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.

Encouragement Changes Lives

We’ve all heard that kids need someone to look up to. Well, sometimes that’s not enough. They also need encouragement to know that they too are capable of being good, responsible and able to achieve great things.

This isn’t something they can do on their own. Teens especially need someone to believe in them so they can believe in themselves. Someone they do not want to disappoint.

They need someone who values them and expects great things from them. Not all teens have healthy parents to give that to them. I didn’t. I had to learn healthy behaviors through my friends and their families.

In my teen years, I had a family who stepped into my life, believed in me, and encouraged me to learn and grow. They had so much love and compassion in their approach that it bolstered my self-confidence. I did not think I was smart enough to go to college but they kept asking me about it and kept bringing up the subject as though it was an expectation without question. Because I felt it was an unreachable goal, they even suggested the easiest and; thus, most comfortable first step for me – Community College. Once I finally believed it was possible, I registered and was off. I achieved my grades which proved to me that I could do it and in turn kept me going until I finally graduated and launched into my career.

Is there a teen in your realm of influence that needs confidence and the courage to make good choices? Someone you can believe in so much that they don’t want to let you down? It doesn’t have to be complicated, you don’t need all the answers. and you don’t have to have special giftedness. Open your heart and show them unconditional love and give them words of encouragement. You could be helping someone just like me and we will be truly grateful.

Self-Esteem & Modeling Journeys

Although images and styles change, there has always been pressure to be slim and beautiful — even as far back as the Victorian and Roman periods. And yes, historical writings reveal bulimic and anorexic behaviors as well. But to give an example that more closely affects our current culture, Twiggy popularized the ultra thin look from 1966 to 1976. In the 1970’s, having a flat stomach was a big deal. Showing a muffin top would have been horrifying. However, the current generation is doing something right in response to these pressures. Society is finally saying it is not acceptable to call people inappropriate names and that we should embrace our individuality. I realize we still have a long way to go but at least it’s vocal recognition of a problem.

Learning about and appreciating who God created me to be was a long journaling process. Journaling brought out thoughts and feelings that would never have surfaced through normal conversations. It actually put structure and definition to my thoughts and feelings. When reading through my journals, I noticed that after several pages of self inflicted guilt and accusations; I finally came to the realization on November 29, 1993, that I was driving myself crazy with negative self talk. I had just read the story of the imperfect prodigal son and the father’s unconditional love and forgiveness (Luke 25). It was a moment of recognizing my worth through God’s eyes, not my own. In my journal, I finally cried out to God saying: “help me rest in your care and feel your unconditional love. Everything else I have run to for comfort and meaning has only kept me from you.”

Having a healthy self-image starts with a healthy self-worth. I had been acquiring my standards from the wrong place. My standard should not come from the messages and illusions I get from the media, it should come from what the creator and designer declares about me (Ephesians 1:3-14).

The twins had their own encounter with the world that capitalizes on outward beauty. Since they have tall slender figures and like to sing and act, we decided to respond to offers from professional acting and modeling schools. The girls were accepted into the John Robert Powers School of Modeling, took the classes, and then we paid for hundreds of comp cards. We even drove to Chicago for a final casting call. During that visit, the promoter was using a young brother and sister singing and dancing team as an example of “this could be you.” We couldn’t help but notice how the kids responded like scared puppies when the promoter gave them orders. It made us feel sad for them.

As an example of what the business will do for young girls, here is a normal high school picture of the twins and then a modeling picture from their comp cards:

When I asked Jessica how she felt about her modeling experience, she said: “The world that is driven by greed, vanity and selfishness is a slippery slope. It was hard to resist the temptation to be ‘one of them.’ I learned what some people can be like when they don’t value what’s inside themselves and others. In the end, I am thankful that I was able to step outside that world and see how easy it is to get sucked into the promises of fame and fortune.”

The girls did some local promotions but we soon found out that in order to make much money, they would need to do it full time and move or travel to one of the big cities. Beauty and self-promotion would have become their entire way of life.

I am thankful that the girls had a strong identity in Christ and recognized what was more important in life. Jessica summed it up well by saying: “I thought of modeling as fun and didn’t want it to be a career or big commitment. Modeling helped me learn how to take care of my appearance, use proper etiquette, and build good communication skills.” As a mother, I have to say the acting classes were most helpful in building their self confidence.

Later in life, I came to realize that if I were to criticize who I am and how I look, I’d better first consider He who made me “in His image…male and female He created them.” Then, if I even dare to judge God’s handiwork, I need to remember how He sees me… “God looked over all He had made, and He saw that it was very good” (Genesis 1:27-31). And, to top it off, the Potter created me to be unique among millions of people. It is humbling to think that I was created by the same one who made the majestic eagles, towering redwoods, and the beauty of sunsets and rainbows.

Learning to appreciate myself from the inside-out was a huge step in helping me move forward in my spiritual, emotional, intellectual and even physical health. In next week’s post, I will talk about my next step towards simplification.

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