Dear ALOS Family,
Last month I shared a post I wrote two years ago after my oldest niece went on her first outside-of-the-US mission trip. If you have strong feelings about the efficacy of short-term mission trips and have not read my first post, please read it. I used to be much clearer on my opinions on short-term trips; but love, aging, and seeing the trips from another side has muddied the water.
“Auntie Amy, tell me something about Chi-na.” Came the young voice from the back seat of the mini-van, pronouncing China as if it were two words. He was six and at first it was easy to share stories. But as the days went on, the question from the back challenged me to find something about China a six-year-old would find interesting. That six-year-old is now a young man in college, recently returned from a trip to Africa.
Since my first letter another niece and this nephew-of-my-heart have gone on short-term trips in the last three years. Each one has shown me something different about short-term trips I could not see or begin to understand until I saw it from this side of the trip. I will call them Elizabeth, Grace, and David. For the most part, you only see the time that they are with you. I want to share more of what God does in the lives and hearts of these young people.
Elizabeth, who I wrote of two years ago, was changed by her first trip. On her first trip with you she saw what you did and how language makes a vital difference and she wanted to communicate with the people you love. Last summer she went to another country and had diligently been studying Spanish at school, in part because of you, so she could communicate more. This quiet girl, who did not have the best Spanish on the team, became the team translator because you, dear friend on the field, invested in her on her first summer. So, because of you she “put on her big girl panties” and used the language she had.
One lunch she was seated next to a local pastor who spoke no English and because you poured into her that first summer, she had a meaningful conversation where they shared ministry ideas. Okay, she shared one idea and he shared several, but they had that conversation over a year ago and I still remember it. If Elizabeth was changed the first summer, she became committed the second summer, emboldened by what she could because she put in the time to study. She loves God, she loves you, she was at a pivotal point in her life and you included her in your work.
This is what you won’t see. Last year, as a senior in high school she thought she knew where she would go to college and then she visited the campus. Their Spanish program was too small and she knew she had to find another school. She’s going to major in Spanish with an eye to being a librarian. Her week with you, when you might have wondered if you were supporting a glorified vacation, you were changing the trajectory of a girls major and college. The ripples are still going out and how God uses your input in her life is still unfolding.
If Emily was mainly impacted by the cultural aspect of your work, it was the behind the scenes part that stood out to David. He was a reluctant support raiser. At first his plan was to either pay for the trip himself or have his parents help pay. I will skip several conversations about support followed by newsletters coaching and writing, but in the end, he did invite people to be a part of God’s work in the through him. As we debriefed after his trip, he talked about the people he met, the ways he saw missions differently, and his exposure to “the white savior complex.” Would it help to know that he is a business major? So, what might sound like a dry report and have you wondering if your time was wasted, it was not!
As with Emily, I see how you did not just get David. You might only have seen David, but you got his whole family and support team. Two days ago his mom texted me an article about the work you are doing. She is reading, engaged, and praying for you in ways she wouldn’t have before. As humans, we cannot care about everything (that’s God’s role). Instead, God has wired us for relationships. Because you opened yourself up to David, you opened yourself up to us, his people.
I’ll be honest, at this point David is not likely to return to the field. He said he acutely appreciated the ways he served alongside you, but he does not feel called by God to join you. However, he understands your life in ways he couldn’t have before, especially the support raising part and some of the ethical dilemmas a foreigner might face. He couldn’t believe that people wanted to support him and tasted of God’s faithfulness and provision. In regards to the ethical dilemmas, at one point he used the phrase, “I totally have it figured out” about something he had been wrestling with related to missions. Oh to return to the confidence of youth. In truth, it is because he trusted you and knows how much you care about those you came to serve, that he knows there is much he does not know. Thank you for allowing his time with you be used to build into a future sender . . . one who will pray and give in a more informed way.
My sweet Grace returned a few days ago from her trip, so she is still sorting through and processing what she experienced. What has surfaced so far is the importance of team. Her youth group would not have been the most united team you have ever had come and serve with you. They were a normal group of kids who have factions and because of the luxury of choice in the US, had not every really needed to come together. But during their trip, she experienced the Body of Christ at its best.
I go into detail because I know how much it would have helped me when I was in your shoes. Some of the teams are large and you might not actually have gotten to spend much time with Elizabeth, David, or Grace, but your time with them goes far beyond the mere days they had with you. Sitting on this side of well-thought out and prepared for short-term trips, I am reminded how God’s math is not my math.
The extra hours these trips cost you? The foolish questions the participants ask? The food they won’t eat? It is worth it. I have to admit, that I did not expect for Elizabeth, David, and Grace to come away with such tidy lessons for me (for us) related to culture, the life of a missionary, or team. Sounds almost too neat, doesn’t it? But God in his mercy may have the lessons so clear and “simple” as if to highlight that His ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts. This letter is merely to give you a glimpse of the parts of a summer trip you might not see.
Thank you for hosting and loving on my nieces and nephew. God has taken your efforts, and like the fishes and loaves, fed more than seems possible.
I’m grateful for you,