Day one of our trip to Sierra Leone is ending as I write this post. I am travelling with ten other team members from four United Methodist Churches in Virginia. Most of the team is from Floris, and includes our daughter Hannah, so it is a real joy for me to spend this time with them. I give the group a talk about bringing their “lowest maintenance self” on the trip to Sierra Leone. So many things are unpredictable just getting to Sierra Leone that your lowest maintenance self is a fine person to bring. Your high maintenance self will be so frustrating to endure by others with all the things that will not go as planned here that he or she simply must be left behind. Everyone did and it allowed us to enjoy the day and the little challenges that came our way. Small things were kept small, complaints were simply not heard, and we were all the better for it.
When you land at Lungi International Airport in Sierra Leone, everyone on the plane breaks into applause. This struck me as funny the first time I experienced it. Planes land every day around the world without applause, so why the big deal? But people here have this deep gratitude for important things that go right, like the airplane touching down without parts breaking off or fires starting, that the applause is spontaneous and joyful. It’s like someone announced that it was the pilot’s birthday and we all cheered him on. The rainy season began recently and our plane had to circle for an hour or so before it could land because of the intensity of the storm. It was turbulent and bumpy, all rain and fog all the way to the ground, and there were a lot of pale and troubled faces from all assembled on our plane. When the wheels touched the ground and the engines reversed, the applause was unusually enthusiastic. I joined in. With gusto. It was wonderful clapping, looking around at everyone, congratulating them, like we had all played our little part in getting the plane to the ground safely. The man way across the plane from me was so joyful he did a fist pump or two and said, “Yes! Oh, that’s great! Thank God for that!”
When the applause faded I sat there wondering how much better my life would be if I brought my low maintenance self everywhere, and what it would be like if I was so grateful for even the things that we expect to go well that if I would clap, cheer, and give God thanks.