By Caitlin Stout
Two weeks ago I was sitting in the doctor’s office, shaking and barely controlling my rapid and uneven breaths. I was reading all the diagrams on the walls to try and keep my anxious mind distracted from what was about to happen. A nurse walked into the room, took one look at me and said in a not-so-reassuring voice, “Oh honey…you need to lie down. I don’t want you to pass out. I’ll get you some juice.”
Wow, I thought. I must look as terrible as I feel.
I was about to face my biggest, most pathetic, most deep-seated phobia: Needles. I was getting the vaccines that were required in order for me to go on the Study Tour to Ethiopia. It was the first huge (over-dramatic) step outside of my comfort zone in a summer full of discomfort.
You see, friends, I felt called to apply for the 2013 Study Tour long before I knew all the little details. Little details such as where I would be going, when I would be going, how much it would cost, or whom I would be going with. This made me a tad…uncomfortable.
Let me be clear, I mean that in the best possible way. It’s not like I was reluctant to go. Quite the opposite. I have been begging God for an adventurous life ever since middle school, when He woke me up to the needs of others. That was when I realized that there were people to serve and places to explore outside of my little world. Along with my new desire for justice came a desire for adventure and simplicity. I didn’t just want to love my neighbor by sending them a check every month. I wanted to know my neighbor and stand with them on equal ground.
Along with my desire for adventure came a fascination with the idea of a pilgrimage, or a journey to a sacred place. Pilgrim became such a beautiful word to me, one that summed up everything I wanted to be. Humble. Adventurous. Unattached to worldly possessions. Still, when I think about the concept, I have this ridiculous and romanticized image of myself wandering through the mountains with a rustic walking stick and bare feet. In my heart I am a poor wayfaring stranger, like some sort of modern-day John the Baptist or Bilbo Baggins.
The thing is, I’m also a middle-class high school student living in the suburbs. Kind of hard to be a wayfarer when you have class in the morning and no car.
However, for some reason it now seems that the Lord and the 30 Hour Famine Team both see fit to send me on the adventure I’ve been waiting for. I’m beginning my own unexpected journey, a pilgrimage, if you will, to Ethiopia.
But this won’t be a romanticized image. The experience might not conform to any preconceived ideas I have. It will be stretching, exhausting, and so far out of my comfort zone. About 7,330 miles outside of my comfort zone, actually. The rest of the team and I will see pain and poverty up close and unfiltered. I’m getting what I wanted, but sometimes I worry that I’m not ready for it. Is it possible to be?
I have had doubts and anxiety about what this summer holds, but they are overshadowed by joy and eager anticipation. I have accepted and embraced the fact that, when I prayed for adventure, comfort was never part of the deal. This trip could be uncomfortable, but so are all beautiful, heart-breaking, eye-opening, and life-changing events. In addition to the poverty and pain, we will see God’s work among the poverty and the pain. We will see hope and redemption. We will have the chance to serve and be served, to love and learn. We will have the privilege of looking our brothers and sisters in the eyes and seeing Jesus, and hopefully reflecting that same image back at them.
If a pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place, then I can’t think of a better word for the Study Tour. I am confident that this pilgrimage will be worth the discomfort. I think it will even be worth getting poked with needles.