By Sharon Gardner, literacy intervention teacher and First UMC of Colleyville Partner Church Representative
Jill Barker, Donna Edwards, Kerry Mueller and I, all educators, had the privilege of being part of a "virtual mission trip" to collaborate with Education Manager Mabel Mustapha and CRC Director Olivia Fonnie. Since the planned July 2020 mission trip to the CRC had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, our plans for a Teachers Learning Collaborative, Phase 3, had to be put on hold. TLC is an initiative for teacher-leaders from Sierra Leone to lead professional development for other teachers from Sierra Leone, assisted by teachers from the US. Olivia and Mabel talked with HCW and asked if we would be interested in collaborating virtually, so that Mabel could share some of the training materials with teachers in schools. Mabel was also interested in learning more about study skill strategies. We met several times online, and it was delightful! We discussed and shared information back and forth to support teachers and students. This was a marvelous way to “go” to the CRC without leaving home, and to be in partnership with our sisters in Sierra Leone.
Obedience leads to an extraordinary blessing for a missioner as she returns to Sierra Leone.
by Tina DeBoeser, Director of Missions & Outreach, Ebenezer United Methodist Church
I had no plans to go to Africa in 2019. I will say that again - I had no plans to go to Africa in 2019. My year was simply too busy. A year of too much going and too much going on. Although I had been part of a team in 2018 and fell in love with the mission and people, I was not going back in 2019.
That was final.
Ever heard of the old Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs”? I should have known my head’s very reasonable reasons for staying were no match for the Holy Spirit whispering ‘go’!
So I went back to Bo to embrace the people, beauty, dignity, promise, and the mission.
I am no stranger to international missions; I am in fact the Director of Missions & Outreach at a large suburban church. As such, one of my key roles is to recruit, prepare, and send teams around the globe to work with partner organizations like Helping Children Worldwide. I recognize and appreciate what a privileged position I hold, one where I have the freedom to choose to experience these opportunities.
I am also no stranger to the criticisms of short-term mission trips. Many of the concerns raised are valid. When done poorly, a short-term mission trip can actually cause harm and prevent healthy development.
But when we start a trip well prepared, with a humble heart, and the expectation of developing a mutual relationship, it can be a thing of beauty. This has been my experience with HCW.
Returning to Bo in 2019 was especially exciting for me. Part of the trip was devoted to visiting and developing an agreement between HCW, my church and two (of an eventual five) villages. This new formal relationship is the brainchild of HCW and we are thrilled to be the beta test!
Visiting Samie and Fengehun villages was a surreal experience. We were greeted by the senior residents and chiefs, welcomed with song and given the VIP tour of community resources and liabilities.
Once we sat down to hammer out an agreement, it was fascinating to hear the villagers’ hopes for their community’s future. I was so encouraged to hear strong women speak about their aspirations for themselves and their children.
One thing I have learned from short-term missions is the truth about mothers. All mamas, regardless of where on the globe they happen to stand, want the same thing. They want the opportunity to raise their children in a safe environment, free of fear and disease. They want their children to have the opportunity to learn, pursue their purpose, to know that they are valued and loved, and to fall asleep with full bellies.
I believe that much division and fear in the world could be solved with proximity. Taking the time to be in authentic give-and-take relationships with others who do not look, act, buy, speak, think, vote, love, or live like us is the only way to remove the fallacy of ‘otherness’. Sometimes it takes going to the other side of the world to open your eyes and heart to those on this side of the street.
Africa imprints on your soul, just as surely as the beautiful, deep, organic smell clings to your clothes and suitcase long after you have returned home.
Although I have no plans to return in 2020, I believe I can hear God laughing right now.
Learn more about joining a mission team to Sierra Leone: www.helpingchildrenworldwide.org/mission-trips
Have you ever wondered if you should go on a mission trip? Mission travel is not for everyone, so how do you decide if this type of trip is right for you? Here are some reasons to apply for a team.
Meet new people and forge new relationships.
Mission teams are made up of people from different churches and sometimes different areas of the country. Even if there are others from your home church, you will get to know them in ways that you haven’t been able to before. Additionally, you will get to meet and enter into new relationships with the local staff and people on site where you are serving.
