Last month I had the privilege of going on a medical mission to Africa. Missionary work was something I have always wanted to do, especially as a nurse. It was a bucket list opportunity. I was not however expecting the impact it had on me. Let me share with you my story.
I am not exactly sure why but I have always had an affinity for Africa. I’d never been there, leading up to this medical mission to Africa, but the draw was very real.
I know I am not alone when it comes to this dreamlike fondness. People romanticize Africa – being on a safari, living with the animals, Jane Goodall #2, serving the poor, and being swarmed and loved by happy children.
Some of that turned out to be true but the reality of being in Africa, and working as a medical missionary, became so much more. My heart was completely cracked wide open, something I did not expect.
Old Church/New Church
When Doug and I lived in California, we were fortunate enough to be a part of a wonderful church that supported and nurtured our faith. We were broken down by religion over the years so finding a church where we felt loved meant the world to us. At this church, we felt like we could really study the Word without being pulled in by dogma and politics.
That said, when we moved to Cape Cod in 2020, one of my main concerns was finding a church where we could once again feel supported, grow in our faith, and be able to minister and reach out to people in our new community. I had heard the churches on the Cape were pretty conservative and traditional, and I knew I did not want to go in that direction.
Shortly after moving, and doing a bit of church shopping, we found Harbor Church. We were thrilled at how similar it was to our old church in California. As soon as we walked into the church we felt welcomed, and we saw friendly smiling faces everywhere.
Many people were serving and helping out, and Pastor Josh, the founding pastor, continued to show up with powerful, engaging, thoughtful messages week after week. Doug and I felt like we had found our new church community.
Medical Mission To Africa – The Setup
Over the past 2 years, Doug and I engrained ourselves more and more into this church community. Volunteering weekly on Sundays and helping out with many of the other activities the church organizes during the year.
Throughout this time I found myself thanking God often, for helping us find a church on Cape Cod. Harbor was not that old, only 4 years old when we first moved here.
I was already thankful for finding a church but when the medical mission to Africa trip was announced, I knew God was at hand. Doug already knew about my dream to do a medical mission trip to Africa, so when this trip was announced one Sunday for sign-ups, we looked at each other and smiled.
I probably was one of the first to sign up because I knew this was my chance. My bucket list opportunity. I couldn’t wait to get started, to learn about the trip, how I could help, what I needed to bring, who was going, etc., etc.
Preparation For Africa – Mind, Body, Soul
September 2022. We weren’t leaving until February 2023. I signed myself up and put down the deposit. No going back. It didn’t seem real until I started talking about it to other people. Then it started to sink in for me.
Leading up to leaving for the medical mission to Africa, we had group meetings every month to get to know each other and to prepare for what to expect.
We were given practical advice; don’t drink the water, wear light-colored clothing because of potential tsetse flies, bring mosquito repellent, sun-tan lotion, etc.
We played games to get to know one another. After all, we were going to be a spiritual family thousands of miles away for close to two weeks.
We also prayed that we would be of great service to the Tanzanian people, help those in need, and be a beacon of light, Christ-like in our service. Our “mission” was to spread the love of Christ to anyone and everyone who would listen.
We wanted to be sensitive to the culture, open and willing to share our story, and basically spread nothing but love. Our goal was to be of service. Never about us.
Leading up to this mission trip to Africa, I wrote in my prayer journal daily, and I asked God to open my mind and my heart. Help me walk into this trip with a “yes” attitude – always. Work hard, and turn the attention toward the people. A mission of sacrifice. Self-sacrifice.
Mission To Africa Trip – We’re Off!
February 6, 2023. The day had come to finally leave for Africa. To head out on our mission trip. It was going to be a long travel day. Twenty-four hours door to door. We didn’t leave until the evening, so my stomach was in knots the entire day, out of excitement and nerves all at the same time.
The plane ride was amazing. We were already starting out with memories of a lifetime. On the way to Tanzania, we saw the Northern Lights and the Swiss Alps. The plane ride may have been long but I didn’t care. I was too excited to be truly tired.
