Sunday, January 4, 2009

Interview on an Airplane

The article posted below is from a few years back... I had just returned from my first real missions trip to Uganda, Africa. I was digging through old files on my computer and came across this paper I wrote. It was refreshing to look back on the past since i've been so wrapped up in my future lately. Happy reading!

My eight-hour interview began before I even realized it. I had just entered the British Airway airplane and was trying to make my way down the tiny isle without knocking anyone unconscious with my overstuffed backpack and Bethel Nalgene water bottle strapped to it. I was exhausted and tired. All I could think of was finding my seat next to my travel companions and drifting off to dream land thanks to a wonderful Unisom sleeping pill. I glanced at my ticket and then at the coming rows ahead of me. I soon realized that I was not sitting next to any of my mission trip buddies, but instead I was sitting next to a small, silver streaked old woman.

My first thoughts were not as mature as 22 year olds should be. Instead of whining to my friends, I quietly sat down into my business class seat and extracted some “airplane necessities” from my lavender bag: iPod, African chocolate bars, and class textbook. The lady next to me looked up and asked if I could wait a minute before I sat down so she could organize her own bag. Her think Swiss accent was difficult to understand as spit flew out of her mouth and onto my arm as she spoke, but I was not about to roll my eyes at a sweet old lady. When I was finally able to settle down into my seat again, she quickly made sure that I knew she was excited to be on this airplane.

She smiled at me occasionally, not knowing if it would be appropriate to have a conversation just yet. I finally decided that I would be polite and ask her where her final destination would be. She proceeded to explain to me that she is a Christian woman who just came from working at a mission’s hospital in northern Uganda. I was intrigued immediately because white people have been warned to stay out of the north due to recent white tourist attacks and murders. She was on her way home to Switzerland after two months of helping the doctors as a nurse’s assistant. I asked her if she ran into any trouble with the rebel forces or if she was scared. She proceeded to tell me that she traveled by public bus all alone from northern Uganda to Entebbe to catch this flight. She seemed to be quite confident that she was safe; although I am sure I would have felt otherwise.

This lady suddenly spoke in such a soft and yet commanding voice when she explained how God had protected her the previous week. She was headed down a country road with two other missionary friends when their driver suddenly felt compelled to stop the car and turn around in the other direction. She explained that she had also felt uneasiness in her heart and agreed with the driver. As they continued to travel, the next day she discovered that a British man was driving along that very same road and had been murdered. Her eyes were huge as she thanked God for protecting her in the seat next to mine. I am amazed at how open she was and I had not yet even discovered her name.
As our flight continued, we spoke of many different things, but mostly God. About three hours into our flight, I realized that I was hearing her heart and was learning all about how she lived. I formally introduced myself to her and she said that her name was Annemarie Eggimann from Switzerland. I guessed that she was in her late 50s, but I was too scared to ask the question directly. I began to ask about her life and what she was involved in. She currently lives in a small mountain community in Bisiberg where she enjoys taking long walks through the forest and knows everybody who lives in the mountain area. Annemarie believes that a good and successful life occurs when you are content with what you have and when you know yourself. A good life does not include being envious of neighbors. All we really need in life is to know that we have salvation and our health. It is best to take each day as it comes and let God take care of our problems.

Because Annemarie spends so much time with herself in the forest, she has found pleasure in the simple things of life. She took out some photos of her family and home. “Look at how beautiful my garden is!” she commented. To have a garden like the one she showed me takes a lot of time and effort to create. Often she will just gaze at God’s creation when she is out walking. This revealed to me that she has a lot of patience and can appreciate the natural beauty that God has given us. When she is not walking through the mountain’s forest, she works as a nurse in a hospital near her house. She seemed sad when she told me that she is very slow compared to her coworkers, and that they often are frustrated with her. She commented that she likes to take the time and treat her patents with love and respect rather than rush off to the next thing. Her manager once approached her and told her that he was displeased because she never speaks about anybody behind his or her back and that as a result, no one knows where he or she stands with her.