Grow in your trust and relationship in God.
When traveling on a mission team, you will have the opportunity to experience God’s provision on a daily basis, participate in daily devotions and prayers with your teammates, and with the local staff on the project sites. Because you are outside of your comfortable daily routine be prepared to see God in new and different ways.
Grow in compassion and servanthood.
The whole idea of traveling on a mission team is to serve other people. You will serve in ways that you may not have imagined. Even though your time will be spent in service to others, you will find yourself served as well.
Increased global awareness and cultural appreciation
American culture is very task oriented, while other cultures are more relationship focused. By spending time in and learning from other cultures, we can broaden our appreciation of God’s world and become more effective agents for change.
Get out of your comfort zone
Fear is a great immobilizer. If you let it stand in your way, it can keep you from some wonderful experiences. When we step out in faith and trust God - that is where we experience the greatest growth.
Experience worship in a new way
Worship in a new cultural setting is an amazing experience. Many of the worship elements are the same, but the difference in rhythms and context can bring a new appreciation to the services. Worshipping God together in a new place with new brothers and sisters can be an awe-inspiring experience.
Support the staff and leaders on the ground
It can be very draining to serve day to day in a resource poor environment without knowing that you are appreciated and supported. By working side by side with the staff and leaders at the programs, you will be encouraging and equipping them in their important work, making them feel cared for and valued.
While these are some wonderful reasons to join a team, there are some cautions. We must pay attention to our motives when applying for a travel team. If we are not careful, the attitudes we bring to mission service can be more harmful than helpful. We must temper our expectations, as a two week trip is not going to do much to change the underlying causes of poverty that you will see. But we can bring love, care, compassion, and support for the ministry partners that are already in the field. Mission trips aren’t right for everyone, and there are some not-right reasons for joining a team. Here are some reasons not to join a mission team.
Evangelizing to the ungodly
Many people initially want to travel on a mission team to “take the Gospel to the world”. God is already moving and working around the world. He invites us to go, see, and participate with Him in the work that is already being done.
Gain some skills and complete some projects
Many people sign up to travel on a mission team to get some work experience, or to complete some projects. Here again, we need to manage our expectations. If you would not be able to do a specific job in the US because you don’t have the skills or qualifications, then you shouldn’t expect to be able to do that job on the mission team. Also, we try to always hire local workmen to accomplish onsite work, as they have the knowledge and expertise to do things right within the environment and culture.
Mission is something you do “somewhere else”
Expect “mission” to become part of your lifestyle, not an “adventure” or “vacation” that interrupts your routine. You may try something for the first time on a mission trip, but don't go on mission to do what you would not do at home or pretend to be somebody you are not. And especially, don’t go just to do something you could not do at home.
We know how to “fix” their problems
Too often, Americans think that we have the best answers to every problem, if only others would just listen to us. We arrive on site and present our solutions to problems that we do not fully understand. These solutions are often inconsistent with the cultural, political, or social environment, but we don’t understand why they are reluctant to implement our amazing ideas. This attitude also ignores the real assets and local solutions that may be a better answer. Supporting those who live there to find and implement local solutions is much more sustainable.
I’m going to change the world
Be careful of high expectations. In the short time that you will be on your trip is it feasible that you will be able to learn the complexities of the underlying causes of poverty and deprivation that you see? And once you believe you understand, will you be able to implement projects and programs that will address those underlying causes? There are no quick fixes to the long-standing complex problems of poverty.
It will make me a better person
A mission trip experience often will spark spiritual, personal, and emotional growth. But don’t expect that a change in environment will transform you. Actually, the stress of travel and cultural change can bring much of our messiness out into the open.
A spiritual whim
Joining a mission team is not something to be taken lightly. Training is important, and you will need to commit to attending team training meetings. Spiritual, emotional and cultural preparation has immense value. Don’t be afraid to take some time to prayerfully consider joining a team. And if the deadline is too close for comfort, perhaps waiting for the next opportunity isn’t a bad thing.
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