As I thinker (not a feeler), I never really know what to "expect" from missions trips. You hear about people who go to some part of the world, and come back and they are completely forever changed. Just thinking about it will bring tears to their eyes. And they will never be the same again.
My visit to Laos definitely changed me. It changed my perspective on what poverty is, what child sponsorship is, and how World Vision works to change lives. But I didn't have an emotional reaction or "transformation" because of the trip. But that's okay. Not everyone responds the same way.
This missions trip was very different then what many in the church define as a "missions trip". Did we build something? No. Did we tell others about Jesus? No. [If we did we'd probably end up in jail, or worse]. What did we do? Nothing. Nothing. And that is OKAY!
We went to learn. To see. To exeperience. And we went to develop a friendship with other people on the opposite side of the world in a very different culture and life than our own. Was this a waste? Absolutely not. Here's why:
- I saw poverty with my own eyes. I saw it and smelled it and tasted it. When I look at my bank account and see $39 leave it every month to go to Kob and his Mom, I know who that is. I met them and hugged them. I played ball with Kob. I saw the school he will go to and the garden he will eat from. That changes your perspective on your own finances and what bills are most important to pay.
- I saw World Vision in action. I saw how they use their money, how they hire people within the country who want to make a difference. I saw how a Christian organization can work in a communist Buddhist society, and without overtly evangelizing can indeed share the gospel and bring people to Christ in spite of the religious climate. I saw how a girl who grew up in poverty has chosen to use her education to help others, because of the help she received as a child. She wants to break the cycle for the generations coming behind her.
- I saw how World Vision can change an entire community, and the lives of dozens of children, through child sponsorship, the gift catalogue, and the 30hr famine. I saw how poverty can actually be STOPPED if it is approached the right way, which I know nothing about, but the people who work in WV Laos do.
- I learned about the importance of community, and how broken western society is in it's world of individualism. I learned that sponsoring one child with World Vision actually means helping an entire village. That every child is precious and changing a community will help all of them. I learned that generosity is most felt in the lives of those who have little. It must be more blessed to give then to receive based on what I saw in Laos!
- I learned that soccer balls and skipping ropes are far more fun than iPads and XBox's.
I honestly learned way more than this. This is what came to me in 10min sitting at Starbucks back in Moncton. Time and again the people of Laos thanked us for coming. Thanked us for coming to meet them, to see them, to visit. They asked that more visitors would come. The ministry of presence is such a big deal! In the national office before we visited the field, Amelia and Ian explained to us that western society is so obsessed with DOING. We have to DO something or else we feel useless. Feeling. They suggested that really, one of the main reasons we are so fueled to DO is actually quite selfish. We want to feel good. We want to feel good about ourselves for doing something to help those poor people on the other side of the world. But here's the thing.... people in other parts of the world are actually quite capable of helping themselves! And in fact, doing things for them can actually worsen the cycle of poverty. You are eliminating jobs, eliminating skills being learned, eliminating the empowered spirit they need to sustain life for themselves in the years to come. It is far better to teach someone how to fish then to keep giving them one fish every 3-4 years. They assured us, and after this trip I believe even more strongly: not all mission trips are about doing. Sometimes, you need to just be. To see. To show love.
Laos was seriously an incredible experience. If you are part of TJC's Global Partnership with Xebangfai I would strongly encourage you to be a part of a future XTeam. Not because you're going to do anything. But because you'll develop a love for the people and for God's work in that country. And that will go further than anything you could ever do.