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“We love you, too. Come back soon.”

That parting phrase from Robert, the COO of the Bududa Learning Center, slipped past me at first. He’d caught a ride with us to Mbale, so when he hopped out I stuck my arm out the window and said “We love you, Robert!” His reply, accompanied by a smile and the Bududa Handshake (ask one of us to show you) didn’t seem like much at the time, but it demonstrates the surprising depth of our time Bududa.

There have been just three trips to Bududa, Uganda. The first was an exploratory trip, meant to feel out possibilities for shared objectives. The second was this past February, and we’re on the latest. In all, it’s about 18 months elapsed and 14 days together.

Generally speaking, this place is difficult. It’s difficult to get to, it’s difficult to live in, and honestly, it’s difficult to be people accustomed to western comforts spending time there. But we’re there, with people we don’t really know all that well, saying we love each other and figuring out how to lead better lives together.

One of the things I struggle with is that inevitably, my interest will move elsewhere. I’ll be back in our world, one that’s painfully agreeable, where the stresses and worries aren’t about collecting potable water or having enough money for my child to receive a primary education. Bududa will still be there, and the Bududa Learning Center will continue doing the work of orphan support, vocational education, and equipping women with the tools for business success. That’s why there are partnerships, I suppose. Most of us can’t and shouldn’t be constantly present, however helpful we may think we’re being.

The late, wonderful Anthony Bourdain puts it best:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart, and that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your conciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind” – Anthony Bourdain

I think we’re leaving something good behind, and selfishly, I think we’re taking something good with us.

Honestly, we’re all a little punchy. Currently, we’re flying over coastal Iran, watching oil burn-off create strangely beautiful, orange-lit clouds of smoke. We’re 20 hours into making our way home, and it’s only the start of our second flight. We’re ready to be back. Ready to see kids and pets and sleep in our own beds. I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb to say we’re changed people, too. We can’t not be.

It’s easy to slip into a sort of “mission work self-rightousness,” but it’s helpful to remember that this is bigger than any one member of a particular global outreach team. Our partners and Myers Park Pres will continue, despite what we do or where we go. Zooming out even more, the holy blend of cross-cultural ministry, personal connections, and mutual encouragement continues through countless and varied pairings of religious communities and non-profits around the world.

Hopefully, they’re just as human and just as real as this has been.

Also we saw a leopard, so there’s that.