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Be present. A friend of mine gave me this piece of advice shortly before I left. I decided to make it my main goal here: to detach from every worry and hang-up I have and to be present and engaged in every single moment. The result has been unlike any experience I’ve had before. To most people in our situation, this place looks like a different world. It certainly did to me initially and my heart broke when I saw the conditions so many here are living in. Guilt and shame began to creep into my consciousness and I felt my mind start to race: Why am I so selfish? Who am I to live this way when these people have so little? Why did I even come here? Before I completely spiraled into a ball of self-accusation, I heard those words again in my mind: be present. Taking a deep breath, I began to understand that I’m not here to shame myself or figure everything out or resolve every social injustice in the world. I was called here to enter and engage in a human experience I have never engaged in before, and to be entirely open and available to God’s calling on my life.

I wish I could adequately describe this place. There are honestly no words for the emotions experienced when you enter a village to dozens of ecstatic children sprinting toward you, eager to hold your hand. There are no words for dancing (horribly) with complete strangers at essentially every social gathering. There are no words for witnessing pure joy from people who have been through unthinkable hardships, or forming surprisingly meaningful relationships with people you can barely communicate with. The past few days have been intriguing and uncomfortable, heartbreaking and beautiful. I can’t stop thinking about how blessed I am to be here.

I’m learning that discomfort is okay, but pushing through it can lead to beautiful experiences. It is such a rare occasion when we truly let go of inhibition and immerse ourselves in someone else’s lens of life. And it’s caused me to realize that we’re not all that different from the people we’ve met here. At the end of the day, we all care about those closest to us: we’ve all experienced pain, we’re all searching for love, we’re all broken and in need of a Savior. It’s easy to put up walls the second we feel awkward or out of place, but we are called to so much more. Love requires sacrifice and sometimes that means giving up the luxury of familiarity. The process to truly understanding this can be messy, but I am experiencing how truly glorious the result can be.

I’m so grateful to be in Malawi with this team. I’m incredibly excited to absorb every remaining second of our time here, while learning to better extend genuine love to others. It is such a joy to sense God’s transformation in so many ways, and I am hopeful that He will continue to work in all of our hearts well past the end of our trip.

Guest blogger Sarah McDonald is part of the Construction Team in Malawi, summer of 2014.