Acclimating back to normal life after a mission trip is never the same when the Holy Spirit has been active in changing lives.
As I washed out the dirt in my clothes and shoes from a mission trip to Nicaragua, I saw it as washing the dirt out of my life. I’m sure this is how others felt too. This is but one metaphor that symbolizes a week of intense experiences, discussions, relationships, devotions, and serious dedication to not only who we are through Christ, but who we want to be.
Since before its conception, this trip was blessed by God. It was his plan all along, when a former Southwestern Advantage student dealer and current missionary, Claire Whitcomb, had come back in my life. Months later, she contacted me about bringing a group to Masatepe, Nicaragua. This was met with enthusiasm because it had long been a desire of my personal ministry to take a group of young people on a mission. What was even better was this group included Madison, my 16-year-old daughter. I can’t think of any other better time invested in a child.
From the beginning, this trip was not to be one of “voluntourism” or something to be checked off a “Christian bucket list.” The way I see it, if the effects of your short-term help is never really felt long-term, then you have been no help at all. I appreciate the team in Nicaragua with International Teams (iTeams) mission organization. They interviewed me to make sure myself and the group I would bring down was the “right fit” with in their four-part missions strategy of ENTER > EVALUATE > ENGAGE > EXTEND.
Through this process, they are building teams both on the ground and who come to serve that are part of a long-term solution and not just a short-term feel-good experience. This community has been served well by this organization which has branched into multiple arms of blessings: a farm that is a product of many churches and pastors coming together that provides eggs (protein) for poverty-stricken children, and has orchards and pigs – this farm will also house a rehabilitation center for alcohol recovery which is the biggest problem in Masatepe; a coffee shop and company that provides jobs and makes coffee-related and leather products; and many other community projects and partnerships including a stellar internship program.
As I write this, I can hear my daughter reliving the past week’s events as she tells my wife about the people she met, those who invested in her, and what she learned. Over the course of a week, we had devotionals and worship, in-home visits with the elderly, dinner with locals, events we attended with Young Life, a Baptist school, and an organization that ministers to the children who live by the dump. We attended an inauguration for the farm in which the mayor spoke. We also helped prepare the farm for the vision the community and iTeams has for it. There were many more things that kept us busy and our spirits alive! Oh, and one of the college students was baptized in Lake Nicaragua.
Some of the best confidence builders in Christ came from the topics covered in our nightly devotionals which I can only describe as a discussion of real life problems with Biblical solutions. They were serious topics for a group of people seeking to live out their purpose and follow the Lord. It was refreshing being fed by these young people as much as I was trying to feed them.
I strongly believe in what a mission trip can accomplish on both sides. I’m familiar with When Helping Hurts and others opinions/facts on short-term missions, however, I can only buy-in with what I personally know and have experienced.
- It must go both ways. The outcome is determined by what is accomplished and the reason it needed to be accomplished.
- For the people going, is their perspective expanded and have they grown in their relationship with Christ? It’s not about creating memories, it’s about building a foundation of faith, becoming who you are called to be in the Lord’s Kingdom through an experience that would likely not happen without a change in venue and latitude.
- For the locals, there needs to be a long-term vision or reason for what work or relationship building is being done. Is it to set up long-term help? Will it meet the needs after you leave? Will there be a legacy to your trip beyond painting walls or getting pics for social media posts?
- It is imperative to partner with an organization that “gets it” and has an existing system in place. In my experience, there are lots of mission organizations that have intentions to do great things, but may actually be doing more harm. There is good in almost every one of the orgs, but a lack of vision and execution is often the result of intentions without research.
- Where’s the change? A successful short-term trip will have change in you, the team members you are with, the organization you may go through, and the people who you are there to reach or help. All of these must see growth for success to be measurable.
I know what we accomplished and what change was brought about in Nicaragua. That can wait for a future post, but what was told to me before we left will forever leave an impression on my heart:
“I was in a dry period, you all filled my soul.” – Jordy Vallecillo Tinoco.
This is not only change, but progress. I’ll leave you with this: the light of God shines down on those who venture into darkness for His sake.