I am excited to be leaving Uganda. I am also dreadfully sad to be doing so. For the past two months, Kampala was as much my home in the emotional sense as it was physically so. I lived in its apartments, but Uganda was also a part of me. We were told that we were "most welcome" everywhere we went and in the lives of everyone we met, but these were not merely words. These were the facts of the matter. We embraced this country's beautiful hospitality and embraced each other in the process. Emily Sauer put it best when she said that we entered as classmates and left as family. We officially had "family dinner" every Wednesday, but we ate most meals together as a unit. Breakfast would have five around a table for an hour, dinner would have five hours of wonderful conversation. We did life together, and it felt like life rather than mere existence. It was invigorating, it was wonderful, it was reality. Much more reality than how it feels to type these words on my flight back to Houston. But as much as the "was" exists, so does the fact that it is not over. The adventure doesn't end when the trip does. Leaving is a part of every adventure or else it wouldn't be an adventure. Bilbo Baggins's best-selling book on his adventures of Middle Earth only would have occurred if he did go "There and Back Again"; he wouldn't have written a book at all if he was "There and Still There." If there is a going, there needs to be a coming back. And there should be a coming back. Here are three reasons why we always need to remember to return:
Returning allows us to invite those who did not enter into our experiences into our adventures. Coming back allows us to remind our loved ones that they are "most welcome" in our lives. It's far easier to go explore and be energized by something new than it is to be ecstatic about what is familiar. However, this is why treating home as the greatest adventure is so important. If someone who just got back from travelling the world tells you that there is no other place in the world they would rather be than with you, wouldn't that mean the world to you? For someone who has seen it all to say that they would rather see you? Travelling may be sexy, but home is truly special. Sometimes the best thing travelers can remind themselves about is that the grass can sometimes be the greenest in their own front yard. And, ultimately, that this is the grass that should be watered.
Returning also allows us to invite others into adventures of their own. Two years ago, a Pepperdine professor visited my undergraduate Constitutional Law class. After teaching a mock law school class, he spoke to us about his perspective on the practice of law and Pepperdine's pursuit of that vision. He also shared with us about a unique experience that Pepperdine provides through its Global Justice Program to spend two months in Uganda, working for its judiciary and assisting the implementation of plea bargaining into its criminal justice system. This man – Professor Jim Gash – has visited the nation over 20 times now and even moved there with his family for six months as the Judiciary began creating the framework for plea bargaining's institution. Had he never returned, I would have never come. Countless upperclassmen at Pepperdine blessed my law school experience by mentoring me on life and the law, and many of these dear friends are alumni of the Uganda program. When they found out I was interested in going to Uganda, they flooded me with stories, with recommendations for travel, with encouragement about how wonderful this experience would be for me. Where would these things have come from had they not returned?
Returning allows for greater returns in the future. Coming back allows others to come better. Our family was able to flourish in our courts this summer because of those who came to Uganda and came back to us. They laid a foundation with the judiciary that gave us something to build on: our work was more frequent because the judges knew we were expecting it, our work was more challenging because they knew we could handle it, and relationships were more accessible because they knew we desired it. We came into Uganda with great enthusiasm and energy because we had a foundation of excitement and energy to build on. We carried a general awareness of what to expect with us on the plane to Africa because others packed it into our mental suitcases. We didn't come in blind because people gave us insight. And now, we have an opportunity to keep the momentum going. I am excited to leave Uganda because I can get others excited to go to Uganda. We can now inspire and psych others about a tremendous eight weeks that inspired and excited us. We are blessed just to be able to lay bricks in the foundation of the house that the groups to come will build. We get to make sure others' eight weeks are great weeks. We now have the privilege of bolstering the blueprints for the next class.
To Jim Gash, Bob Goff, Jake Brown, Andrew Neville, Andrew Kasabian, Andrew Goldsmith, Mena Gehart, Alex Soltis, Paula Hernandez, Kelly Roberts, Cory Batza, Katy Mitchell, Ankita Thakkar, and the countless others who blazed the trails that I walked down this summer, I am forever grateful. To my dear friends who I got to walk those trails beside and blaze new ones alongside, I am forever grateful. To the Global Justice Program Class of 2017, we are all fortunate that you will do greater things than we could have ever dreamed of accomplishing. You are most welcome in Uganda.