Uganda 2019: “I’m a different man now.” (Devin Geelhoed)

“I’m a different man now.”

I uttered these words to Dennis, a coordinator of M2H partner Humane Africa Mission (hereafter referred to as HAM). I said it as a joke while I exited the mobile surgical unit operating room. Dr. Glenn (or Grandpa as I know him) overheard and said I better put that in my reflection piece. And so here it is.

But as I sit on it, the more those words actually do hold true for this my first trip to Africa. Africa, you might say? Did you see Lions? Elephants? Giraffes? Hippos? Yes, yes we did see all of that and more, which was a surreal, amazing experience.

However, there is more to Africa than these exotic animals. It is the people who make these countries unique—and it’s not just because they drive on the left side of the road. The kindness and welcome shown to me from these people is unparalleled by anyone in my memory. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by the phrase, “you are welcome,” to some effect. These people had no reason to welcome a foreigner into their country, especially if he had no medical experience to offer like the others whom he traveled with, and yet they welcomed me with such love to make me feel at home in their own homes. This simply does not happen in the United States. There, people actually have reason to welcome me or anyone else who comes to their door, but many do not do so still. 

What these countries may lack in the economy compared to the USA, they make up in heart and soul. A particular example of this that I want to share occurred when we arrived in Lira, Uganda, and met the HAM team. At night, Felix (the leader of HAM) invited Jordan, Glenn, and I to his home for dinner. Through shared food we bonded with each other, telling stories and laughing, feeling at home with each other.

At one point in the dinner, Felix’s son Dan had noticed that I had a small cough, and he fixed me a cocktail of honey and lemon that made my throat feel oh-so-much better. These people really cared about me, even having known me for only about twenty-four hours, because that is the way they live. We can learn from this. We can welcome and love everyone we meet, for that is the work we were made for. Speaking of work, now I’ll talk about the mission itself! 

While I only had about 60 hours total at the mission site, it was a deeply moving experience. To see humans who had suffered without care for so long receive it, free of charge, is a transformational experience. To watch people go into the operating room (although I am not exactly interested in the medical field, I had the opportunity to observe SEVEN operations) and come out healed is a jolt to one’s reality. The experience conveys to you just how much some people need help in this world, and how their inability to receive it distorts their world and causes unnecessary suffering. To be able to fix that, to even be able to watch that, as I did, is a wonderful thing.

The patients walked into the OR were changed outwardly once they walked out an hour or so later, but I was changed inwardly after I walked out of that box on the back of a truck. “I am a different man now.” The quote, originally intended as a joke, now rings true for me from the moment I exited the mission site up to now, as I sit in my bed at a hotel, ready to catch a string of flights back to San Antonio over the course of the day tomorrow. This trip was as it was advertised by both my grandfather and my father as well, who had been on such trips before, “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”While I do hope to be back here again, if for some reason those plans are never made, this trip changed me for the better. It inspired me to love, to welcome, and to care for others around the world, no matter one’s opinions or one’s outward appearance. And most of all it inspired me to make a lasting impact on this ugly, angry, hate-filled, huge, but nonetheless beautiful world that we were blessed with.

It is a gift to be given the opportunity to spark change in others. But it is a product of perseverance and tenacity that make it happen, two qualities that we all own in the status of simply being alive. It is up to us to use them, and this trip has inspired me to do exactly that. Thank you to M2H, HAM, and especially Grandpa Glenn for making this trip a reality, as it will certainly impact my life for years to come.

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