In 4 days time I get to relive a little bit of my youth. Next week I will have the chance to fulfill a dream that I had crushed. Let me explain…

I was a passionate 18 year old wanting to make a difference in the world. I longed to travel to lots of different places and work with those who needed it most. And so I snatched at the opportunity to go on my first trip to Africa. Along with 3 best friends, I had planned to travel to an orphanage to work with vulnerable and needy children, something I had longed to do for some time. We had spent months raising thousands of pounds to fund the project and I was excited about what was ahead of me.

After months of planning, fundraising, preparing and talking about it, the morning of the trip finally arrived. My bag was packed and I was ready to leave for the airport when the phone rang. I can still hear my mum’s confused voice on the other end of the phone. The trip had been cancelled.

Called off.
We weren’t going.

I was devastated. In the midst of the confusion I remember having a sinking feeling that my dreams and hopes of making a difference had been shattered. It later conspired that the trip had never existed in the first place, and a missionary couple who had got into financial difficulties had used the money raised by 4 naive teenagers to help them out of a hole. There were lots of questions, some ramifications and a greater story that would follow.

My disappointment turned to initial anger, and then to deep cynicism not long after. If I heard the word ‘Africa’ I had a complete mistrust of what was being promised. When the collection bucket was passed around, I refused to dig deep. And I made a decision not to commit to any trip outside the British Isles. My heart was cold towards the need. Overseas work was not for me. I couldn’t trust to the extent that I even talked Sarah out of sponsoring a child…

My mindset in these years was not healthy, but the experience taught me alot. It taught me about accountability. It taught me to ask more questions and weigh up all the options available. It taught me to invest in the organisations who have a strong reputation built up over many years of hard work. And it gave me an opportunity to get involved in local projects all across Ireland, exposing me to people who shaped me, situations that changed my perspective and experiences that I would never trade. Getting involved in projects all over Ireland probably even led me towards the opportunity of the job I spent 5 years in with Scripture Union – something I am so thankful for.

And so this Sunday I get a chance to relive the dream that was robbed from me 9 years ago. I’ve still never set foot in Africa, but when I travel to Uganda this weekend, this time I go with 11 of the young people and young leaders who I have the privilege to work with. I may not have had this experience when I was 18, but I’m delighted they will get to, and I believe it will have a formative impact on their lives.

And me…?

At times I feel that passionate, risk taking, in your face 18 year old has been lost and been replaced with too much cynicism, weariness or safety. But I feel much more prepared to do this now, more ready to filter the experiences and more equipped to make a difference in the world around me. It might have taken 9 years, but finally I’m ready.

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