The Power of Yes or “Blink Twice if You’re Being Kidnapped”

They told him the ride would be bumpy, but this was like being in a human rock tumbler. “We call this an African massage!” yelled one of the other passengers over the roar of the truck engine. Riding in what was affectionately known as “The Beast”, Hugh looked out at the passing African landscape and thought about the unlikely series of events that had led him to take this grueling ten-hour journey into the heart of the Zimbabwe wilderness with people he had just met the day before.

Someone came over to him with a welcoming smile on his face. Hugh struggled to remember the guy’s name. (Joe? Mike?) With a wink, the guy whispered, “Blink twice if you’re being kidnapped.” Hugh laughed. Though he had agreed to this spontaneous adventure, he couldn’t help but wonder what in the world he had gotten himself into…

Hugh, right, with Jeannie Burns Buckner, front left and Dean Buckner, center, on The Beast traveling to Binga, Zimbabwe.

A few days earlier Hugh was wrapping up his summer-long French studies in Senegal. Before returning to university in Montreal, he had decided on a last-minute trip to Zimbabwe to spend a couple of days sightseeing in Victoria Falls. “Unlike most of my travels, I booked this one last minute. Usually, I’m a bit of a chronic planner, but I didn’t really have any plans other than seeing the falls. I figured I’d just go and see what happens.”

Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

Of all the possible things that could have happened, there’s no way Hugh could have anticipated what actually did happen. On the plane to Victoria Falls, he struck up a conversation with MATTER donor, Jeannie Burns Buckner who was going to Zimbabwe, in part, to visit the Jeannie Burns Buckner Maternal and Pediatric Hospital in remote Binga. This serendipitous meeting led to Hugh being introduced to other MATTER team members, which in turn led to an unexpected invitation for Hugh to join the MATTER team on their trip to Binga the next day. This would be a journey into the heart of Zimbabwe.

Always up for an adventure, Hugh said yes.

And that’s how Australian Hugh Churchwell found himself on The Beast, surrounded by near strangers, heading literally to the middle of nowhere.

“Binga is more isolated than any place I have ever been to. I’ve been to the outback in Australia and there’s not a lot of civilization there, but this was a different kettle of fish.”

Hugh helping to finish the last of the interior construction of the Jeannie Burns Buckner Maternal and Pediatric Hospital in rural Binga, Zimbabwe.

After ten hours of rough terrain, washed-out roads, occasional huts, and lots of wilderness, Hugh couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the Binga hospital. Jeannie shared her memory of the moment they arrived. “After visiting a small clinic on the way, Hugh assumed the Binga hospital would be similar. He was amazed by its size and services and was very moved.“

So moved, in fact, that after the two days at the remote hospital, Hugh began reimagining his future. “The trip to Binga inspired me to have a career where I feel like I can make a real difference in this world. I’ve always been interested in medicine, but this trip confirmed that’s definitely what I want to do. Even potentially going out to remote places and practicing as a doctor one day.”

For Jeannie, meeting Hugh on the flight to Victoria Falls, was no accident, “I believe our paths crossed for a reason. I knew immediately that he was a very special guy with a very interesting life story and experiences. I just felt that with his drive and interest in medicine, this was an amazing opportunity to have a new member of our team. I do hope he gets his medical degree and comes to work at Binga!”

So how does Hugh sum up this most unexpected of experiences? “There are so many takeaways from this trip. It was definitely a lesson in spontaneity and saying “yes” to new opportunities. It really changed me and my outlook on my future.”

The power of Yes can take you on the most serendipitous of adventures, like Hugh’s journey into the heart of Zimbabwe. Be like Hugh. Say “Yes!” and see where life takes you!