Short Term Missions are Selfish…but maybe that’s ok (2/16/16)
If we are honest with ourselves, short term missions have become somewhat of a fad within the modern Christian church. Taking a week to drive down to Mexico to build houses, or flying to Honduras for three weeks to help start an orphanage, or maybe spending a month in Kenya trying to start a self-sustainable agricultural system. You’ve at least heard of these sorts of things. You’ve likely done one of them. Or at least wished you could.
Why do we go?
Why do we choose to spend so much money and time on these sorts of trips?
Because of Romans 10:14-15….we say…and Isaiah 6:8…and James 2:15-17….and of course Matthew 28:16-20
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
…”Here am I! Send me.”
… “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”
But is that why we really go? To share the gospel…to clothe the poor…to feed the hungry?
I dearly hope that is at least part of the reason we go! But if that is our purpose….if our purpose is to build solid relationships that allow the gospel to be shared, to give the poor a way of caring for themselves in a self-sustaining manner, or to abolish poverty in an efficient manner…isn’t there a much better way of doing so than to spend $3,000 to travel half-way across the world for 2 weeks?
I thought a lot about this while we were on our AMOR trip to Tanzania with STEMM.
What good could 16 students do in a far too short 2 weeks in Tanzania? That is too short of a time to build solid relationships where we can become respected enough in the community to sincerely share the gospel from the heart. We don’t even speak Swahili! And most of what we ended up doing was seeing new things and meeting new people instead of having a physical impact on the health and well-being of the people we met. And if you think about the $4,000 that each of us spent to go on this trip, and multiply it by at least 15 students, that’s roughly $60,000 that we could have donated to STEMM or some other organization in Tanzania to improve the lives of the people there instead of using it on ourselves. So are short term missions pointless then?
Why do we even bother going? Is it so that we can feel good about ourselves…cause we “helped”? Or is it to have a little fun traveling the world and seeing new cultures? Or maybe so that we can feel like we’ve done something important in our lives?
….Think about it a little bit…..
……Are short term missions what we really think they are?
I would argue no. I would argue that short term missions aren’t as self-sacrificing and Christianly and world-changing as we like to think they are.
They are in fact, rather a selfish thing to do.
But I don’t think that is wrong.
I would claim that these short term mission trips aren’t so much about helping the people we are going to meet, as they are about helping ourselves. They are about helping us to open our eyes to the world that God has made. They are about allowing us to see what we should be praying for. They are about teaching us how great the faith and love of a people can be even when their situations are not the best. They are about building friendships with people that live half a world away. They are about putting a longing in our heart to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who we may never see again in this life.
These trips may be selfish…but they are oh, so valuable. Because, while they may not be the most effective way of helping physically, they change the lives of those who go. We who go on these trips are far more changed than those who are being “helped” or “missioned to.”
And because of this I can now share with you all these stories that I have heard and seen. I can tell you about Debra. I can wake up each morning to an alarm with the name Priska running across my phone screen to remind me to pray for this little girl. I can remind my family and my friends to be thankful for the endless blessings that we in the States have and I can ask them to support those missionaries who give up their whole lives to care for others across the world. And most importantly these trips are important because they have made my heart so open and full now with the endless possibilities that God might have in store for me and my life from here on out!
If we are going on these short term trips as mission trips…then we are wrong. We are causing more trouble and spending more money than we are benefiting the people there…but if we are going on a vision trip…to see what God is doing there already and to be praying and seeking what God is going to do with our own lives…then that is the right way to go about it.
And in that case, short term mission trips may be selfish… but maybe that’s ok.
God is very good!
Lest We Forget (2/11/16)
It is strange to think that exactly one month ago we were just leaving Tanzania. Strange to think that we were sweating in 100+ degree weather (instead of the chilling 11̊ it is right now)…that we were watching Mt. Meru and Kili in the distance during bumpy jeep rides….playing with Armani , Francis, Sofia, and the others at the STEMM Orphanage…waving out the car windows as we passed mud huts on dusty—and later flooded—country roads…. Those moments seem a world away.
