one week ago at this time, i was going on 40 hours without sleep.  we had survived a 25 hour ordeal (the attempt to get home) and i was ready for bed (but i was not the only one who basically got back to kansas city at about 430 in the morning and had to go straight to work). 

but the fact that it has taken me a week to sit down and write this, what i expect will be the final post of our 2011 mission trip to nicaragua, i think speaks to how wrapped up we get in our everyday lives here, in what’s “important,” and how quickly we forget where we just were and what we were just doing. 

i first noticed it standing in the shower (sorry about the visual), trying to feel clean after 25 hours of travel and a full work day.  it hit me that i was already slipping back into the routine.  warm water for a shower, endless hot water to shave (i never even thought to ask juan or silvio if they shave with cold water, boil it or something else.  i guess i just assumed….).  just hours before, i was standing with the rest of the team among the poorest of the poor (even the pastor in matasano,the village we served last year — no beverly hills mind you — described mesa sur as “really poor”), completely aware of the surroundings (i thought).  completely aware that most everyone we saw had been treated for parasites from contaminated water.  completely aware of how lucky we are. it seems a distant memory now.

friday was the final clinic day.  the village of el balsamo walked 2-3 miles to get to us and we were able to see a couple dozen patients before noon. then the meeting with the community leaders to talk about particular cases and to arrange for follow-up.  and finally a thank you and good-bye ceremony.  it was quite moving, touching and every now and then, surprising. 

when the pastor from el balsamo said he would lead us in prayer, we all bowed our heads and he began to pray aloud.  and then, a great swell arose from the community members as each individual began to pray aloud as well, each one louder than the next and none in sync with another; everyone offered his/her own prayer to god at once.  waves of thanks, pleas, suffering and grace buffeted those of us assembled there.  they rolled over and through each and every one of us.  they burst out the open end of the shelter where we had gathered and into the mountains beyond. 

reaction:  surprise. then confusion. bizarre. moving. and finally oddly comforting.  a crescendo from the pastor signaled that the prayer was ending. amen. hugs, tears, handshakes. and then we left mesa sur, it seemed, as quickly as we had come. 

the week was suddenly a blur.

on more than one occasion i have wondered what the members of a community think when this group of strangers rolls into town, works in one of their homes or clinics, takes a break to eat at midday (always with village children looking on) and then leaves. and leaves for good on that final day.  how long does the memory of our presence linger (for them and for us)?  how long until the anticipation of the daily clinic spectacle subsides (for them and for us)?  how long until “reality” sets in again and will our humble, hopeful contributions prove a lasting benefit (for them and for us)?  does life return to normal or have we (and by we, i mean the community and our team together) left a lasting mark that each of us will notice from here on?

i think we know what the answer is for us.  i think we hope to know what the answer will be in mesa sur and siares.

leaving is difficult i think.  and i think the numerous team members who have been there many, many more times than i would probably agree.  sometimes it’s because you have the feeling (really close to the surface) that you can do more.  sometimes it’s because i think you can quickly grow accustomed to a more simple existence.  and sometimes (i’ve heard others say this) it’s because there’s something about the country and the people we work with. 

the transition home was eased again this year by an evening and a morning at selva negra — a coffee and cacao plantation with a resort and cloud forest. we ate well.  we hiked.  we heard howler monkeys.  we toured the plantation (where it seems absolutely everything the grow, produce, fix, harvest or otherwise deal with on a daily basis gets turned into compost. 7 million pounds of compost a year.  no wonder the coffee is so strong).

manawa.  closing worship.  reflection.  the long, strange trip home.

i received an email this week from doug, our doctor.  he told of returning to his church in north carolina and being asked about his medical work…and then about being dashing and debonair (mission accomplished).  to all of you in n.c. who joke with him or give him a hard time about being “dashing” (his word, not ours), thank you for sharing him with us. his new family in kansas city misses him.  we look forward to seeing him again. 

thanks doc. see you soon.

on behalf of carla, stephanie, lance, carty, mary linda, sue, sue (yes, sue, sue) doug, cindy, cindy (uh-huh), frank, bart, sandy, bruce, bill, jamie, jeff, kevin, and nancy, thanks for sharing this journey with us.  thanks for your thoughts, prayers and all of your support.  and if you’d like to know how a mission trip can change a life, just ask. i guarantee each of us will have a different answer.