A rousing success.

30 May 2017

It was a beautiful thing to go back to Guinea over these last few days.  

Photo courtesy of Tim Drysdale

We built this playground four and a half years ago, as our Gateway Field Service project (entry training for long-term Mercy Ships volunteers). 

It’s not surprising it's disintegrating; in fact, it’s exactly what I was expecting to see.  But it does cause me to think and to wonder.

Was it ever used as a playground?  Kids here aren’t accustomed to playgrounds. It was in an open area usually baking in the African sun or drenched by the African rains; was it a place of joy, laughter, imagination, freedom? Or was it abandoned shortly after the last photo was taken and the team of foreigners left? Was there questions of what is that thing, anyway? Did we actually meet a need or did we just do something that made for good pictures and kept us busy for two weeks?

These are the questions I ask about many short term missions trips; I think there is a place for them, but I also think we need to be realistic about their supposed impact. I don’t think anyone in our group expected it to have a huge impact; we all, of course, were just two weeks from joining the ship we had all dreamed about and looked forward to for months and years, and I think we were realistically just doing something with our two weeks in country required practicum before getting to the real service, the ship.  It’s a fond memory for me, one of team building and adventure and community and new experiences for many, and I don’t in any way believe the time was wasted.  But it does cause me to wonder if it really was the best use of us, if we could have made a real impact using those two weeks in a different way.

It’s not worth dwelling on, here and now.  It’s worth considering for the future, for short term missions, for projects like this, for bringing playgrounds to kids who don’t play on playgrounds, or who won’t go near the grass for fear of snakes and scorpions, or whose play time is hindered by the scorching sun or soaking rain.  Maybe I’m a pessimist; I hope I’m more of a realist, who wants to learn from experiences such as these; I was created to make a difference, and I want the work of my hands, regardless of time or place or team, to be purposeful, to have meaning, a lasting impact.  

So while I look at the work of our hands disintegrating before me, I recognize and appreciate the lasting impact of this project was not the structure but rather the joy and excitement and sweat and teamwork that went into it; I will always remember fondly the group of people that did this together and the feeling of accomplishment we felt in handing it over to the preschool director.  If our goal was to come together as a team and create something, it was a rousing success.  

Thank you, gateway family, for the love poured out, for the relationships forged through long days in the hot sun, for the collective heart longing to impact the world in some way or another.  That in itself is inspiring and hopeful.  May the impact be more than a structure, some wood and paint that cannot withstand the elements; may it be deep in that place that will not ever be questioned or extinguished, more than we can ask or imagine. 

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