Coming back from a three week trip in Malawi is hard. Physically speaking, there’s the jet lag and recovery from the exhaustion of the trip itself. And when you return, it takes some time to adjust back to the abundance of material wealth and luxuries we have in America. If you don’t think a toilet or running water is a luxury, then you obviously haven’t had the pleasure of using bathroom accommodations that were simply a hole in the ground or had to bathe using water from a bucket. I was ready to be home and quite grateful for consistent electricity and indoor plumbing but it’s just not easy.

                     Amanda having fun with one of the girls from a village.

As I began to wade back into my regular life, I felt frustration build and build. It’s quite easy to see some of the poorest living conditions in the world and find yourself irritated when minor inconveniences are treated as dire situations in America. But that wasn’t it. I was frustrated because I felt my heart starting to close itself off again; a form of self-protection that seems to come naturally at home. This is something I feel I have been fighting against for some time and wasn’t ready to have the walls build again.

During the last day of our trip, the volunteers gather together and share some of their experiences and where they felt particularly touched or where they saw God’s love in the time they spent with the villages. I’m not one that’s often at a loss for words but I found myself unable to share at this point. At every village, there’s a poignant moment. With every child’s laugh, you’re touched. And with every joyous song and celebration of clean water, your heart is pierced. Yet, I couldn’t pinpoint one instance or moment that moved me more than any others. As I was listening to others share, it slowly dawned on me what was my experience that changed me. It wasn’t an individual moment or person but the people of Malawi as a whole.

Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa and it’s easy to see why. I’ve had the privilege of traveling often in my life but I’ve yet to find a place where the people are more loving and genuine. Just when you’re driving down the road, you wave at the people and you’re met with some of the biggest and most beautiful smiles you’ll ever see. When you arrive at a well, the trucks are often almost mobbed with villagers that want to shake your hand or sing and dance because of your arrival and what that means for their quality of life. And the children! I don’t think I can accurately put into words how much joy those sweet, smiling faces brought me throughout my trip. There are so many faces that have such an imprint on my heart and most of them will never truly know their own impact.

                          Amanda and a group of kids posing for the camera.

It’s not just the smiling and dancing and waving that makes them the warm heart, it’s the importance of relationships and love. When you don’t have the material things to distract you, the one thing you have is each other. And in places where working with each other is often imperative for survival, you develop the ability to love and appreciate people fully. This doesn’t just apply to those that are in their social circle but to strangers and acquaintances and anyone that needs help. I can’t count how many times there was a village receiving a well and after it was installed, they pleaded for us to remember their brothers and sisters down the road that needed one too. Or how many times we saw the villages’ generosity by their abundance of gifts given to us for bringing them clean water.  Everyone on the trip- from our staff to the villagers to strangers on the street- made you feel like you were loved and special and important.

And that’s why my heart had no walls. When you experience the deep love from the people of Malawi day in and day out, there’s freedom in that.  I never felt the need to protect myself; I knew they would handle me with the same love and care that God would. It was, in a sense, like experiencing God’s love for His children through each village, each smile, each handshake, and each child. It’s why the volunteers come back and try to encourage so many to help get involved with MMM. They have seen the love that Malawians have for them and they want to continue to help these wonderful people who have shown the true meaning of “love your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself”.

It’s this love that I try to hold onto so dearly when I return, for it keeps my heart open and willing to serve.