Who Gains the Most from a Mission Trip?

Why would anyone want to use their vacation time to go overseas to live among the poor and risk their health and safety? That is a question I actually get more often from those that I go serve rather than friends and family at home. The question always surprises me. I’m usually thinking “why not?” I feel as though my reward is sometimes greater than those I am serving but those I am serving are so humble that they do not readily understand what they have to offer.

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Serving on a mission, whether locally or overseas, is the best way to learn and understand compassion and put your unconditional love and selfish desires to the test.

I am about to go on my eighth overseas mission trip and I’m looking forward to getting away from the endless busyness and responsibilities of American life and focusing on serving as Jesus’ hands and feet. We will be going to the Dominican Republic to teach children, do construction, lay cement floors, help with gardens, and the best part of all, visit homes and look into the grateful eyes of those who do not have the means to do all of this for themselves.

I also look forward to once again learning how to increase my faith from those who rely on God at a deeper level than I’ve ever had to. It is indescribable to be a part of such spirit-filled worship in the midst of environments that make you think there is nothing to celebrate. On the contrary, their faith is in abundance and they have so much to teach me! For instance:

In Cebu Philippines, I learned that kids are the same no matter where they are and orphanages, such as the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, can be beautiful when run by people who truly love and want to rescue children of all abilities. I also learned a deep respect for squatters who live in cardboard houses and yet dare to dream and work hard to get an education so they can change their futures.

In Eastern Germany, I learned the importance of building relationships to strengthen and encourage fellow Christians, especially those who are struggling to serve in an atheistic society.

In Haiti, I witnessed the spiritual joy and strength of the elderly even when all they have is their one room shacks. I also learned about the ministry of touch. Rubbing lotion on sick and dying patients was one of the most realistic manifestations of Christ’s love that I have ever experienced because I wasn’t there to just solve a need, I was there to comfort and touch the untouchables.

In Mexico, the Church taught me how to apply and prioritize spiritual disciplines, which included audible prayer walks before sunrise.

In Liberia Africa, I witnessed a Christian culture that takes the Bible literally and one of the ways they apply it is by demonstrating respectful speech and hospitality. My favorite experience was when waking up in a mud house to the sound of a sweet voice singing right outside my window. By the way, did you know roosters crow at night!?

That is why I go on these trips. God has created and called me to experience so much more than my small world has to offer.

A Journey to the Philippines – part 1

I am glad I kept a journal of our two week mission trip to the Philippines because so much happened every minute of every day that even the best memory would not be able to recall all the life changing encounters we experienced.

Our flight to Cebu, Philippines took off July 9, 2000. Jessica and Rachael (16 years old at the time) had never flown before and this was my first international flight. There were 30 people on this mission team. We were traveling with 30+ suit cases, 30+ carry-ons, and 30 seventy-pound boxes of supplies. As you can imagine, traveling to the other side of the world with that many people and that much baggage was quite an endeavor. To complicate things more, our very first flight was overbooked and we were 40 minutes late taking off. Therefore, we delayed every flight we were on thereafter.  We had to run from one connection to the next but what really delayed the planes was transferring those 60+ pieces of luggage from one flight to the next. Although we had to wait a couple hours for our luggage to catch up with us in the end, it was amazing that every piece of luggage made it to our final destination.

To keep costs down, we had four stops along the way and it took almost 27 hours to get from Minnesota to Cebu, Philippines. I still have a hard time figuring out the math with time changes and traveling from East to West against the rotation of the earth. All I can say is that we lifted off from Minnesota at 4:55pm Sunday July 9th and landed in Cebu, Philippines, at 8:40am Cebu time Tuesday July 11th (that was 7:40pm MN time on July 10th). Therefore, we lost 13 hours! To make it even more adventurous, we had to endure turbulence from the first flight to the last. I found out later that my husband was closely watching the weather during our flight because we were flying behind a typhoon and a couple other weather systems. God had us covered but what an experience for first time international travelers!

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Manilla was the extremely strong smell of mold. That is when we first heard that the typhoon had just gone through. This was the heaviest humidity I had ever had to inhale. There was so much moisture on the windows of the plane and airport that it was as though we had landed inside a huge greenhouse. The newspaper was full of stories about the typhoon, crooked police, and a garbage slide in the squatter’s village.  Jessica’s first words after that final take off from Manilla to Cebu was “and we have to do all this again in two weeks!?”

When we arrived in Cebu, the diesel pollution combined with the smells of mango, lye and sewage were nauseating. By the end of the trip, we were used to the smells only enough to stop complaining about them but not enough to be numb to them. To this day, when I smell diesel, my mind goes back to the Philippines.

The coolest thing to me about the eight bedroom guest house we stayed in was the banana tree right outside the porch windows. I was surprised to see that the inside of the bananas in the Philippines are more yellow than the ones we get in the States. And, even though the smell of mangoes permeated the air and mixed with all those foul smells, I still fell in love with their sweet smooth flavor. It is disappointing that the mangoes are just not the same here in the States.

After unpacking, we went to the Children’s Shelter of Cebu to meet the kids and drop off some of the supplies. The kids at the shelter were so welcoming and excited when we arrived. Considering the children we saw on the streets, I was surprised at how happy and well adjusted the kids at the orphanage were.

