A friend of mine at work just returned from a church-sponsored mission trip to Honduras. He described it as “the best trip I’ve ever been on!” He showed me many digital pictures from his trip showing how they built simple houses for people there. People of all ages went including many retirees and teenagers with some doing construction and some teaching a vacation Bible school for Honduran children. One couple that went had been sponsoring a child in Honduras by mail for a while and got to meet “their” child in person. The smiles of delighted children were prominent in many pictures. He showed a picture of himself with his arm around a Honduran teenager with the teenager wearing his hat and sunglasses. My friend had given them as a gift to the teenager right before they left to return home. When was the last time you spent $900 dollars of your own money and used a week of your precious vacation time to go bang nails all day in the hot, tropical sun for people you just met? When was the last time I spent $900 of my own money and a week of my vacation time to go bang nails in the hot, tropical sun for people I just met? I know my answer is “never.”
My own church regularly sends people on mission work trips to a girl’s orphanage in Chile and I have only heard glowing comments from the people who return. If there was any sadness in their remarks, it was that they could not provide even more help. One guy told of eating a meal with the girls where the main dish was chicken. After dinner, he ventured back into the kitchen to find the girls and house mother picking the little pieces of chicken left uneaten off of the bones. Nothing could be wasted. They would put this small amount of left over in soup at another meal. This big, burly guy talked about how now before he goes to sleep in the States at night, he wonders if the girls (who he now knows by name) got enough to eat that night.
I can hear the naysayers now. “Wouldn’t those people in Honduras or Chile be better off if all those Americans did not go down in person but instead sent the cost of their airfare, hotel, meals, etc. to those people?”
I think the naysayers are missing something. Yes, from a short-term, purely economic point of view they may be right. However, their attitude seems to be based on the assumption that only the physical needs of the poor in Honduras matter.
What about the spiritual needs of the person who makes the journey? If they had only sent their money:
- Would they have learned how much faith other people around the world must have to face such hardship and still be happy?
- Would the traveler have learned to be grateful for the many blessings they have already received in life and so often take for granted?
- Would the traveler learn the lesson about what things really are necessities? and how it is possible to be happy with little?
- Would those teenagers be the same kind of husband, wife, or parent in their future if they had not had this opportunity to give to someone in person who really appreciates it... and cannot return the favor?
- How will the world be different if enough Americans have faces with names in their memories and wonder if the person they met had enough to eat today?
What about the spiritual needs of the people in Honduras?
- Would they have learned that when Jesus is actively at work in the lives of someone “rich” they don’t look down on the poor?
- Would those children in the vacation Bible school that week gotten the same life lesson if they had not seen that all those “rich” people who could have been lounging around at the beach for fun would rather come tell them about Jesus while swatting tropical insects?
- If the lady who had a house built for her were to improve her financial situation later in life, would she be as generous face-to-face to those poorer than her if she had not seen the example of those Americans coming to help her when they could have stayed home and pretended she didn’t exist from 2000 miles away?
I think I’m missing something. What about you?