But that’s what I’m afraid of most. That soon those memories will be hidden amongst the busy schedules, the classes, the worries of this life
…that those moments will get lost
…that without even realizing it
The first week back was a shock. Everywhere I looked I would compare American life to what I’d seen in Tanzania. And what I saw disgusted me. The way that we waste food. The amount of stuff we have. Our constant complaints in a world of plenty. And every day I thought of the kids we met…of Little Glory…Lucy….Mattias….Priska. I thought of our drivers (Ray, Freddie, Noel, The King of Tsetse flies and the others) and all that they taught us along the way. I thought of the mud shacks that were homes. Of the children waving and celebrating on the sides of the street. Of the man who blew kisses at us from the street corner as we drove by. Of the beauty of morning worship and literally dancing with praise while at the orphanage. Of the value of education in a world where there is so little of it.
…I relived those memories time and again that first week.
And then slowly,
those moments began to fade away. “Real” life started to hit again, and I began to forget about the little things that had bothered me about my own culture a week or two before. The memories of that trip seemed like photographs I had dug up from years ago, and Tanzania never felt so far away.
But every once in a while I still have those moments when something hits me like a freight train.
And those moments are oh, so good.
For example, watching the Superbowl this past weekend made me sick, as I thought about how many millions of dollars are spent on advertising and halftime shows each year when all of that money could be put to such better use in places like Tanzania.
And last weekend as I was babysitting, I found myself standing in the middle of a play room where I could spot ten different Barbie dolls strewn across the floor.… and all I could think was what one little Tanzanian girl would give for just one of those, and here this little American girl has more toys than she could ever play with.
It is so very important that these moments continue to hit me! Because I need to be reminded! As life gets busy and I am drug back into the responsibilities of being a student, a daughter, a sister, a friend, these are the moments that I need to be reminded of the most.
Because that was the whole point of this trip. Not that we would just have fun. Or even that we could find ways to help the people of Tanzania. But it was so that this trip might be able to change us and shape us in ways that are unimaginable. But we can only do that if we continue to remember what we saw and the memories that we shared with those we met there. Those memories are some of the most valuable gifts I have ever received and I must never, ever lose them. I don’t want to forget! I don’t want to lose the lessons I have learned! I want to keep growing and learning from those memories so that I can see where God is leading me.
So please…2 months from now…10 months…3 years… 10 years….25 years down the road. Please ask me about my trip to Tanzania. Please ask me to tell you the stories of all the dear people that I met there. And remind me above all else to pray. To pray for all I have seen….for what God might be calling me to do…and for the lives of those who I meet in Tanzania, that the Lord may continue to work in their hearts and through them.
Because we must keep sharing our experiences….lest we forget.
Our God is so good!
My Name, is Priska (1/18/16)
Jino lako nani?” I asked in broken Swahili. There was a whole circle of kids at my feet, but they all looked up at me with blank stares. They didn’t understand. Ok. This isn’t working very well, I thought to myself. I was trying to ask them their names, but either they were too shy to respond, or else I had so badly butchered the question that they couldn’t understand what I was saying (Let’s be real…it was more likely the latter).
“Jina langu ni Mariellen,” I said as I squatted down on one knee so that I was at eye level with the children. My name is Mariellen.
Those big, dark eyes were looking at me as though I was some strange, foreign object that they had seen before, but weren’t quite sure what to do with. What was I going to do with all these kids? Most of the kids were very young. Maybe 5 or 6 at the oldest. Their feet and their faces alike were dirt-coated and their clothes were shredded around the edges. They had all come in from the village for the small carnival we were putting on at the STEMM compound. And though excited to be there, they all looked lost and unsure of what was going on. I had been put in charge of leading this small group of ten kids around to each of the carnival stations.
One smile. From any of the kids. That’s all I really wanted at this point. For just one of them to let me know that they were maybe having the least little bit of fun…but nothing. The babies held hands with their older sisters, and the other little ones clung together in a bunch. …were they afraid of me? I was trying so hard though!
I bent down to one little boy. He had mischievous-looking eyes and yet a sweet complexion. “Jino lako nani?” I asked again, this time directly at him. Still no response.
What is going on here? I’m good with kids! Really good actually. …so what was I doing wrong?
Then suddenly one of the girls stood up just to my right. She was a little older than the other kids, though still a child. Maybe nine, ten?—I’m bad with ages— “My name…” she paused as she thought about her English, “is Priska.” And there was a smile..
