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Our flight from Indianapolis to Nairobi consisted largely of a 12-hour flight from Toronto to Ethiopia. Half a day of an uninterrupted stream of inflight movies, airline food and crying children.
I vividly remember anxiously boarding our plane, my first 747. Most, if not all, of my flight experience had been aboard cramped planes for only a few hours at a time, so naturally the questions I asked the more veteran travelers of our group were not in short supply.
However, my eventual silence came with the visual confirmation of individual TV screens on the headrests. I elbowed my way to my seat, fought my carryon into the overhead compartment and sat down. A few frustrated patrons and one well rehearsed safety orientation later and we were in the air.
You know you have watched too many movies when your headphones begin to chafe your ears, although I can’t say that it really slowed me down. I honestly don’t really remember everything I watched, but there was one movie in particular that left me thinking.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is an enchanting movie about an average Joe who realizes that he need not be so average. It really is worth watching so I won’t go as far as to spoil it, but I will say that it is a movie that leaves its viewers dreaming.
I for one found myself lost in adventure.
Usually you watch a movie like this from your living room couch or your local movie theater, and you think to yourself, “Hmm, tomorrow I’m gonna be different.” But tomorrow comes and you forget to be different, and by the time you remember, it’s too far-gone and by then the notion of adventure seems somehow easier to criticize.
I, however, was not on my living room couch. I was on a plane bound for Africa. Instead of admiration for Walter’s adventures I felt a sense of camaraderie, for surely I was bound for just such adventures of my own.
Before I knew it my feet were in Nairobi and I was ready (well, actually I was terrified, but I was willing to overcome). My first week was like something out of a book. I met amazing missionaries and heard their stories, I walked through Kibera Slum, I rode public transportation, bought food from street vendors, preached an impromptu sermon, you name it.
So by the time it came to start my two-week stint at Hope Academy in Kibera, I was ready to go. However, a funny thing happens when a new and exciting thing becomes part of your routine: it normalizes.
Pretty soon my twenty minute walk in and out of the slum everyday didn’t astound me, the children didn’t get nearly as excited about my presence in their classrooms and the people were not so intimidating.
Initially I was frustrated, was my adventure really slipping away so quickly? The truth of the matter was that I was starting to acclimate. I wasn’t a tourist anymore, and only then did I start to see the beauty of my surroundings.
I would spend hours a day talking to Pastor Fred, the director of Hope Academy, and a man that all would be lucky to meet. I was able to teach in the classrooms, and I spent days sitting in the teachers’ building and just listening to anyone who had a story to tell. Quickly, the false nature of this seemingly desperate situation began to fade away and I started to see the truth and the beauty of the community that had been established here.
We get such tainted views of the impoverished places of the world through the media. We are led to believe that these people are helpless, starving, dying, and all around incapable of life. I won’t claim that things are comfortable here, but in many ways these people live more than we do.
They are heavily invested in each other, and take hours out of their day to just sit and talk over chai, always making sure that those in their lives are accounted for. There is no lack of problems here, but the same can be said for America. We just happen to be better at hiding ours.
It seems odd to me now sitting here writing this, and wondering what happened to my “Walter Mittyish” adventure. Like most things in life, God took my expectations and turned them upside down.
Rather than being empowered, I have been humbled; rather than helping people, I have learned from them; rather than finding myself, I have completely lost myself to the identity of Christ. I don’t know what the rest of this trip will look like. I expect there are still adventures to come, and lessons to be learned along the way.
Now it’s just a matter of waiting to see how those too will be upended and reimagined into something bigger than myself.
About the Author: Clayton is a WND intern in Kenya. He just graduated from Lee University in Tennessee where he majored in digital media. He doesn’t know what he’s doing next, but it’s going to be awesome. He also appreciates good stories by big fireplaces.