Not to brag, but one of our interns wrote in the final evaluation form: "this was the best experience of my life."
Not to brag, because this being a great internship is not about it being well-organised, fun, adventurous, insta-worthy. The things that our summer interns reflected upon this weekend as they left were much more the hard ones. They were already en route when Uganda announced a lock-down, closing schools again and prohibiting movement between districts or even in a private car at all. COVID impacted us as it has the whole world; so this internship was not easy, but worth it. As they head back to university, and we head back to normal days, here is really why even a couple of months of cross-cultural learning and service can disrupt life. In a good way. And I am going to frame them around a talk I heard by Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy, listen to a summary of the four points from him here. )
Seek proximity. Until you remove yourself from the familiar and enter fully into a place that is unknown to you, until you live day in and out surrounded by some version of the same challenges that the majority world faces, it is quite difficult to authentically understand people, relate. So the pre-requisite is proximity. But proximity opens a door that you then can’t easily shut. Proximity means grappling with the unfair balances of the world—why do the kids living a stone’s throw from your door say they are hungry, seem so thirsty for attention, wear clothes that need repair, have no school or books, have to hustle for everything? Proximity, moves these questions from the theoretical to the urgent. Proximity is a prerequisite to human connection, and our interns this summer commented over and over that the experience shifted their focus from task to relationship.
Change the Narrative. Being proximal is the first step to seeing that the stories we thought were true might have nuance, might have plots that are different than we thought. When our interns helped in the NICU, and encountered young women their age with premature babies who were on the verge of death, they wanted to know these people and hear about their lives. Shoulder to shoulder one learns that a choice between pregnancy and university does not necessarily exist for most teens. That the cultural assurance in the wealthiest countries that hard work assures an easy life does not ring true when watching an old woman hoe potatoes. . . or when the young teachers who are helping with the COVID-Protocol-limited youth camps are actually available because schools are shut down, salaries cut off. A richer narrative of nuance pushes us to deeper Gospel analogies, perhaps giving the covenant and community sharper focus than courtrooms and law.
Accept discomfort. Our interns got tired. Very tired. They hiked hours to help with a remote water project. They wore suffocating masks in a humid crowded hospital room. They had an outdoor, separate toilet and cold shower. They walked to a lively outdoor market to obtain ingredients to cook for themselves and share with others, and had to negotiate as a group on clean up and varying opinions on schedules and boundaries. They were constantly in situations where they couldn’t understand the language, and they plodded along with rudimentary lessons in dialogue. They were constantly presented with needs they could not meet, problems they could not solve. They spent a day in a refugee camp with a very disorganised nutrition screening for hundreds of kids, and another loading trucks with heavy sacks of food and bouncing through the mud to remote corners of the district. They poured themselves daily into kids, games, reading, sports, teaching for both team and neighbours. And they talked about the weight of complexity—how helping can hurt, how giving can be at times good and at times enabling, how the world looks less simple.
Hold onto hope. A two-month summer is a relatively short arc of story and experience. But they were part of a multi-decade arc in Bundibugyo, part of a multi-millennia arc of God’s work to restore the world. As they left they reflected on the signs of hope: following up patients discharged from the nutrition program and finding them healthy, hearing testimony from graduates of Christ School who came to faith and have meaningful work and family now, leading kids through summer camp programs that built their skills and connected them to God. They studied the Gospel-centered life together and reflected on their own faith. Several came through the summer feeling a sense of confirmation that this life, this work, this community, shone with the kind of meaning and potential for good that they wanted to be part of.
Ann did make the experience well-organised, and our team did make it fun. There were pizza nights and game nights, hikes to waterfalls and mornings with cinnamon rolls and coffee. And we did end with an insta-worthy adventure, trekking chimpanzees in Kibale National Park. Because our model is Jesus, who came to be with us, who patiently used parables and miracles to challenge and change the narrative, who not only preached sacrifice but lived it on the cross, and who ended with resurrection and hope. And along the way, there were beach fish fries and evenings of feasting, weddings and mountaintops. Living with Jesus disrupts the neat life-plans then, and now.
If you’re ready to risk it, applications open in September for summer 2022.