by Julie Cramer Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Given the opportunity, would you spend tens of thousands of dollars building a high school—with a swimming pool—in a semi-arid, sub-Saharan African village? Well-meaning Westerners did—and years ago, I taught in that school. Every day, I walked past groups of students talking and laughing, with their feet dangling over the edge of the empty pool. A thin layer of rainfall from the wet season had puddled at the bottom, growing thick with algae and mosquitos. And every day, I wondered what on earth those builders had been thinking.So as we seek to follow Jesus’ marching orders in Acts 1:8—to bear witness of his truth to the ends of the earth—we must ask ourselves, Are we building swimming pools in the desert? For the Orphan Outreach mission participants who have pinched the pennies, raised the dollars, taken the shots, lost the sleep, slogged the muddy roads, and taken orphans by the hand, short-term missions—if done well and with humility—can spark long-term, sustainable good.SO, WHAT MAKES A TRIP “GOOD”?Learn. Eat. Be. The mission of Orphan Outreach is “to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by ministering to orphans around the world by meeting spiritual, physical, emotional and educational needs.” It accomplishes its mission only in coordination with believers and ministry leaders on the ground—whether in a city dump in Guatemala or a slum in Kenya.“I value Orphan Outreach for the way they partner with Christian workers in country, who are already established with a godly plan,” remarks Jennifer King, director of Port Kids and Family Engagement at Westport Church in Hillsboro, Oregon. “They are not helping to make new ministries, but to uplift and grow the work of God’s people on the ground.” Such a strategy of development, in her opinion, eliminates the danger of trying to be a hero or to rescue a community or culture. Instead, she says, “We are positioned as partners in kingdom work. We are family. We are carriers of value. By going, we are saying, ‘You matter to us and to God. Spending time with you matters.’ We are making disciples who make disciples.”Author Michelle Acker Perez agrees in Things No One Tells You about Going on Short-term Mission Trips(Relevant, May 9, 2016): “Developing countries do not need short-term heroes. They need long-term partners. This isn’t meant to discourage missions work. On the contrary, the act of going is important. Jesus left His home, the comfort of the Father to go, to be among the people. Your willingness to leave your home, your comfort and GO is an example of that, too. So go, be among the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Eat what they eat. Observe what they do. Don’t spend your time in McDonalds.”Knowledge of culture helped Margo Isbell—cofounder and past president of Women for Orphans Worldwide, an auxiliary of Orphan Outreach, on a recent trip to Guatemala.“In the past, domestic adoption hasn’t been culturally acceptable in Guatemala. They are trying to change that culture, and they are making inroads,” she said. “In fact we took a group of toddlers, ages 3 to 5, who were about to be adopted on a trip to the zoo last summer. They were so excited—about being held, about seeing the animals for the first time, and about getting a forever family. We were helping them see the world beyond the orphanage.”For Bill Folkerts, coordinator of LifePoint Church’sLegacy Orphan Ministry in Baltimore, Maryland, the ways in which Guatemala has imprinted its beauty on his life are measured in simple and profound moments he’s both experienced and witnessed. From watching teammates meeting sponsored children for the first time at Little House of Refuge to installing an in-line hot water heater at the children’s home so the kids would be able to take warm showers and watching his wife carefully trimming the hair of the boys at the home, he’s seen transformation take place in the lives of both the children and the people serving them.“In the United States, we are very good at transactions,” says Jason Risely, who attends 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas, a supporter of the Jubilee School in Honduras. “We’re good at making things work more easily, faster, cheaper. This is a good thing, truly. However, in my opinion, the typical American is less good at being relational. It is irrefutable that sending money to a country is a better method to do a transaction that accomplishes ‘more stuff.’ However, that’s only part of the picture. Sending a check won’t help a middle school kid [in the US] understand that the world—God’s world—is bigger than Disney World and the other places we take them. Sending a check won’t give a hug to a child whose education is provided by our family’s giving. Traveling on a mission trip is an opportunity to add a dimension to our financial giving. It’s not ‘instead of.’ It’s ‘in addition to.’ And Hondurans have a community and connectedness that I don’t have. They are rich in a way I’m not—and, frankly I think their wealth has more meaning than mine.”Listen, pay attention—and join the locals in their work“I have thoughts, ideas, and plans that I think are great. However, my thoughts, ideas, and plans are from an American mindset. Often the things I think are needed are not important to the individuals at the project. Just because I think they should want it doesn’t mean they actually want it,” says Jim Clawson, a veterinarian by profession and a humanitarian in Bungoma, Kenya, by serendipity.“We first visited Bungoma on a vision trip,” Clawson says. “My wife, Carmen [Scroggin] and I weren’t even scheduled to see the Madeleine School. Mike Douris from Orphan Outreach met us in Nairobi and told us about the project, and how he thought it would be a great fit for us. Carmen asked Mike if there was a way we could visit the school. Without missing a beat, Mike said, ‘It’s short notice, but we can see.’ That’s amazing about Orphan Outreach—everyone is flexible and open to new ideas. Just because we planned for the trip to go one way doesn’t mean it had to be that way. We did get to visit the site, and fell in love with it.”For Carmen Scroggin, paying attention may have saved the life of her sponsored child’s mother. “I met Sarah on the first work trip to Bungoma. She was about five at the time, very tiny, and she just grabbed my heart. She was wearing a ripped dress, and she wore it every day. She would come up and grab my hand. She had a sweet spirit so I sponsored her. On the second trip to Bungoma, I asked the doctor to evaluate her. She checked out okay, but she was missing a lot of school. So they had the mother come and we found out that she had sickle cell anemia. It’s a disease that doesn’t go away, but from that we were able to give her treatment and got her into a clinical trial. Now she gets the medicine she needs and Sarah is attending school again.”