Her life truly is centered on Christ and his biblical commandments. She seemed so quiet and small, yet powerful at the same time. She is the kind of lady I hope to resemble one day. Each day she relies on God to provide for her. She comes from a poor community and is a vegetarian because she cannot afford to buy meat at the market. She kept saying that her life is nothing special because it is so simple. I quickly disagreed with her. She then began to tell me of the time she lived in Africa for 22 years during the Rwanda genocide. She said that as a child she would read books about Africa and dreamed of going there one day herself. At the age of 25, she traveled there working to help elderly nuns. During the genocide in Rwanda, she set up refugee camps all over for to help all of the people in trouble.

As she set up the camps, the most difficult part was seeing people walk away empty handed at the end of the day. She started work before seven AM and then worked until 6 PM but admitted that it was very satisfying but hard mental work. Her hardest moment was when she and her team had just set up a camp only to find out two days later hat the rebels had discovered where it was and murdered everybody in the camp showing no mercy. This shows me that she is dedicated and has a passion for people. I could see the aching in her heart as she told me this story. She told me that she blames herself for the deaths because the reason they died was because she was helping them. Still, she stuck with her calling.

To do this kind of work you must be at peace with yourself. To know that any moment your life could end in a brutal way takes mental discipline that I have never experienced in my life (and I don’t know that I want to). To her, the good life is letting God hold you in his hand each and every day, knowing that he is more powerful than any evil force in this world. God has truly given us all that we need and even much extra. If Annemarie can be completely thrilled to have warm, running water and electricity, I have a lot of prioritizing to do. She lives minute by minute; I spend my time dreaming of the future. While we were talking she said that wealthy people in her family are very jealous of her even though she is very poor according to their standards. They simply cannot understand where her joy comes from and how she can be so content with so little.

As I headed into my mission trip, I half expected it to be the way some of the stories were. I was never held at gunpoint forced to deny my faith in Jesus or die. I never felt the wrath of the government or rebels, and I have to say that in some ways I am slightly disappointed. I long for some opportunity to put my entire life into God’s hands and rely on him for a form of miraculous protection the way Annemarie has done. Although she sees herself as nothing special, I know that she is an angel sent from heaven to many people around the world. Her entire life is a witness to God’s grace and goodness.

As our eight-hour conversation came to a close, she glanced out the window and was so giddy with joy at the sight of some of the Swiss mountains off in the distance. Although I looked and could not see anything as I leaned over to peer out of the window, I can’t help but think it is because I truly just do not “see” them and know them the way she does. She sees people the way God does, and she does everything she can to give her life away in service to those who need help. Even though she was so excited to go home at the beginning of our flight, she looked straight at me and told me that although she lives in Europe, her heart is left behind in Africa.

Annemarie Eggimann is an inspiration to me and has touched my life in a great way although we have only talked for a short amount of time. She is a living example of a good and Christ-centered life. Now that I am home in Minnesota and have been shoved into the race against time during finals, I have tried to slow down and notice small details of life. I feel that now I can appreciate the uniqueness of each snowflake that falls to the ground and it reminds me of God’s blessings in my life. I think that Annemarie hears God’s voice so clearly because she takes the time to notice the small details of life. Although I never thought that such a quiet old woman could do so much for God and see things that most cannot, I often think about this mysterious lady. I look forward to the day when I will be able to meet her once again and tell her how blessed I was through her life. I just wish that I had thought to take a picture with her to add to my memories until the opportunity to meet her presents itself again!


Maria said...

lindsay-so blessed by what you wrote. I often think about all the discontentment that surounds us in such a capitalistic society. I love your story of connecting with this Swedish sister from halfway around the world! You were both transformed and that is what life is all about.

Christina said...

wow! what a beautiful story, i could imagine your conversation as i was reading, even though you didn't have a picture of her! living in Europe has shown me a different pace of life, and i completely agree with your reflection. there is beauty in the simplicity of life, the details of life. enjoying God's beautiful creation! Her being from Switzerland I understand her passion for natural beauty, the Swiss Alps. I saw them driving through Germany and Austria this week... simply amazing! thanks for sharing your story and thoughts! I would say you do resemble this beautiful Swiss woman!