Today I spent the afternoon with men in loincloths.
Not something I do on a typical Thursday. Then again, there’s not much typical about going on a Never the Same missions trip!
Earlier today our team of forty-some American teenagers canoed through the rainforest and visited the Embera people, an indigenous tribe still living deep in the jungles of Panama. Before our handmade wooden boats had even hit shore, the entire community (donned in authentic tribal attire) lined up to greet us with music, dancing, and smiles.
Let’s just be honest. It’s a little strange to think about indigenous tribes existing in the twenty-first century, right? Especially if you’re an iPhone-loving, Starbucks-sipping girl like me who can’t survive without a decent WiFi signal.
But there was something ironically peaceful about spending a day with the Embera tribe. No Facebook notifications or Google schedule reminders; no assignments due or small group meetings to attend. Just all the time in the world, and the rest of it would have to wait.
Behind one of the craft tables, a tribal woman was trying to calm her fussy baby girl. Being a sucker for cute babies, I walked over, reached out my arms and asked in broken Spanish if I could hold her.
"Si, si!" her mom exclaimed, eager for someone else to give it a shot. "Se llama Madeline," she informed me as she plopped her pudgy daughter into my arms.
I cradled this sweet tribal baby close to my heart and swayed side to side, in rhythm with the rain pelting a makeshift hut above our heads.
Sleepy little Madeline had barely snuggled comfortably into my hip before those heavy eyes closed and she rested her head on my chest. She adjusted her body once or twice. And then she slept.
For twenty minutes we rocked back and forth. For twenty minutes I forgot little Madeline lived in the tribal jungles of Panama and I lived in a big noisy city half a world away. For twenty minutes it was like the language barrier didn’t exist because right then we both spoke the exact same language: Love.
I kissed her rosy cheeks and brushed a few damp black curls out of her face. The corners of her lips turned up in a brief smile.
Then too soon Madeline’s mom lifted her out of my arms to lay her in a swing made from colorful fabric. It was time for her to nap and time for us to go. Too soon.
Our team went on dozens of exotic excursions during this year’s Never the Same mission trip to Panama. From the streets of Panama City to a boat tour of Monkey Island to a refreshing swim in a secluded waterfall to our afternoon in the Embera village. But for all of the adventures, I think you already know which twenty minutes were my favorite.
Because it was a taste of the feast to come.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9).
If there’s any reason why I think you should go on a mission trip, it’s so you could have your twenty minutes, too. All the time it takes to understand that God’s heartbeat is as close as a sleeping little girl named Madeline.