I knew that the trip would change me. I just didn’t know how profoundly.
When asked whether I would be willing to travel to Mali in West Africa to help with a medical mission, I jumped at the chance.
I’m not really the outdoor type, but even told the conditions were fairly primitive — no running water or flushable toilets, spotty electricity — I didn’t bat an eye. It turns out that, without realizing it, I had been waiting for an opportunity like this for years.
As Augustine of Hippo said, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” I believe this is true, not just as a onetime act of being “saved” but as a dynamic, lifelong urging.
The seed of the kingdom is within us, growing as we reach outside ourselves, building community with others.
The trip was wonderful, emotional, terrifying and joyous all at once. And as I begin planning my seventh trip to Africa, all the same emotions arise again.
I could write a thousand columns about the people, places and experiences. My world is incredibly richer due to the friendships I have made on these trips.
Life is about transformation, changing ourselves. It is about opening our hearts to the other, finding a different reference point outside our own experience. There must be a give-and-take, an exchange of ideas and opinions.
For most of us, this is not easy. We default to stability, routine and familiarity. These qualities are important, but transformation doesn’t occur out of stasis. We grow only when we allow events and people to change us. We progress beyond ourselves toward a greater capacity for love, freedom and enlightenment.
Proverbs 12:20 says, “Joy fills hearts that are planning peace.” It is a beautiful truth.
When I have a spiritual conversation with someone at work, or take clean showers at Cherith Brook Catholic Worker house, or write a devotional for church, or thank the local farmer at the market who grew my peaches, my heart fills with joy.
When I am exhausted from 12 hours of surgery in difficult conditions in Uganda, my heart is still filled with joy. I am planning peace. Planning peace by planting peace. The peace that is spread by sharing our talents, energy and lives with others builds us up rather than diminishes us.
We are all intimately woven in a mystical web of community. Everything we do, every decision we make, influences countless others. This is palpable when volunteering. It is also present in our everyday lives if we look for it and make a practice of planning peace.
Not everyone will have the opportunity to go on a medical mission to Africa, but everyone can do some small kindness for another.
This is how we fill our hearts with joy and make the world that much more peaceful.
Brandon Pomeroy, one of The Star’s 13 Faith Walkers, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.