“Just because it works here doesn’t mean it will work there,” Clawson shares. “I can’t stress how important it is to find out the needs of the project by listening to the people who actually live and work there. Just sending money is great! The problem is, what is the best way to use the money? If people don’t go to find out the needs, how do we know what the needs are? Also, when people learn that you went or are going on a mission trip it creates interest. People are more likely to give and become involved if they know someone who is already involved. Thanks to Orphan Outreach, the Madeleine School is now a beacon of light and hope to the entire community,” he adds. “There is not a day that I don’t think of Bungoma.”Ellen Ratcliff, a veterinarian who returned to the Madeleine School in Bungoma, Kenya, recently, described the “magic of the place” in a social media post: “I’ve realized the priorities of my heart. And Kenya and the Madeleine School have risen to the top. There’s simply no way for me to explain the magic of being there, hearing the welcoming songs and dance, and knowing that you can deliver a glimmer of hope for the kids. There’s no way to illiterate the satisfaction of seeing the cow you purchased a couple years ago still having babies, producing milk, earning her keep. And there is no way to understand the importance of bonding with the other people on the mission and the local residents we serve and the relationships created within the short period of time we visit each trip.”Go backWhen King’s team returned home, the Westport congregation welcomed them so heartily that the entire congregation went on to raise enough money for Orphan Outreach to provide water for a number of communities. The church has since returned every year to serve the children of Gan Sabra HIV Home in Aizawl, India.If someone told Folkerts it was a waste of money to go on mission trips, he might agree … “if the mission team member was self-centered and considering the trip as a vacation. But for those that have a true heart for the vulnerable child, a mission trip is a great opportunity to be the visible hands and feet of Jesus and to build true relationships, especially for those that go on multiple trips to the same program or location. These kids need to see others who love them through word and deed.”Isbell echoes the sentiment. “It’s a gift to be able to travel to a country to help orphans,” she said. “It’s a different kind of joy than giving a monetary donation. You get to hold someone’s hand and look into their little eyes. It brightens up their world and creates a bit of real joy in their hearts.”It’s not all about you—but some of it isWhile it may be trendy to say we shouldn’t focus on a “life-changing” experience while on mission trips, the reality is that God has called you for his purposes. Look at any biblical figure summoned by the Almighty, and you see an example of a person changed. It’s true that we should avoid viewing short-term mission trips as not vacations; however, they ought not be uninspiring. It would be dishonest to pretend that we don’t hope for personal transformation of some kind. After all, only the hearts of the apathetic never skip a beat.“You’ll be changed in a way you won’t be able to predict,” Scroggin points out. “Not everyone is called to international missions, and that is okay. But I do believe that everyone is called to give and help in some way.”Scroggin’s friend, Shiela Torres, is an example. She and her husband long to adopt more children but are not in a financial position to do so. “Going through these emotions, I came across Carmen.” Torres says. “She introduced the program to us and how amazing it would be to sponsor a child. We decided to move forward with the sponsorship of two boys, Keith and Detan. Funny enough, we have two boys close to their ages. Teaching our kids how to provide and pray for others has been very positive and encouraging. They know now that they can impact a kid’s life with just a simple donation!”For King, a life-changing event happened before she ever set foot in India. She had made an appointment with her physician to prepare for the trip. He discovered cervical cancer, and scheduled her for surgery. She had to choose: should she go or abandon her plans?“I surrendered all to Him—my health, my fears, my family’s concern, my plans and my will,” King said. “So, in faith, and as a member of a 17-person team, I proceeded to be trained, cared for, and supported on God’s path in the direction of India.” In May 2008 she not only underwent a successful surgery, but also recovered in plenty of time to travel with the team.King’s personal experience reflects the principle found in Proverbs 16:1–9. “We plan, and God provides. If our plans align with his will, God promises to establish the work of our hands. We can rest in his sovereignty over the outcomes if we pray before we plan.”Isbell puts it this way: “You want to provide the communities with everything they want and need, but that’s not always possible. You need to be patient and pray to God, and believe that He will provide as he sees fit—all in His time and in His will.”“I can tell you the 16 people who went to Honduras grew close friendships that will last forever,” Risely shares. “Spending a week with a group of (largely) strangers in a foreign and often uncomfortable setting was special. It bonded us together and reminded me that we’re citizens of the world and a church that is truly unique. How do you describe singing songs in a foreign language with 100 strangers and feeling God’s presence in a new and strong way? How do you describe meeting the child for the first time who you’ve sponsored for two years of their education? How do you explain to your 12-year-old daughter that it’s possible to live in a home without heat, air-conditioning, or running water—and that many of the children do? I know, intellectually, that we live in a bubble. Getting a chance to get out of that bubble and experience it with my daughter and other members of 121 … it is life-changing.”“Throw your heart and soul into the ring without reservation,” Ratcliff wrote in her Facebook post. “Feel what you feel, know what you know, and always share the kindness and love you feel within with everyone you meet.”Kingdom-building is now. Humble, respectful, well-planned, short-term missions with long-range goals and relationships within the global body of Christ—in whatever fashion they may take—can refresh a soul and revive a community like the idea of a pool in the desert, yet with sustainable relief.#ServeOrphansWell is a five-part series on the impact of short-term mission trips in caring for orphans and vulnerable children. Our thanks to all who contributed to this article.