A strange, not altogether unpleasant feeling, one quite familiar and quite un-doing. Love.
Love in our culture is often reduced to a Hollywood-ized romance between plastic people who seem to think that love is temporary, rather than enduring, that it is disposable, rather than permanent and victorious. The kind of love that I am talking about is the kind that creeps into your heart unsuspectingly, that sinks down lower and lower and suddenly emerges unwittingly. This kind of love has nothing to do with romance and everything to do with relationship.
This love that is creeping into my heart is a love for Uganda, for the people that I am meeting, knowing, and wishing could stay a part of my life for years to come. A love for the green hillsides of Rukingiri, for the spontaneous friendship sparked by a smile, for milk tea, black tea and fresh mangoes. For the eucalyptus forests, Russian spies, and Peter Gabriel songs that totally make me want to laugh and cry and sing and dance at the same time.
This love is also doing something unusual- it is enticing me to put down roots and in the process, reminding me of the roots that I have, have lost, and have refrained from making for fear of them being uprooted. This love, like a tiny seed planted in my somewhat hardened heart, reminds me of the brevity of life, and the beauty of vulnerability.
I am a tree planted by streams of living water, my roots going down so deep, circumnavigating the barrenness of the soil and reaching life life life. What I am learning here is that it is better to feel that ache of love than to remain untouched by it- and yet, it is easier to hold our roots tightly unto ourselves, never daring to let them touch the ground and sink in. Love is messy, love is risky. Love crosses borders
Jean Vanier once said something to the effect of, “If you love community, you will destroy community. If you love people, you will build community.” I pondered that for a long time, wondering what this meant in my own life. During a time not long ago when I was really considering the meaning of international engagement, those words came back to me in another form; “If you love international engagement, you will destroy international engagement… if you love people, your love will cross borders.”
I think that sometimes the idea of ‘international engagement’ can seem glamorous. But what does it really mean? It means spending time with people who are different than you in many ways, who speak a different language, eat different food, and yet….are the same. It means stepping into the challenges faced by a people not your own, and being invited into their beauty. It means stepping out of your own comfort zone and trying to learn to listen.
It also means being accepted despite the differences, being welcomed implicitly without needing to prove your worth, and encountering treasures hidden in obscurity.
International Engagement is steadily being reduced to one word. Love.