Craig's essay "It's not about me" published in At Home Tennessee magazine.
Maybe you’re like me. I was intrigued by mission trips and missionaries. And I was scared to death that if I ever went on a mission trip that God might call me to be a full-time missionary. No air-conditioning. No ESPN. It’s hard to even imagine. I felt kind of guilty, especially when those full-time missionaries would come to the states and talk to us at school or church. I felt pulled to be involved in missions but also scared to act on it. Finally, at age 37, I went on my first short-term mission trip to Mexico. As I feared, it was totally life-changing. But not in the sell all of your possessions and move somewhere they paint themselves and don’t speak English kind of way. It was more of a change in my perspective. Here are the most important things I learned:
It’s not about me.
I went into the trip with the attitude of here I go to help the less fortunate and came back greatly humbled. Humbled by the deep faith of the people. The genuine joy they had in the face of great poverty and adversity. The generosity shown and gratitude given. What I wanted to do or accomplish became totally unimportant as I developed relationships with those who went on the trip with me and those we were working for and with. It became more and more about them and less and less about me. The world is full of amazing people with incredible stories and it is indeed a privilege to discover and learn from some of them.
Nothing will go as planned.
Just count on it. Travel delays. Not the right supplies. Not enough funds. Sickness. Unexpected weather. Plan all you want, but as a veteran of many short-term mission trips, I can tell you not one has gone exactly as planned. That doesn’t mean you should not plan, just be prepared to change plans. That brings us to the next very important thing I have learned:
Nothing will go as planned (see above). But some of the coolest things that have happened on my trips have been the unplanned detours that take you into places you would never have gone to meet people you never would have met. I take a lot of photos on my trips and some of the best ones were the result of being somewhere I did not expect or even want to be at just the right moment. We have to lose our need to control and plan and immerse ourselves in the culture that surrounds us. Believe it or not, our “American Way” is not always the best way to get things done. Watch and learn about how things are done in the culture you are in.
There is nothing quite so humbling as being in a country where you cannot speak the language. Especially when you are trying to find the Spanish word for “shovel” in a mom and pop storefront that serves as the local Home Depot. It takes time and patience from everyone to communicate and get things accomplished. Cultures work differently and on their own special time frames. Our hurry up and get it done American approach is not always best. Actually, it almost never is. It has taught me to be tolerant of other approaches and other ways of handling things.
It seems obvious, but only take what you need. Talk with the people you are traveling with and spread out the essentials between everybody. And this doesn’t just apply to your luggage. Empty your mind of the burdens of home and work and free yourself to totally experience the moment. This has been one of the greatest discoveries for me personally. Unfortunately, as the years have gone by it has become possible to stay connected no matter how far across the globe I have traveled. I have been in a remote mountain village in the middle of India and looked down and had a fairly strong signal on my cell. In some ways that is great - I can check on my family and keep them informed about what we are doing - but in other ways it makes it harder to leave the worries of home behind and lose yourself in the experience. So maybe turn the phone off except to keep your loved ones or donors informed.
As I mentioned, my perspective has changed. Totally. My faith has been strengthened. My eyes opened. I can view things from a much better world view than I ever could before. I still love my country but I better understand why some are resentful of America. I have been halfway around the world and back to countries I only dreamed of ever seeing. I have learned to work with a team and with indigenous peoples to accomplish things that I never dreamed could happen. Like that very first trip to Mexico. We mixed concrete by hand on the ground for seven days and laid a foundation for a place to worship for a few new believers in a very remote town. I went back this past December with my wife and son and worshipped with a church of over 200 believers on that very same foundation. And it wasn’t about me.