A few weeks back, I asked Kersten, one of the incredible leaders of The Collective, of what I should write for this blog. He gave me a list of topics; one of which being missions. Missions is a hard topic to write about as everyone has a different opinion on how a mission trip should be. Some think it’s insulting for believers to go to another city or country and share the Bible with others, while others believe that it is what we have been called to do! Some people think that the only people to benefit from a missions trip are those who are learning about God, but I can say from experience that a missions trip is transformative for everyone involved.
If you’ll let me, I’d like to share with you all a trip that challenged me, broke me, and restored my faith in God.
P.S. This blog is a long one…
January 2008. I had just turned sixteen, was still establishing my place in high school and was dreaming about boys… A mission trip to India was not what I had planned, but God did.
I had always wanted to go to India, but I figured that my first big trip from home would be to a city within Canada where I knew the language, culture and the general rhythm of life. But, soon I was a part of a missions team of thirteen young people, frantically raising money to soften the financial blow of traveling across the world for two weeks, over Christmas no less.
Before our trip, we carefully and meticulously planned each day of our two-week stay. The first week would be spent in Mumbai, getting to know the people, the culture, and developing relationships with the missions team who attended a church in the heart of Mumbai itself. During the second week, we would travel north to a remote town, hike a few miles into the jungle, and run an adventure camp for the youth who ranged in age from 15-35-years-old. Never mind that just one month before our scheduled day of arrival, terrorists had run through the streets, bombing buildings, setting fires and murdering people with automatic weapons. We were excited to bring God’s love to India, and we would go no matter what.
December 2008. I remember walking out of the airport and being bombarded by heat, dust, and the constant honking of horns. I stood, looking around at the people and traffic and wondered how on earth I had made it to India. Little did I know that the trip would become a life-changing adventure.
Culture shock is very much real and can happen to anyone, no matter where they travel. We become so set in our ways that it takes a new experience and new way of life to show us how “stuck” we really are. Many times we cannot handle this reality, or even begin to imagine going back to our old lives after being exposed to a culture that is so painfully different than our own.
Culture shock sets in quickly, and in some cases, without us even knowing it. For many it came within hours of our arrival as we sat in a cafe, eating half-cooked eggs and drinking chai tea, while surrounded by bullet holes and menus filled with memorials of those shot during the terrorist attacks. For others, it settled in later that day as we learned about children who were paid in food and shelter, to clear dead bodies off of the train tracks. Culture shock took hold of me when I saw people who had been mutilated so that they could earn more money while begging, and saw women begging for money to purchase milk for hungry babies that were not there own, which would instead go to their pimps. One night, I came across a woman crying on the streets, holding her baby who had just passed away. We couldn’t do anything to help her as it would have “created a scene” and caused more harm to her than good.
I saw real “heartache” for the first time, and it was just week one.
Week two held it’s own challenges. As we left Mumbai, trundled north in a rickety bus through the mountains, and pulled into the village that we had planned to hike from, we narrowly missed a run-in with a militant group who were planning a controlled attack on Christians and westerners. After a short trip in the back of a large truck, hidden by a giant piece of fabric, we arrived at a Canadian-run shelter for children and women with HIV. It was not a part of the plan, and it was not the type of missions work we’d had in mind, but that day we got to show love to people who had been yearning for just a small bit of it. During our time there, I held a little boys hand and played soccer with him, knowing that he would never grow to his potential unless God worked a miracle. I think about him often and wonder the type of life he has lived.
We all know how common it is to come across religions and belief systems that are different from our own. In fact, we almost expect it more when on a mission trip. Our new campsite was a place like no other. We slept on a dirt parking lot, with a mosque on our left and a Catholic training centre on our right. Throw in a ravine to one side and graveyard to the other, and we had ourselves a home.
During the day we climbed mountains, repelled across ravines, jumped off bridges, and zip-lined through the woods. At dusk and dawn we led the campers in worship, prayer, and shared God’s Word. We spent our time with gang members and students, the rich and the poor, Christians and Hindu’s. God covered us all with His blanket of protection. As the week progressed, hearts softened, and people accepted Christ into their lives, knowing full well that they may be killed, injured, disowned, or banished from their family homes.
As the second week came to an end, I had stopped eating, was dealing with culture shock, and was emotionally and mentally spent, but God was doing something amazing. He was giving me a passion for missions and for showing His love no matter what.
Yes, traveling to India was hard, so hard in fact that I never want to go back. As scary and overwhelming as it was, I do not regret going because the people that I met there are pure gold! I’m still in touch with many of them and love seeing how God is working in their lives.
Missions work is something that many of us have experienced. If you have not, I do recommend it! I will be bold to say that heartbreak is inevitable, but the reward is worth it! God is not only going to work on the lives of people who you are ministering to, but He is going to work on your heart and give you the strength, compassion, and love that you need to bring His kingdom to earth.
God will equip you, cry with you and rejoice with you. We just need to be a vessel for Him!