
When I reflect upon the week I can’t help but smile as I remember the endless arm-wrestling matches, football in the village, purchasing and installing mosquito nets, more football, soccer and the day we celebrated Christmas at Canaan’s. The kids had just finished sharing some songs and dances with us and Pastor Isaac invited the team to share a little bit. So we danced and sang a little. Then I asked the team to gather the Christmas items for the kids. We had also arranged for eggs, a special treat. I watched as Elliott rounded the corner with the team and began to hand out the Christmas gifts. As he handed them to his friends he shared in the joy, saying, “that’s so cool!” “you have a really awesome toy in your pack” and other fun little exclamations you would expect when kids are playing and checking out new toys. Just genuine love and happiness for his friends. After everything was passed out Elliott walked over and whispered in my ear “Mom, they really like everything, they are really happy.” Then he grinned and ran off to play with his buddies. Gifts, by the way, are a hard thing. They have to be reserved and given out wisely. We typically give donations to the staff so that they can hand them out in an appropriate way. We were careful to make this something we were doing together. Celebrating Jesus birthday and enjoying a special day together. It was pretty perfect. Afterwards the little church area became a place for loud music and dancing with the kids. We danced until bedtime.
Elliott had a hard time coming home. He mentions Uganda daily. He misses his friends. He would go back today if we could. He would move there if we could. Everything about his experience moved him to love Uganda and care about his friends there deeply. In fact, he is continuing to raise funds for moisquito nets through Nickels for Nets. He saw, first hand, that kids can be a part of change. If you are considering taking your kids on a mission trip go for it! Stock up that mama bag with probiotics, medicine and snacks and you’ll be set. God has big things in store for the littlest people.
(As always, pictures speak louder than words so I’ve loaded quite a few in the gallery above!)