2011 was the first year my company, Southwestern Advantage, implemented organized service projects to meet the needs of the communities we go to for incentive trips. Over the years, we’ve met some incredible people and helped some outstanding organizations. What’s special about these projects is they are entirely funded by the independent student dealers – college students who donate a portion of their business profit to make it all happen.
When you sow your seed, you hope to see your fields flourish and yield worthy crops. As such, we find local people and help so they may have resources to multiply their efforts long-term, spreading their seed to see the spoils of their own bountiful harvest take root and change lives.
While seeking out potentials recipients for our service projects, a harvest we sowed six years ago with an orphanage once again caught up with me, as it has many other times since. But this time was different.
This harvest is now a ghost of the past that no longer exists as I knew it to be… or knew it could be. It was a mixed bag of emotions. I felt like the particular bag these emotions were mixed up in was pulled over my head, sucking the air from me… slowly suffocating me. It could have been the humid, sticky, steamy summer temperatures toying with me as I melted to the floor. But when I gasped for air, I saw clearly what God was showing me. Confusion has a weird way of leading to clarity.
Here’s the backstory: Elisa (a co-worker I was traveling with) and I had a gap in time in between meetings with organizations and wanted to do something productive. So, we did what most people would not think to do: went to play with orphans.
Now, in the past, I’ve had a welcoming reception and free-reign of the orphanage. I’ve been to this orphanage over 10 times. We have painted, put on a new roof, cleaned storage rooms, deep cleaned their kitchen, bought thousands of dollars worth of clothing, medicine, food, and supplies, had a pool party, taken the kids to the beach, held the babies who live in a dark closet, bought mattresses to replace the foam they were sleeping on… Well… you get the picture.
But this time… this time, it was different. The welcome was cold and guarded. While listening to Elisa converse in Spanish, I had an uneasy feeling. My Spanish is “no bueno, es muy pequito,” but I could tell something was wrong, something was off. Body language and tone is a universal language. Suddenly and out of nowhere, I got a migraine where I started to lose my vision. I listened silently trying to make out the conversation, but could only focus on the squiggly lines everywhere. What I have come to realize over the years working with foreign organizations is there are things always going on you just don’t see. I know this and, as such, always work to partner with organizations where this is as little of the case as possible, or at least is not prominent.
Upon further reflection on the strange encounter, what I realized was how things change: people change, situations change, hearts change… and yes, memories change because they are sometimes short-lived. While I’d like to say all the people I meet are people of integrity who have pure hearts and are right with God… the reality is, this is a fallen world full of broken people. Broken people lead broken lives. They also lead organizations. Just because they get labeled as something helpful and good, it does not mean they are. You can call an orange a banana if you want, but no one cares if they are not there to correct you. And so it is when no one knows what goes on behind closed doors with bars and locks (as this organization has lots of).
In a strange, and what could be described as a not-so-positive interaction with a past organization that’s received much help from us before, I feel I was given a sign to not engage further. As soon as we walked out the doors, my sight was fully restored. I took this as a sign to put a halt to our relationship for now. My vision was clouded so my judgement would not be. It happened to Paul on the road to Damascus, so why not me in a Mexican orphanage on a much, much lesser level? I thank God for speaking to me in ways I never imagine. In a place where things go on that rock our unenlightened Americanized minds and comfortable mindset, it’s because of things like this – my eyes are wide open.
Trey Campbell, firstname.lastname@example.org
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*The picture above is a little girl behind locked bars at the orphanage in 2014.