“I’m going to Madagascar!”
“Wow! What are you doing there?”
I’m assuming the answer most people want to this question is the one I’ve been providing: I’ll be teaching English at a seminary, at a young women’s vocational school, and at a farming program. However, teaching’s not all I’m doing—and it isn’t the focus of this year, either. The fact that teaching isn’t the focus seems strange and, honestly, is a little hard for me to accept. Shouldn’t the work I do at my job be the forefront of this year? It’s not like my teaching isn’t important. The thing is, though, this year isn’t about work. It’s about accompaniment.
That statement brings on another question: what is accompaniment? According to ELCA Global Mission, accompaniment means “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.” Let’s break that down. Solidarity is “unity or fellowship arising from a community of feelings, purposes, responsibilities, and interests.” Interdependence is “the quality of being mutually reliant on each other,” and mutuality is similar to “reciprocity,” or “a mutual exchange.” To me, the part of the definition that sticks out is “walking together.” My year in Madagascar isn’t about my job because this year isn’t about what I do for other people. This year is all about what we do for, with, and alongside each other. It’s not about the product; it’s about the process.
I’ve been looking at this year as some sort of extended version of my two mission trips to Guatemala. For those trips, I had even less of a concrete answer to the question “what are you doing?”. I struggled to explain exactly what it was we were doing in Nueva, Guatemala, because we didn’t do anything tangible. We didn’t build a latrine, fix the roof on the church, or repaint the school. We didn’t “do” anything, at least not in the typical sense of the word. So, what did we do? We played games with kids. We went to congregation meetings. We made tortillas. We prayed with a family for their sick child. We toured farm fields. We painted the women’s fingernails. We laughed and cried and praised and lived together. And that was so much more rewarding and lasting than any latrine would have been.
This thing called accompaniment is all about the journey. It’s about being present. It’s about meeting people where they are and having them meet me where I am. It’s about learning and growing together. It’s not about swooping in to “fix” anything; it’s about breaking open my heart and trying to experience a different reality. It’s not about “walking in someone else’s shoes”; it’s about walking in my own shoes alongside that someone else as they walk in theirs.