Before you get to Ethiopia...

Recently I spent a week in Ethiopia as part of a team doing leadership training for Mekane Yesus church. It is always an honor to be invited to travel to another country to work with leaders, and this trip was no exception.

Sharing the road to Addis Ababa
Sharing the road to Addis Ababa

But such travels always come with feelings of anxiety—albeit mixed with excitement. You have to take care of so many things to prepare to be gone for ten days: getting shots and malaria meds, stopping the mail, getting someone to feed my cat, paying all the bills that will come due while I’m gone, getting to and from the airport…

Added to that is the travel itself. To get to Addis Ababa took 27 hours, three different planes plus a fueling stop in Djibouti. That means you arrive tired and then start working. It took nearly 40 hours to get home. Language is also a concern. While some in Ethiopia speak better English than I do, this was the first country I worked in where we would be translating our work into not one but two languages, Amharic and Oromo.

In preparing for this trip, my anxieties were lessened by the fact that my colleague, John, was also part of the team. John had been to Ethiopia working with this group of church leaders before, so my plan was just to follow John’s lead. It was a great comfort to me that he knew where we were going, what to pay attention to, how to stay safe.

All was going according to my plan, as about two weeks before the trip, John sent an email to Tim, the trip leader, asking a whole host of questions I hadn’t thought to ask. “Yea!” I thought to myself.  “John is all over this and I don’t have to worry.”

About two days later I received an email from John with a couple more questions. But it was his closing statement that really caught my eye:  “Getting anxious…”

What!?! He was not supposed to be anxious. That was not part of my plan! What the heck was going on here? If he was anxious, then what was I supposed to be feeling? I didn’t even have a Plan B in place as it just didn’t occur to me that I might need one.

Much as I am all in favor of leaders being transparent, is there such a thing as too much transparency? Would I have preferred John never reveal his own anxieties to me? How much easier this trip would be if he had never said that.

Lake Hawassa, South of Addis Ababa
Lake Hawassa, South of Addis Ababa

On the other hand, once I learned about John’s anxieties, it spurred me to take greater responsibility for the trip and my involvement. Yes, at first it increased my anxiety. Then I got a travel guide about customs in Ethiopia, and dug into a book about traditional stories of Ethiopia. I paid more attention to the travel arrangements and getting the information I needed. I began to feel more in charge of the ten days I would be gone—and calmer.

That preparation really paid off. Because of it, I noticed things about the beautiful Ethiopian landscape, traditions, and welcoming people that I would have completely missed. I could ask more informed questions of our hosts and learn more about the country.

So as a result of John’s passing comment on his anxiety, instead of being a lemming on this trip blindly following others, I got prepared for the journey. My awareness was heightened, and I got to see Ethiopia through my own eyes, not someone else’s.

Can you really ask for more from a trip—or your life?