"Oh my goodness, you're going on a mission trip to ___________? What are you going to do? What's y'all's purpose over there?"
There is a stigma associated with short term mission trips. That stigma is based on goals of accomplishment and to-do lists, projects and work sessions. But the truth is that short term missions (and missions in general) must not ever be limited to construction and gardening projects. These things are good. Nothing is wrong with going to another country to help others with ventures that have been long forgotten. But this cannot be our only focus.
I've been going through a study on abiding this summer with thousands of other women using the Naptime Diaries Abide journal. It is no coincidence that the week before I left for Kenya (before I even knew I was going), the theme was to stay near the vine. In John 15, Jesus tells the disciples that He is the vine. When we stay near the vine, we know His heart. And His heart is for His children. The phrase "People > Project- every single time" is something I've been turning over in my mind for the last few weeks.
When we go to another country with the mindset that we are the Americans who have come to save the day and help the poor people who have no other means of helping themselves, we have lost sight of the real purpose for missions. The purpose for missions is to spread the light of Christ and meet people where they are. We go to see others' lives and learn from them. As mere humans, we cannot "bring God" anywhere. News flash: God is omnipresent. He is in all places at all times. For years, I have been a part of Mocha Club, a non-profit that is committed to several on the ground projects within Africa. After spending time in Africa this summer, this perfectly sums up my sentiments:
So what, if not projects, are short term mission trips for, you ask? People. As Christine Caine says, "What, if not people, is most important in this life?" We were created for God and for others. And when we travel to another place, taking in its sights, sounds, smells, and stories, we learn to walk alongside people in a way unlike our norm. While in both Uganda and Kenya, there were various things to do on the list. We had places to go and things that we wanted to get done. But at the end of the day, it came down to people. As one of my team members simply stated, "Everything is relational."
When people ask about what I "did" in Uganda and Kenya, it is easy for me to come up tongue-tied and grasping for words. I didn't "do" much in the sense that the purpose for traveling there was not to get things done. We were able to help out around the grounds of Camp Chemi Chemi in Kenya, and through that, we learned just how special those gestures are. Planting grass, staining furniture, and moving garden plants seem like mundane manual labor tasks, but they mean so much to the people there who will forever remember us as they take care of the tasks we began.
So what did I "do" in Kenya? I met some amazing people. I listened to some amazing stories. I made some new friends. I connected and worshiped with brothers and sisters in Christ. And my hope and prayer is that I will be able to return and continue to build upon those relationships. Because while an agenda with a neatly checked off to-do list feels good to the type A who needs some boxes to be filled in, Christ has people in mind. And His heart is that we connect with our fellow sojourners in the faith and find community in places where we least expected it.