It was evening in Tanzania when we finally stepped off the plane onto African soil. The heat was very different than the thirty-degree weather we left back home in Boston. And the smell. How every place in the world has its own smell!
But our traveling was not done yet. We rode on a bus to the lodge, with all of our luggage packed on top of the bus, and a tarp was thrown over for good measure to protect our belongings from a potential downpour, which seems to be the norm in Africa.
Our Mission To Africa – Hit The Ground Running
The first day, after arriving the evening before, we hit the ground running. We drove to the medical clinic to meet the doctors for the first time, and we helped out lightly, sharing our expertise, and helping in any way we could.
Afterward, we walked across the street to see the church community and meet some of the children. My heart was already beginning to soften and we hadn’t even been in Africa for 24 hours yet.
From that first day at the clinic to our last day in Africa, we moved non-stop. All of us were eager to help, serve, and get to know the Tanzanian people.
Medical Mobile Clinic – A Humbling Experience
Leading up to this mission to Africa, our church back home raised money and donated medical supplies for the trip. Enough for us to be able to put together a mobile medical clinic. That way we could travel to remote villages to help those who otherwise would not have been able to get medical care. And all free of cost.
Going out to the Arusha district village was one of the highlights of my trip. We arose early because it took almost two hours to get there, and upon arriving the village people were already lining up to be seen.
Most were dressed in their Sunday finest, traveled great distances by foot, and waited in the hot sun for hours – some all day – without a single complaint. This humbled me, to say the least. I thought about how spoiled and ungrateful we’ve become in the states when we have to wait in traffic too long or wait in line for groceries.
We saw over 800 villagers in two days, all requiring medical attention, everything from a cold or urinary tract infection to broken limbs, skin infections, HIV, and TB.
On those two days, we finished late, exhausted, and tired but also with a sense of gratitude, calm, and peace that is difficult to explain. I don’t think I ever slept so soundly as I did after my time in the Arusha village.
School Ministry – An Entirely Different Kind Of Wonderful
Another part of our ministry on this mission trip to Africa was to travel to schools and teach the children about Christ. Minister to them in a fun way, similar to Vacation Bible School. A lot of the kids already knew about Christianity but many did not.
It was such an amazing and joyous experience on the days I traveled to the schools. The children were very excited to see us and laughed when we tried to speak to them in Swahili. Hearing some of the children speak English, and asking to take a selfie with me always brought a smile to my face.
Reaching the children at the schools would not have been the same if it weren’t for the local School Ministry Team. A group of young men, whom we met on the first day in Africa, and who stayed with us ministering to the children the entire time we were there.
These guys knew how to reach the children better than any of us ever could. They choreographed an awesome dance and acrobatic routine that energized and inspired the children at every school we went to (NOTE: I highly recommend you watch the YouTube video below to see their dance!).
They were warm and kind to all of us. It once again humbled me to see how much of their time and talent they shared with us, without a single complaint or bad attitude. These men traveled with us, all together on the same bus, singing and chatting with each and every one of us – young and old. I will never forget these boys. Yet another beautiful lifetime memory.
Safari And Meeting Jane Goodall – Icing On The Cake
And if ministering to the beautiful people of Tanzania was not enough, our entire group ended our trip by going on a 2-day safari. Day one was at the Tarangire National Park, and day two was at the Ngorongoro Crater.
We headed out very early in the morning to drive to the park. Bleary-eyed and sleepy after a long week. But we soon perked up when elephants, giraffes, baboons and so much more walked across our paths in front of our open jeep.
Safari Day 1
Tarangire National Park is a gorgeous area with the Tarangire River flowing through it providing the only water source for many migrating animals during the dry season. I particularly loved seeing the beautiful baobab trees, also known as upside-down trees.