She reached up to touch some of the long, blond stray hairs that had fallen out of my bun that were now framing my face. She stroked them gently with two fingers. “Beautiful!” she said.
“Asante (thank you),” was all I could manage, but I don’t think I have ever been so greatly complemented as in that moment. And I smiled. I pulled the rest of it down as well, all tangled and messy from running around the compound with the kids earlier that morning. Priska’s hand, and a few other tiny ones, reached out from the crowd of children to touch my hair. They were so amazed by it. By the color. By the length….but I was amazed by them. And mostly by this one little girl…by Priska.
We had fun after that. My kids and I. We did gunny sack races, blew bubbles and balloons, got facepaint, dove through an obstacle course, and drew on whiteboards. We skipped from station to station and never wanted to leave the last one, but were always excited to get to the next. We giggle and screamed and laughed and smiled…we smiled a lot.
And everywhere we went, Priska would find me, stand at my side, sometimes grab my hand…always smiling. I’d catch her watching me sometimes, trying to read my face to understand what I was thinking. And all the while I was trying to understand this little girl; this girl who spoke just the tiniest bit of English, but in some way could read me so well; this little girl who had a gem of a smile and who made my whole heart so very full when she looked my way. We’d only known each other for a couple of hours, but somehow in that short amount of time she had made me her friend. And it made me so incredibly happy!
At the end of the carnival, as all the kids were leaving, I said goodbye to them all. All my little dirtyfaced, bubbly kids bounded off to examine their candy and fight over the crayons we had given them, but Priska stayed. She gave me the biggest smile and the biggest hug goodbye…and then she was gone.
I don’t know much about Priska, other than that she spoke the tiniest bit of English and that for some reason she adored me that day far more than I deserved. Don’t ask me why, because I have no clue. But somehow, one little girl who lives in a small village in the northern part of Tanzania, thousands of miles and a whole world away from where I am sitting right now, somehow I can’t get her off my mind and out of my heart. How one little girl, who I will likely never see again, can bring me so much joy, is a true miracle indeed.
A week after the carnival, on the last morning that we were in Tanzania and on the day of my 21st birthday, we took a walk over to Sister Lydia’s primary school. We dropped the kids from the STEMM orphanage off there for their first day of classes and were given a small tour of the place. It was incredible to visit with all these little uniform clad children and to meet the teachers. But my favorite part of the day was when I walked past one of the classrooms and looked up just in time to see a young girl waving furiously at me through the window.
….Her name, was Priska.
God is so very good!
Mzungu in Tanzania (1/14/16)
“Mzungu! Mzungu! Mzungu!” The little boy’s pointer finger stuck straight at our truck as he walked along the opposite side of the road with the other hand held tightly by his mama. He had the biggest grin spread across his face and his whole head was turned in our direction, those big brown eyes staring us down intensely. I couldn’t help but laugh at his enthusiasm! But there was also something about his excitement in seeing us that made me think.
Mzungu…traditionally the word comes from the Bantu language, meaning “someone who roams around aimlessly” or “aimless wanderer”. The term was first used to describe the European explorers that came to the African Great Lakes region in the 1700s, who would often get lost. Therefore, the word originated from the Swahili word “zungu” meaning to be spinning around in the same spot or a dizzy person. But today the word is used all throughout Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Burundi, and the DR of Congo in reference to a person of European descent.
During our time in Tanzania, it was mostly the children who called us Mzungus, yelling it at us to capture our attention from the roadside as we drove passed. But others called us Mzungus too. Often the street vendors, or the young men sitting by the side of the road as they passed the time of day.
And while perhaps the name was meant to be insulting at times, it seemed to fit us very well. If it wasn’t for our excellent drivers, the lack of street signs and disorganized dirt roads would have indeed left us wandering aimlessly.
But more specifically, it fit us, because I have never felt so very white in my life.
We were Mzungus…
I don’t mean this in a bad way. We were not singled out and mistreated for being white as so many African Americans were treated for their pigmented skin during the 19th & early 20th centuries in the United States. If anything we were treated better because of our skin color. But we were noticed everywhere we went. And our white skin, promenaded out the windows of a long caravan of safari jeeps throughout Arusha and elsewhere, seemed to send up a white flag that we were indeed different.
