Domestic Volunteer Anna Robinson has recently returned from a Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trip in South Africa.  She thought she could escape from Lent, but instead Lent found her in new and enlightening ways.

I’ve always dreaded Lent.  To me it’s this bleak, dull, weary time of year.  As a kid, giving up sweets or TV was punishment.  After all, a 3rd-grader rarely understands the real purpose behind such sacrifices.

I’ve carried that attitude into adulthood – Lent, a time for rejecting things that make you happy so you can “understand” the misery and depression of others.  This year I thought I would be distracted from my normal, woeful Lenten observance while on a Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trip to South Africa with FMS.  I couldn’t have been more eager to feel the sunshine.

I also couldn’t have been more unaware of living out a true Lenten observance while abroad.  Now that I am back I can see the ironic choices and reflections I made in walking closer with Christ.  I chose not to take my laptop on the trip.  While others were checking their Facebook, I was outside soaking in fresh-air and enjoying God’s gift of beautiful, South African landscapes.  When bugs overtook my bedroom, I gave up on the battle to conquer them and gave in to the reality that many lived with such discomfort in metal shacks in the townships.

I packed very little, chose clothes that were practical, but not at all fashionable, and wore many of them twice without washing.  I’ll admit that I kind of missed my closet at times, but how many of the kids at the AIDS orphanage got to pick their clothes?

Ash Wednesday rolled around and it was time for the first of many special and required Lenten Masses I despised.  This was not the first time we had gone to a small church in a township for Mass, the first being a joyful and refreshing experience, but the normal time of two hours coupled with the theme for the day had me dreading it as much as usual.  We arrived early and watched as the little church filled to capacity.  Then the singing began.

This was unlike any other Ash Wednesday Mass I had ever experienced.  The singing, the three different handshakes at the sign-of-peace, and the involvement of everyone in that church turned my observance that day from a punishment into a blessing.  As a community they celebrated the Holy Spirit.  As a community they received their fateful reminder in ashes.  As a community they raised each other up in song.  I couldn’t have been in a better place to begin my Lenten journey.

It wasn’t until I had sat down at this computer and began writing this blog post that I realized how much I had chosen to walk in solidarity with the people of South Africa, and with Christ.  Instead of thinking of Lent as a time of sacrifice to the point of utter misery, maybe I just have to think of it like traveling – carrying less tangible things so that I am fully available to whatever God puts in my path, keeping an open mind, and riding the wave of the Holy Spirit.  South Africa taught me much about simplicity and how by having a lot, I was actually missing something.

My view of Lent just changed.

To see pictures from the trip go the Facebook album.

Anna Robinson serves as a full-time volunteer at the Franciscan Mission Service office as communications associate. She graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in 2011 with a degree in Communication Arts and a minor in Music Composition.  She just returned from spending two weeks in South Africa testing our Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trip curriculum.