Sometimes lessons learned on a mission trip extend far beyond the trip itself. Emily Shafer, a senior journalism major from Lubbock, Texas, tells about one such lesson.
Emily was chosen to travel to Kampala, Uganda, as part of Wildcat Academics on Mission, a program that integrates mission and service with coursework. She accompanied ACU speech pathology students with the role of creating a documentary using the skills she was acquiring through her journalism degree.
“We worked with Hope Speaks, a nonprofit that specializes in speech communication disorders and swallowing therapy for children with disabilities in Uganda,” she said. “They do a lot of outreach work as well as home visits in the major city slums, where they have pop-up clinics for nearby families.”
While learning about the organization and a new culture, she also learned something important about herself.
By Emily Shafer
My love language has never been physical touch. I always considered touch taboo, in a way. I’m the friend that stands there awkwardly when you say hello. I’m the friend that you know to wave at instead of embrace. I’ve always been that friend. I have never shown love physically, nor have I received it in such a way. For years, I had felt this way, until one day I just didn’t. My whole world changed as a result.
This summer, I traveled to Kampala, Uganda, for a three-week mission-styled trip. I met a lot of new people and was welcomed in a lot of new ways, some of which definitely brought me out of my comfort zone. I realized the true power of touch only a couple of days into the trip. You see, we interacted with a lot of younger kids in the slum areas of the capital city; that’s where the therapy work was being conducted. Our arms, hands and legs always had a friend attached to them; even if we couldn’t see them, they were always there.
Once we caught on to their desire to hold us, or actually their desire to feel our skin, we began to offer our hands as a new way of saying, “hello.” We realized this was a universal greeting. No language barrier could compete with it. We were all one during this moment. This touch connected me with these new people in ways that words never could’ve. Touch is so incredibly powerful. It is globally associated with trust and love, and I experienced this first-hand.
I see physical touch in a completely different way now. I see it as a way to reach those that feel disconnected with our world. I see it as something more than I ever had before. Jesus shows us the power of physical touch in many ways throughout Scripture. In Matthew 8:3, it says that Jesus touched the leper – one that was shunned by the rest of society. In Uganda, people with disabilities are often seen as “unclean” or “cursed.”
We were told pretty early on that holding one’s child meant you found them beautiful, and that children with disabilities usually weren’t passed around like the other kids. Imagine the glee in the eyes of a mother after someone asks to hold her baby for the first time – that joy became our everything, as did touch. I took away many things from this experience, but the main thing was that touch is a universal gift of love.
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