Early on in our trip I asked Paschal, one of the very intelligent young Tanzanian men who was traveling with us and helping us translate Swahili, what the Tanzanian people actually thought of us when they saw our large group of young white men and women traveling together around Tanzania. But the truth of the matter is that our image had already been fabricated by our white predecessors, by whom I mean not only the early European explorers who came to roam Africa in the 1700s, but also by the countless masses of tourists who visit Tanzania every day to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro and to travel on safaris, all while residing in frivolous hotels and spending immense amounts of money on food and trinkets.
“They think you are all rich…incredibly rich,” Paschal told me. “This is why you must never wear a backpack into the busy market place; because they will steal it. The people think that all white people literally have piles of gold and diamonds in their backpacks. The Tanzanians believe that white people never have to work hard physically, especially in agricultural settings. And they never ever have to walk from place to place. Their lives are easy…simple…relaxed.”
“But, why?” I questioned, “This isn’t true. I know that for a fact.”
“It is because of the history of white people here. All the white men and women who came here first were wealthy. They dominated and began to take over parts of the government. The African people saw them as gods who could never die. It wasn’t until the World Wars as the Africans saw the whites killing the whites that they knew they could stand up to the white people and fight against them to gain their own independent government. This is why Tanzania wasn’t independent until the 1960s. But because of the thoughts of their ancestors, the Tanzanian people still love and respect white people here today. That is why they get so excited and wave at you as you pass by. You hold a certain power.”
My brain couldn’t process all of this…But it was true. They all waved as we passed by. Especially the children, and especially as we traveled farther out into the bush and into the smaller villages. I do believe waving to the excited children on the side of the road as we traveled in our safari jeeps is the closest thing I will ever come to feeling like a moviestar.
…But the truth of the matter is that we aren’t moviestars…and we certainly aren’t gods. Yet, for some reason many of the people we passed seemed to looked up to us everywhere we went.
If anything though, we are the cultural that these people should be looking up to the least. We are so fallen, so unsatisfied with life, so selfish, so judging, so hateful compared to this culture that we were visiting, and for some reason theywere looking up to us.
They want their lives to be like ours. So many of the Tanzanian people I met want to come The States. They want to experience American culture where the “good life” is. They want to see the things they hear about on the television and to hear the sounds of the American streets. It has been ingrained in them that America is like a dream land…a place where all their wishes will come true…if only they can get there. At the end of our trip, we were even instructed not to become Facebook friends with many of the new peers we had made in Tanzania for fear that we would start getting friend requests and emails from individuals who wanted our help to come to The States.
But while so many of the Tanzanian people seemed to want what we have so baldy, what they didn’t realize is that they have some of the most precious aspects of life that many Americans are still searching for today.
JOY: I have never seen so much joy on the faces of children. A single balloon can bring smiles to a whole group of children, and even just a simple game of duck-duck-goose is a source of entertainment that is without comparison.
SLOW-PACED LIFE: Time is more relaxed in Tanzania. Life isn’t run by the clock, and there is time enough to just enjoy life…to see the beauty in the simple things.
CONTENTMENT: While so many Tanzanians do wish to experience American culture, so many of them are incredibly happy with their lives. In America we have everything, and still think we need more. But in Tanzania the people are thankful for what they have.
As humans, we are engineered to always want what we do not have. Sometimes we get so busy seeing the good things in other places that we forget to see the rich and beautiful world right beneath our feet. I pray that both we and the people of Tanzania may see that. That we in The States may be thankful for the endless blessings we have…for food to eat, for shelter over our heads, for peace, for good education, and a strong healthcare system. And I pray that the people of Tanzania will find satisfaction in their rich culture, in good friends, in the kindness of their people, and in the beautiful creation that surrounds them. God has blessed the Mzungus, but he has also blessed the Tanzanian people in incredible ways that the people of the United States can’t even comprehend. The only sad part of this situation is that it took me being a Mzungu in Tanzania to comprehend that. God has given each of these cultures so much more than we know and we should be praising Him endlessly for the glory of it all!
God is good!