2017-18 Missionary Abby Mandris - Luther Memorial Lutheran Church

2017-18 Missionary Abby Mandris

A "world away" actually isn't as far as we think it is.

Abigal Mandris

Missionary Abby Mandris, Pigg's Peak, Swaziland Africa

A world away is a phrase that people often use to hyperbolize the fact that something is just really, really far away. Often times, though we don't realize the weight that this phrase carries. In the history of my international travel experiences I tend to shy away from the tourists' beaten path. I try to not just enjoy being in new places, but learn about the people and the history and the life that flourishes.

When I traveled to Australia in 2016, the common misnomer people spoke was the middle of nowhere. "Oh, you're going to the middle of nowhere." Australia is the middle of nowhere, except for the big cities.

Now living in Southern Africa, many people without thinking tell me "man, you are a world away from us right now." In fact, where I am right now is my home. You'd be surprised at all the similarities that you can find between where I am and where I'm from, and you don't even need a magnifying glass.

In the world away I currently live, babies love to play peek-a-boo. Not just babies, but kids in general just want to play, even if it's on the minibus ride between school and home. Often times I'll sit in the front seat and the minibus is filled with preschoolers from all of the local schools. There is one child who always sits towards the front in the middle, and the entire ride home we will make faces at each other in the mirror, or poke each other and pretend no to be the culprit. Every day from school my host nephew and I have to walk from the station back home. And every day once we arrive at our gate he opens it, says "after you my lady" and we hold hands as he hums as out of tune wedding march and the chickens in the yard squawk and waddle out of our way. We also talk about how difficult preschool can be, and what kind of pajamas God wears.

In the world away I live, sisters help sisters, brothers help brothers, family helps family. I honestly still ask a lot of questions and don't know always know what's going on. My family in the States always have my back and are my best friends. (I know, I'm "that person" who is actually friends with the people in my family...weird). My Swazi family plays the biggest role in my daily life. I know I can always ask them anything, whether it is about culture, politics, or the best type of facewash to buy. We cook, we clean, we talk, and we dance around the house like it's our job. Family has always been the most treasured values in life, and I'm so lucky to be a part of the Mandris' and the Dlamini's.

In the world away I live in, smiles and laughter and tears and hopes and love are a universal language. I stutter through basic phrases and typically don't follow the SiSwati conversations happening around me (unless I hear my English or SiSwati name....then I know they are talking about me.) Even so, the people and their stories, the history of the country, and the community that has been built are invaluable and irreplaceable.

Instead of assuming that just because a place is geographically far away and lives differently, it isn't as good of a place to be, reevaluate why you think that way. In order to make this planet a better place for people to live we need to change our mindset and use our beautiful brains to hunger for curiosity, not condemnation.