That evening, we needed a distraction to stay awake and get acclimated to Cebu time. Therefore, we climbed into our hired Jeepneys and headed for the mall. Jeepneys are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. They are made from US military jeeps left over from World War II and are known for their flamboyant colors and crowded seating. Here is a picture of the outside and inside of the two Jeepneys we used during our 11 days in the Philippines:

The pollution was so bad that when we rode in the open air Jeepneys, I got dots on my glasses and, in the evening, when I wiped my face with an astringent pad, it was black. From the first day of the trip to the last, I had problems with my eyes. By the end of the trip, my eyes felt like sandpaper and I could barely keep them open.

Our trip to the mall was an opportunity for us to get some good old American fast food. But when Rachael and I approached the Pizza Hut, we had to step back trying not to cringe from the smell. It seems they use goat cheese on their pizzas. Therefore, we ended up going to the good old reliable food chain — McDonalds.

WEDNESDAY
This was our first of four mornings working with the kids at the Children’s Shelter of Cebu.  We sang together, performed puppet shows..,

tutored them on the computers, played games, and did crafts.  The kids loved the attention and learned quickly.  Here are photos of Jessica and Rachael with some of the kids:

 

In addition to the orphanage, we worked with the local churches to reach out to families in the squatter’s villages. Wikipedia defines squatters as: “extensive slums or shanty towns consisting of self-constructed housing built without the landowner’s permission. There is no sewage system, drinking water must be bought from vendors or carried from a nearby tap, and if there is electricity, it is stolen from a passing cable.”

That night we went out by twos among the shanties to hand out fliers and invite the people to a gathering the following evening.
In my journal I wrote: “The children, stray cats and dogs, roosters leashed to poles, and mothers cooking over open fires were just like the pictures I’ve seen on TV.”

There was one particular girl who captured my heart because she reminded me so much of myself. She was a young teen intently watching everything we did and with a trail of the little ones behind her. Her name is Michelle. Here is a picture of her standing behind the pole:

The hardest thing about a trip like this is that we left part of our hearts with the kids.  Michelle is still a part of my memories. Unfortunately, I will never know where she is or what she is doing now but I am thankful that I can trust God with my prayers for her.

THURSDAY
After our morning with the kids at the children’s shelter, we went back to the Cebu Alliance Church in the squatter’s village. One hundred children responded to the fliers we distributed the day before.  

They were awed by the puppet show so much so that even the adults watched with their mouths hanging open. We each brought a relational activity to help us interact with the kids which included butterfly gliders, bubbles, balloons, wipe boards, jacks, jump ropes, and beaded bracelets.

Around dinner time, we lined up the kids and sent them home with care packages that we had brought from the States. The packages contained rice, soap, a wash rag, candy and other things donated by the church.

As this happened, more people came out from the shanties. It was difficult to stop the distribution but we had only 85 packages to hand out to this group. We had to save the remaining 200 packages for the other three villages that we would visit over the next seven days.

After the children left to bring their packages home and invite their parents out for the evening video, we rested and enjoyed our dinner from Jolli-Bees which consisted of two pieces of chicken (the chicken in the Philippines is much leaner and less meaty than that of the United States), a mound of rice, container of gravy, mango pie, and coke.

That evening, the villagers responded to the flier invitations and filled the church… 

It was standing room only so our team had to wait outside. While their parents watched the Jesus video, we entertained the children with nothing but our bodies serving as monkey bars and entertainment for two hours. Here is a photo from that night:

By the end of that evening, we had pushed ourselves to stay up late again and we were 30 very tired, crabby people still suffering from jet lag. However, to remind us of the importance of what we were doing, we noticed that some of the kids were digging through the garbage and eating any leftover chicken they could find from our evening meal. Therefore, it feels like an oxymoron to say that this was one of the most fulfilling nights of my life. We had served (as many as we were capable of reaching) the orphans, physically ministered to and fed the poor, and ended the evening by providing for their spiritual needs.

FRIDAY
After a morning at the shelter, an afternoon of socializing and ministering with a group of college students, and riding on man powered tricycles back to the guest house,

we went to the Cebu Evangelical Free Church to help them reach out to the squatter’s in their area.

No one arrived for the 7pm start time so our team once again walked the streets and invited people to come see the Jesus video. By the time our team returned, people were streaming in, we started singing, and we were able to start the video at 8pm.  Here are some of those kids:

During the movie, I had a conversation with young man named Angelo who believed his ancestors and tradition would get him to heaven. After some discussion, however, he was very interested in the fact that he could actually talk directly to God himself. That evening Angelo prayed and asked Jesus to be his savior and we gave him a Bible. Afterwards, Angelo looked as though he could use some refreshments but the kids had already taken all the juice and snacks. Thank goodness I had a bottle of Gatorade in my backpack so I could give that to him. After assuring him it was okay to accept it, he downed the entire bottle faster than I had ever seen anyone do before.

As I write this and reflect on the fact that I kept saying in my journal “the Filipinos are very friendly and eager to become friends,” I wondered if that observation was real or just my perception because I was experiencing gratitude from the people we were serving.

Then I think about the Filipinos I have met, and worked with, here in the States. I can confidently say that the Filipinos are naturally friendly and hospitable. That being said, however, I have to admit that we encountered a few people who did throw brief angry comments and attitude our way. We were told that some of that was coming as a result of “unwanted Americans from the nearby naval base.” However, these encounters were far and few between.

This trip was so moving and life changing that it pains me to leave out so many details but it would just take too long to describe everything here. However, I would like to invite other team members to help out by posting their experiences and comments as well.

Since this account is already getting so long, I will post the second week of stories about visiting the school and other squatter villages in my next post.

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