I’ve traveled to several different countries in my lifetime. The purpose of these journeys was varied; vacation, visiting a friend, college choir trips, and of course missions. And while I learned much from being in these locales, I have come to realize there is a certain attitude when it comes to cross-cultural missions. You see, there is this perception that people in other countries need us to come and rescue them. We see media, hear stories and read about a very narrow-minded view regarding many of these remote places. And so often, we believe what we are told rather than investigating for ourselves.
When I was in high school, I went on a two week work trip to Mexico with several people from my church. Looking back, I wonder how much help we actually were to the gracious people who housed us, fed us and helped us in our endeavors. You see, much of the time while we were there was spent acclimating us to our surroundings, explaining what something meant due to language barriers and making sure we were doing our work correctly. I know we intended something good, but intentions aren’t always enough to justify the means to an end. Wouldn’t the funds we raised have gone much further if we sent them to the church so that they could hire locals to do the same work we did? Not only would the process have been quicker, but the project could have created jobs and given income to the locals involved.
More and more I’m reminded of the importance of sustainability, especially when it comes to mission efforts. Rather than going somewhere with the attitude of saving natives from their poverty by giving them a handout or temporary solution to their problems, shouldn’t we instead be teaching skills and coming alongside to empower those individuals for the future?
When I was preparing to go to Uganda last summer, I was concerned about all of the things I mentioned above. I didn’t want to go just to go and feel better about myself because I helped others. I wanted to be involved in a ministry that strives to educate, empower and equip people to make a better life for themselves and their families. I knew there would be a language barrier and cultural differences, but I wanted to show love by being the hands and feet of Jesus no matter the obstacles. And ROWAN offered that opportunity. I was able to meet people where they are, to go into their homes and hear their stories, to pray with them and share in their joy and hope. It wasn’t so much what we were doing, but who we were and how we were loving.
I learned so much about the people of Mawanga, the country of Uganda, the local ROWAN staff, the great God we serve, and myself. Probably the biggest lesson I gleaned was the importance of relationships; both with my heavenly Father, and also with those around me in my sphere of influence. And I also learned that I can best serve God and the people of Uganda here, rather than there. I left a big part of my heart in Mawanga and will always have a family there, but for now at least, my place is here.
**Disclaimer: I don’t want to give the impression that all short-term missions trips are wrong or unhelpful, just that there are certain factors to be considered before embarking on such an adventure. Also, if you haven’t already — read When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert