Neither of these will ever be able to entirely express the magnitude of our trip. Nor, will they ever be able to touch on my gratitude for all of the people who helped me all along the way. Those of you who donated money to me or to the church sponsors. THANK YOU. Those of you who came to special classes or came more often. THANKS YOU. The teachers who kept the studio running smoothly. THANK YOU. My rock star husband and my incredible daughters. THANK YOU. My friends and family. THANK YOU. The kind words of encouragement. THANK YOU. All of you made this trip possible. All of you helped to touch the lives of countless refugees and the people helping them. I will forever be grateful to you. Thank you.
Much love and respect, Emilie xo
An interview with Emilie Cook who recently returned from a mission trip to Uganda with "Refuge and Hope, International" where she taught yoga to the caregivers who process the refugees that stream constantly across the borders seeking safety:
What is the story that got you to leave your family and join this mission trip?
If I am completely honest, I went because you are not presented with an opportunity to go to another country to teach yoga for a fraction of the cost and say no. That would have haunted me for the rest of my life. Since the death of my sister I have made it a point to say 'yes' to life more, especially if it is something that triggers my fears. I felt like this big, scary trip would be the sort of thing she would push me to do. Without sounding too cliché, I want to live my life for her. Since she can no longer be here, I want to do the things she can't.
What surprised you while you were there?
The resiliency of the people I met, their true, complete, faithfulness even in the face of unspeakable horrors. I was surprised by their strength, and what seemed like an effortless ability to be open, welcoming, and loving. When you come into someone's space there -- whether their office or their home -- you are greeted with "You are welcome" Or "You are MOST welcome". And they mean it. Every single time they say it, they mean it. Another thing that surprised me was the level of not just tolerance but complete acceptance of different religions, backgrounds, and beliefs. There was a Muslim family who was served by the center several years ago that now work and serve alongside the Christian ministers. There was zero fear or distrust between the two families. The Christian family considers the Ali family as part of their family. The workers at the Center all invite each other to celebrate religious holidays as their guests and, in turn, the guests from one tradition become the hosts at the next celebration of their holy days. This easy exchange of hospitality seems to stand in stark contrast to what I have experienced here. We have much to learn. Peaceful co-existence is not impossible.
What made you sad?
I want to say that the same things that surprised me also saddened me. I was saddened that they had to become so resilient under such trying circumstances. I was, of course saddened by the conditions of some of the neighborhoods. The stark differences between how we live and how the people I met live. My own privilege still makes me sad. And my family is not that privileged by US standards. The stories of the trauma they experienced, their trials. But it is hard to stay sad for long when you see their ability to overcome. Helen Keller said, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." That quote ran through my mind the whole trip.
What part of you do you think you "left" behind in Uganda?
I hope I left behind tools for the staff at Refugee and Hope International to use with the people they help and themselves. I hope I left inspiration with one young woman in particular to write. I hope I left them knowledge of the importance of rest and self-care. I hope I was a rock thrown into a calm lake and the ripples will continue to spread....ripples of love and care and rest and awareness.
What did you bring back home?
I brought home a clear perspective. I will no longer sigh and lament my small house, my old car, or my lack. I now understand that what I experience as 'lack' is riches beyond compare to most of the people I met. Okay, so I might sigh and lament....but only temporarily. I also brought home a desire to really look at people, to look deep into their eyes and show them that I do really care about them. I have always been able and willing to talk to anyone I meet, much to the chagrin of my teenage daughters. Now, I am unstoppable. Today at Walmart, while college dorm shopping I spoke to our Kenyan cash register clerk about Africa, the people of Africa, her family and my trip. My daughter asked why I had such a lengthy conversation. My answer was easy. I may not go around telling everyone I meet that I am against hate and racism (thinking on the recent events in VA). BUT I can make sure that every person I come in contact with -- especially those who might look different from me -- knows by my smile and my eye contact that I will stand with them against hate; and that I love our differences. I can let them know that they are MOST welcome.
Where did you see God?
I saw God when I looked into S's eyes. S is a 50-something counselor who works every day with the refugees. I also saw God when I looked into M's eyes. M is a young woman who escaped from her country and walked to Kampala. And I definitely saw God in the sweet baby that I held in my arms, the daughter of her mother's rapist. The baby's name means blessing.
(to protect the people I met, I've left their names out of this posting)
If you are still reading and want more information about the group we worked with I have posted a link to their website and a link to their Amazon wish List.