Monday, July 10, 2017

Not Better or Worse, Just Different

Scott led a team of 23 people from our church to the Dominican Republic last week.  We had one purpose - to support a local Christian school, Makarios International, and we did this by leading VBS in two villages, helping with soccer and basketball camps, participating in a youth outreach event, and completing various projects at the school.  Our team consisted of 6 recent high school graduates, 2 HS seniors, 1 junior, 2 freshmen, 2 seventh graders, and 10 adults. 
One of the finest teams we have ever
worked with on a mission trip.

It was an incredible trip, and it changed our lives.  Here are the top 7 things I discovered for the first time or perhaps rediscovered:

1.  The body of Christ is amazing and beautiful.  We came from different life experiences with different gifts and talents, yet we were truly one, unified team.  We used our gifts and talents to serve the communities, the local church, the school, the staff, and one another. 

2.  Teenagers are AWESOME!  Watching our teenagers jump in and love on the local kiddos was such a joy.  They worked hard and never complained.  They fully immersed themselves in the culture and loved openly, honestly and without judgment.  I think every mission trip should include teenagers because it is life changing for them and their contribution is valuable.  Our world will change for the better, if we encourage and equip this generation to serve and love.

3.  Watching first-timers experience mission trips will forever be one of my MOST favorite things.  I love watching those who are nervous or hesitant learn to relax and enjoy the experience.  I smile when I watch them talk or laugh with locals.  We had the privilege of watching their life and perspectives change forever.

 4.  Some people are truly called to missions.  It might not be as a full-time missionary, but it might.  It is exciting when you see it happen, and now I have the honor to encourage and confirm how they feel.  And if you are not called to full-time missions, it is SO important that we encourage and support those who are called.  Pray.  Give money.  Send hard-to-get items.  They have a hard and lonely job, but we can be a part of the bigger mission of spreading the gospel by loving them well.

5.  Our job on short term mission trips is NOT to rescue the locals from poverty.  My job is NOT to save them.  There is only one Rescuer and Savior and his name is Jesus.  My job is to share truth, encourage the local Christians, and love and serve BIG. 

6.  Happiness is not about what you have or don’t have.  More money does not mean you are happier.  Some of the happiest, most content people are those who live in impoverished areas, because they understand better than most that true contentment comes from relationships.  They live beautifully in community.  They enjoy being with one another and are some of the most generous people.  They have very little, but offer you their chair, a meal, coffee, etc. They give because they believe that by being generous, God will be generous with them. 

7.  In the beginning of the week, many struggle with comparing how Americans do things or the American way of life to how seemingly wrong the locals are doing it or living.  We cannot fully process how hard it is to see a little girl cleaning aluminum foil in dirty water, or the lack of plumbing, or the shack-type homes made from whatever they could find.  We notice the trash thrown in the streets or fields, and the super thin horses, cows, and dogs.  We talk about wanting to take a kid home because somehow, we believe that America would be better for them.  But by the end of the week, we begin to realize that they have families, friends, and communities and they are loved; why would you take them away from that? They care for what they do have instead of hating their homes; they invite you in and are proud of what God has given them.  You stop feeling sorry for them and instead begin to realize that different doesn’t mean worse.  Different is what heaven will look like one day.  Different is beautiful.  Different teaches us to love deeper, wider, and fully.  Different has the power to mold us into a compassionate, empathetic people.  Different is amazing!

Emma Grace patiently working with
a little girl at VBS.
I found Jake outside playing with three boys.
Look at the complete JOY on both of their faces!
Scott and I took our two oldest kiddos with us.  Jacob is 18 and Emma Grace is 16.  This was their 5th international mission trip and the 2nd time to the Dominican Republic.  I haven’t been on a trip with them in over 6 years.  I am reminded, once again, how AWESOME my kids are and that these mission trips have changed them from the inside out.  I watched with admiration as Emma Grace helped with the Bible story skits, danced with kids, and took time to love and support a couple of children with special needs.  Jacob was a kid magnet and within minutes he would have little boys climbing onto his shoulders or sitting in his lap.  He never smiled bigger or more brightly.  He spent hours playing soccer and basketball with high schoolers and never complained about the heat…it was HOT!  If you have the opportunity to take your children on a mission trip, please consider it.  I have never met anyone who has regretted the decision!
The little boys enjoyed our teenage boys!
Emma Grace shining brightly during
one of our Bible story skits.
So now what? So much to process still, but my heart’s desire is that what we saw and experience won’t simply be a momentary feeling.  I pray that God will continue to work in us and through us and that we will slow down and assess how we are living our lives now, here in Texas.  What can we do differently to live better in biblical community? How can we continue to support the Dominican people and Makarios?  How can we continue to bring awareness to those we encounter?  How can we put into practice the truth and observations that we gathered during our time in the Dominican?
I cannot expect anyone to change me, my way of thinking or acting, except for me.  God reveals himself to me and now I must act. 
Scary, but exciting. 
Confusing, yet so clear.
Complicated, but really it is simple.

It starts with me and me alone.