Story is defined as an account of past events in someone’s life or in the evolution of something. A good story has complex characters, action that builds, an exciting storyline, and surprising plot twists. We don’t often think of our lives as a story, but they are, which is why great stories resonate with us. Whether it is a novel or a movie, stories touch our hearts in ways no other medium can. There is power in story. When someone opens themselves up and is vulnerable enough to share their account of past life events, it draws us to them. We all have a story to tell, and when we tell it, we find freedom and connection. When we keep inside, we hide part of ourselves and genuine relationships escape our grasp.
I recently went on a trip to Ethiopia to take parents to visit their missionary kids. It had been 8 months since they had seen one another, and as the buses pulled up the excitement came bubbling out in tears, hugs, happy dances, and screams. It always gets me in the heart to watch the reunions. I think it must be what heaven will be like as we arrive to much celebration of loved ones gone before.
After the initial reunions, exhaustion from travel took over and with heavy eyes everyone found their way to their beds. The next morning, after breakfast, there was a time of introduction as the parents who go on these trips have never met each other in person. Each Racer took a moment to state what they most admire about their parents as they introduced them. Then the parents did the same for their Racer. It was a time of storytelling filled with different plots, interesting characters, as well as tragedy and joy. It was a holy moment, as each family shared in transparency with strangers. An amazing thing happened, in the vulnerability of the time together, we were no longer strangers. We became a family of friends. It was determined that Ethiopia was a grand plot twist and we were all excited to see what exactly that would mean in our week together.
What we found over the next days was that our stories…even the tragic parts…resonated with those we came in contact with in the village. We met amazing women, who when left on their own, forged a life for themselves in the harshest environments. We met a family of orphans who carved their own way when their mom died leaving them alone in the world. We heard the stories of children who were abandoned at the gate of Hope Ethiopia, our ministry host, because they have a children’s village. Each and every child living there has a story.
The beautiful thing to see is when your own story intersects with the story of others. It bonds you together in shared pain. It encourages and brings joy that you are not alone. It makes the parts of life from your past, which were hard to understand, make sense. It joins hearts from diverse nations in different but shared experiences, creating connection that extends beyond language barriers to a bond of humanness. It spreads hope to both the storyteller and the listener, and gives each a chance to come out of hiding into freedom and connection.
Yes, we took supplies. Yes, we did some labor. Yes, we “did” mission work. But more important than all of that was the intimate moments of story we shared with people which connected us all as children of God. They say the human touch is one of the most powerful tools of healing to those who are outcasts. Nothing touches hearts like the power of story.