Assuming I can read your mind with some degree of accuracy, you will want to know certain things when I get home.
For example, I have not taken what you might call "classic missionary in Africa pictures"--myself surrounded by a sea of smiling black children; cuddling little ones with enormous liquid dark eyes; tiny sleeping brown babies tied with a bedsheet onto my back. Those things have happened, to be sure. But the things that are worth taking pictures of are exactly the kinds of things that it is impossible to take pictures of. And I am trying to the best of my ability to not perpetuate the unconscious voyeurism that comes so naturally when you view African snapshots from the comfort of your living room at home.
I will not be able to come home and talk about how Africa itself has changed me, or how Africa is in my blood, or how I may be white outside but have an African heart (all things that various friends have said upon returning home from Africa).
But while I may not be changed in exactly those ways, the fact remains that I am changed.
Before I came, I mentally equated coming to work with Mercy Ships to taking a spiritual cliff-dive: step up to the edge, take a deep breath, and plunge off into the unknown. The truth is that God gives of Himself abundantly. He took the tiny amount of faith and trust I had and covered the rest with grace, and when I look back I wonder why it seemed such a trustfall to come to Benin. It turns out to have only been a small step of obedience. Who knows what steps of obedience may be required of me next, but each time His grace will be sufficient.
Part of what has changed me is the conversations I am having here: conversations of a depth that universities back home struggle to foster. Gather people from all corners of the world to live together in community, to work towards a common purpose, and with love of God and others as a common motivation, and certain types of conversations will flow naturally.
I have talked about what I think about President Obama; what I think about black people; what my friend Christian thinks about white people; why Americans are typically so ignorant of what is going on in the rest of the world; what other countries think of American foreign policy, especially the war in Iraq (I'm unable to comment with any intelligence at all on this last one).
I am learning about what really constitutes luxury; what disease in the body can do to a person's heart and soul; what fear can drive people to do; how so much of my lifestyle at home is bought at great cost to other people; what it looks like to dream of opportunity but have no real hope for it to actually materialize.
I am learning what it means to ask questions with humility. I am learning just how much I do not know. I am learning to listen, I am learning to slow down, I am learning what it looks like to honestly care for another person, and I am learning of the faithfulness of God despite appearances. God is faithful despite poverty, despite disease, despite shame, despite ostracization, despite fear, despite brokenness.
I am learning to trust that when all is said and done, God is the answer to the unanswerable questions.