Safari Day 2
Day two also did not disappoint. The Ngorongoro Crater is a sight to be seen. The crater or technically the “caldera”, was formed over 2 1/2 million years ago when a large volcano erupted and collapsed in on itself. The volcano was thought to be as large as Mount Kilimanjaro, which is nearby and considered one of the world’s highest mountains.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the animals in their natural environment. In the crater, there seemed to be a lot of babies and families, which was lovely to see. At one point, our jeep traversed to an area of the crater we dubbed “The Nursery” because there were so many mamas and their babies. 🙂
Meeting Jane Goodall
On the very last day of our mission to Africa, we went to the Cultural Heritage Museum in Arusha, which is a gorgeous museum that holds distinct paintings, carvings, gemstones, and more.
The museum has a reputation for having some of the finest Tanzanite stones in the world, as some of the best Tanzanites can be found in the Mererani hills of Tanzania.
God was on our side because just as we were leaving the museum to go back to our lodge, pack, and head to the airport, we met Jane Goodall (NOTE: Check out my YouTube video below to see her!).
Ms. Goodall was at the Cultural Heritage Museum to support the Jane Goodall Institute building a chimpanzee museum (The Jane Goodall Museum) right behind the Cultural Heritage Museum. What a thrill it was to meet such a legend. I don’t get star-struck too often but I can honestly say I was tongue-tied…ha!
Home With A New Perspective
I’ve been home for two weeks, and I am just beginning to process and put my experience into words. Before now, when people asked how my trip was, I’d say only one-word replies like, “unbelievable” or “amazing.” It was difficult to put my experience into words, as words simply escaped me.
This mission to Africa trip changed me. I believe whenever you travel, no matter where you go, it changes you. Traveling allows you to see the bigger picture, and you gain a different perspective on how people live in different parts of the world.
When my children were young, I traveled a lot with them, and as they grew I encouraged them to travel the world. Now all three of my children are older and have traveled to wonderful places all over the world. One of my daughters even calls Amsterdam her home.
Life-Changing Trip To Africa
Traveling to Africa was life-changing. The Tanzanian people were so very kind, and it humbled me to see how they lived.
The country is dusty, yet most were impeccably dressed, and their homes spotless. Many people live in one-room homes, and you could see the great care they took in maintaining them. In the morning, they’d sweep the dust out of their homes and entryway. Kids on their way to school would be dressed in perfectly white shirts and women in their beautiful khangas and kitenges.
It seemed most Tanzania people had very little, in terms of material things, yet appeared happy. I’m embarrassed to say I initially felt sorry for them, thinking how hard their life must be and how they must be missing so much.
As I spent more time with these beautiful people, my attitude changed. I didn’t feel sorry for them but rather gained tremendous respect and admiration. They have their priorities right. It made me look at myself and my own priorities, and how I value material possessions and have a strong attachment to stuff and things over people and community. Community and relationships are important in Tanzania, and the bonds between family, friends, and community are strong.
One day our jeep broke down. We were on the side of the road looking under the hood. Before we knew it, we had help because someone drove by, saw our driver, and called to see what the problem was. This driver called another friend with a tow truck, and within an hour the jeep was in the shop. This is a poignant example of relationships and community in Africa.
Moving Forward With A Change Of Heart
I am going to remember this mission to Africa trip for quite some time. Traveling, working as a missionary, and meeting the beautiful people of Tanzania cracked my heart wide open.
It made me realize that although traveling to a different country is fun, exciting, and an experience of a lifetime, what I could be doing, moving forward, is mission work right here in my hometown.
I/we don’t need to travel thousands of miles to be of service. People who live right next door may need our help.
Traveling to Africa makes me want to live with more gratitude. Not just for the things I have but mainly for the friendships and relationships in my life. I want to focus on my community, and forging relationships, much more than I did before I went on this trip.
I also want to pay more attention to the needs of my community, within my church family, yes, but also my town. Prior to going on this mission trip to Africa, I’d hear the needs through church announcements, etc., but it would go in one ear and out the other. Or I’d throw a little money at it and be on my way. That needs to change. I want to do better.
So yes, like I told my children long ago, traveling and seeing different parts of the world will change you. Africa and the Tanzanian people definitely changed me, and they will forever stay in my heart.
CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO: Medical Mission To Africa – A Big Heart Change
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