“You know, Tod, Brooks is going to talk about this at your funeral.”
That was my best friend talking to me before we left for Africa. He and I had talked about how important it was for me that my 11-year-old son, Brooks, was going with me on this trip. Beth and I had been planning this trip for years. We home-schooled Brooks for his 6th grade year so that we could have the chance to bond with him more during the crucial pre-teen years. We each took a trip with him; Beth to the east coast to see American historical sites, me to Africa for a mission trip.
We spent the year preparing Brooks. He and I prayed together every night for a year about where God was leading us. We looked up Africa and Malawi and Zambia and World Vision and AIDS and poverty on the internet and learned together. He attended all of our team meetings, even one at La Jolla Presbyterian Church where Steve Haas, Vice-President of World Vision, took a lot of time to help him understand holistic ministry. (Steve: I am betting that someday Brooks will be coming to apply for a job. Last night he told me he wants “to do what Steve Haas does”.)
And then we took off. Not a day went by when I didn’t get choked up at the privilege of being in Africa with my son. When I see pictures of him shaking hands with African children, when I think of him clapping along in a worship service in a language that he doesn’t understand, when I remember him jumping in my arms with excitement because we were going out on a game drive, when I remember the first time we saw lions together, when I think of him lying next to me in bed and saying, “Dad, I am going to remember this the rest of my life”…well, I am getting choked up now.
On our trip was also a great guy named Brad. He spent his 50th birthday (here with his roommate Bernie when they "dressed up" for Brad's impromptu party) visiting a brave woman and her daughter who has AIDS, meeting a young man named William who went from being a child sponsored by World Vision to graduating with a college degree in Environmental Science. For his “birthday present”, Brad received a copy of William’s diploma. I know he missed being with his old friends and family, but he did have his new African friends bring him a birthday cake.
I want everyone to have a birthday like Brad’s. Just one time, I want everyone to stand with their son or daughter in a church in a third world country and then go find wild animals together.
Brooks and I didn’t take this trip together because I am a pastor, but because we are Christians. (My friend Phil Jemmet took his 17 year old son Tyler, too. Here's Phil, in the blue shirt, getting up close and personal with an elephant. Tyler's behind him on the left.)
I want everyone to have this experience. And I really think that with some commitment and rethinking priorities they can.
So, in our church we are going to start challenging people to “Tithe Your Vacations”. Just one year out of ten—one time while the kids are in school, one time in the empty nest years, one time with grandkids—skip the trip to Maui and go to Malawi. Pass on Disney’s Magic Kingdom and do something for God’s Kingdom. Just plan for it, pay for it, and pause and think about it the rest of your life. For those of you who attend my funeral someday, let Brooks have a few extra minutes, he has some great stories to tell.
I am going to bring my series of reflections on my trip to Malawi, Africa to a close….for now. I really can’t help myself. I just think about what I learned and saw so much that I will inevitably revisit it over and over again. You see, a once-in-a-lifetime experience lingers for a lifetime.