My friend Collins from Cameroon is in town this week, and I have had a wonderful time catching up with him. He served as my Administrative Assistant in the Mission office, and became a close friend of the family. He was especially helpful when we had mission teams from America come and visit.
On Monday night, Collins and I attended a mission team “reunion” at a home in Allen, where members of Creekwood United Methodist Church gathered to remember a visit they made eight years ago to lay a foundation for a church building.
The evening was full of laughter and reminiscing. I chatted with a woman named Jennifer, who told me frankly that the mission trip had changed her life. I asked her how it had changed her, and she recited a litany of reasons. For one, she explained that she’d never worshipped God quite like the Cameroonians taught her to do.
Another woman at the table quickly chimed in that, no matter how much good the team had done for the people of Cameroon, the greatest benefit had come to the Americans. “We got more out of that trip than they did,” she commented.
These are comments that I hear all the time from people who have been involved in mission work. The act of being in service to other human beings in the name of Jesus is never a futile or empty experience; it is always richly rewarding and meaningful. You can’t help but be blessed when you bless others!
To leave one’s home and do mission work in another country adds another enriching element to the experience; it forces you into a cross-cultural context where you cannot make assumptions about other human beings. You must put yourself in the submissive position of being dependent on others; you have to accept that you are no longer in a situation where you are not in control, not in charge, and may not even understand what is happening.
To give an example from Cameroon, American visitors begin their cross-cultural experience the moment they leave the airport. As soon as they step out into the street, they are accosted by crowds of people shouting in a foreign language, pressing against them, grabbing for their luggage. These crowds are not hostile; they are mostly young men who are trying to win the right to carry luggage in return for a tip. But if you didn’t know that, you might think you were being assaulted.
Everyone should put themselves into cross-cultural experiences on a regular basis. It does a soul good to be in a situation which feels foreign and unfamiliar, because it forces you to let go of your prejudices and assumptions about others. It can open you up to new and different ways of being, as well as expose you to the great diversity of habits, customs, and traditions within humanity.
And it will create empathy. You will learn to put yourself into other’s shoes, to experience their feelings and emotions, rather than making snap judgments.
That’s the reason why I encourage Christians to go on international mission trips; it’s not about taking a vacation or going sightseeing. We don’t go just because they need us, as much as we need to experience life from their point of view. We desperately need to understand that the rest of the world does not revolve around us or our way of doing things. We need to develop the humility of being citizens of the global community.
One international mission opportunity that KPUMC has offered regularly is Proyecto Abrigo, a ministry which builds homes for the poor in Juarez, Mexico. Oscar Brown is a member of the PA Board of Directors, and is planning a church trip later this fall.
Another upcoming opportunity is a trip to Kenya, led by my friend, Rev. Jacob Keegah, who will be taking members of Lovers Lane UMC in August 2017 to meet young girls who need financial and spiritual assistance in attending high school. We currently sponsor one of them, a 15-year old named Brenda Kendi, who is now attending Ikuu Girls’ High School in Chuka, Kenya, thanks to our help. I’m thinking about making the trip next summer; if you’re interested, please let me know.
I would like to encourage you to consider taking a foreign mission trip sometime in the next year or two, and to that end, I hope that this church will continue to look for overseas opportunities to do meaningful and relational work in the coming years. I promise that it will change your life, in ways that you can’t really imagine right now. You’ll be surprised to see what God’s world looks like, when you see it from someone else's eyes.