For those of you who are regular readers of my column you may be wondering why I didn't have one in last Friday's paper. I think I have a pretty good excuse – I was about 5,000 miles away in the Sedhiou region of Senegal, West Africa. You see, I was one of those nine local residents that went on the medical mission trip with the Open Doors Foundation of Neosho. So, I'm pretty sure that you will forgive me for not having a column that week.
We got back home on Tuesday of this week and I was doing pretty good with regards to jet lag, or at least I thought I was, until about midday on Wednesday and then it hit. I'm not sure it was the lack of sleep and the jet lag or some of the many pills that you have to take to protect yourself from various maladies that we normally don't encounter. In any event, I'm feeling much better now and trying to get my thoughts straight about all that happened on the trip.
We left the Springfield airport at 6 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 10, and arrived in Dakar, Senegal at 6 a.m. on Friday. Senegal is six hours ahead of us on time but that still meant that we had traveled for 18 hours just to get to the capital city. From there we traveled via van for about eight hours to Kaolack, a city of 172,000, where we spent the night before going on to the Sedhiou area. The clinic was held in the Casamance region which is next to Guinea Bissau.
After several days of clinic we loaded back up and made the trip back home and as I said, got back just this last Tuesday, Jan. 22. And now I'm trying to get back in the swing of things and catch up on two weeks worth of being gone. But, I'm also trying to get my head around all the things that I saw and witnessed in those days.
I truly don't believe that anyone can go on a mission trip and not come back a changed person – especially to a country with a culture that is so drastically different from ours. I think that every American should have the kind of experience that I did. I won't even begin to speak for anyone else that went on the trip but, from my perspective, I know that I will never be the same and will look at life in a whole different way than I did just two weeks ago.
The clinic was a huge success as our medical and dental professionals treated over 600 people in just five days. In addition to the American team, we had over 20 African nationals that participated and everyone was busy from start to finish every day. You can't imagine just how much of an impact the clinic had on the people of the Casamance region. We take so much for granted in this country and you have no clue as to just how much we have until you go where those things are not readily available.
Page 2 of 2 - Beyond the medical aspect of the mission, we were also there to minister to the people on a spiritual basis. Thanks to our African and American evangelism team working together, in just five days we saw 106 people accept Christ as their savior and become Christians. You can't imagine how big this is until you realize that about 97 percent of the country is Muslim and anyone who becomes a Christian faces the possibility of severe persecution and isolation. And, in spite of this, over 100 people made that decision. That is the real story of the trip and why it was so successful.
I'm still trying to process a lot of what I experienced but I think that the single most important lesson that I learned was that people are people the world over. We might speak different languages and have different ways of living but as human beings we share so many of the same values. I have heard it said that the more things change the more they stay the same and that is 100 percent true.
People everywhere want to be loved and needed. They value family and friends and want to feel like their opinion matters. They want safety and security and their physical needs met. These things are universal the world over and when we cut through all the meaningless things that get in our way such as material possessions and petty jealousies and prejudices, then we can relate to anyone anywhere.
I can't believe how much I bonded with people from a culture so different than mine but I did and I know that for the rest of my life my thoughts will never be far from my friends in Africa. I don't know if I will ever have the opportunity to return but even if I don't, I know that my friends will always be with me in my heart and in my thoughts.
Kevin Wilson writes a weekly column for the Daily News.