It had been two years.
Two years since Ascension, since my first international mission trip, since the changes started to happen.
It was now 2013.
Romans 12:2 had grabbed ahold of me in many areas of life:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
People had been asking, they were anxious to do more.
Another mission trip needed to happen – soon.
But we had to change it up, the trip had to look different than dropping into another country for a week, isolating ourselves from the culture, and completing a work project that could be done by local hands (and provide income for them).
It had to be a long-term partnership. It had to be sustainable. It had to be full of hope and a future for the local people. It had to be getting right in there with the people we wanted to serve.
Josh has been preaching this sort of thing for years. My husband ventured out on his first mission trip when he was 16 years old. He traveled to Haiti with his church, with a group of people who saw his missionary heart and his strong work ethic. They were going to build a school/church. When Josh asked if he could go on the trip, an older man from the team put his hand on young Josh’s shoulder, looked him in the eye, and said, “Son, I’d lay block in Haiti with you any day.” That was that. One sentence set Josh on a new path. It was the start of a life-long ministry in being trained up to lead mission teams around the world. To date Josh has been on 11 trips, and led 9 of those – here in North America, Columbia, Belize, and Dominican Republic. We look forward to many more to come.
The trips have changed for Josh through the years. Most have involved a work project, and a visit to an orphanage or medical centre to drop off supplies or gifts. He has also participated in feeding programs and caring for the most vulnerable. I can’t imagine all he has seen – so many different cultures, poverty and development issues, beautiful landscapes… and the bugs! He’s gotten sick more than once, and been in dangerous situations a few times as well. His collection of trip trinkets can be found all over our house.
I think there are a few things that Josh carries on the trips that can’t be stuffed into a suitcase. These are the changes that I mentioned. Mission trips will change you, no doubt. You can’t possibly come back the same person. And every time Josh steps onto a plane or gets into a car in hopes of helping others, he returns a changed man. This was the hardest part of watching him go when the boys were very young. Five times I said goodbye to the Josh I knew, realizing he would come back to me different than when he left. In 2011 I joined him on a plane to Dominican with a team of 10 others, and I finally started to understand the changes that happened on each trip.
During the next two years I searched for hope for those in the developing world, I took all the International Studies courses I could find as I finished up my university degree. I spoke about the issues with whoever would listen. I wrote about the experiences and tried to create awareness. I decluttered my house like crazy. I started focusing on needs vs wants. I tried to model service to others for my children.
And when we started to feel like it was time to take another team of people on a mission trip, we knew it had to be different. So we approached it from a different angle. We prayed that God would show us the country He wanted us to visit – Dominican Republic kept coming up again and again for us. We researched to find organizations that would have a broad range of opportunities for builders, medical professionals, teachers, and families to come and serve. We narrowed down the list of 30+ possibilities by making sure there was a christian focus to the organization – that the group was teaching people about God’s love for them. We lined up the remaining groups in proximity to the major airports, and looked into their accommodations for teams of about 12 to stay for about 7 days. After all the criteria had been plugged in, we were left with 6 possibilities for long-term partnerships in Dominican Republic.
We set out contacting all of them, lining up visits during the week we would be visiting the island. Everything worked out in amazing ways, and before I knew it I was on another plane with Josh and 3 others. We took a small team of trusted people who were highly passionate about international mission trips. We would evaluate each group together, and make our choice together after we’d processed all the information.
What a week it was! We stayed at the same resort we stayed at during our 2011 visit. Resorts are simply the cheaper, easier option for our teams. We can get return flights, all meals and accommodation for less than $1000 each. Then we pay a small amount for rental vehicles in country. This makes it affordable for anyone – from students to families to individuals – and this was one of the criteria on our list.
Every day our rental SUV was packed with the 5 of us and our backpacks. I was amazed by Josh’s driving skills on the crazy Dominican roads, and our navigator’s skills with reading maps! We would meet with a different organization each day and then chat about the experience back at the hotel. One night we crammed into the car with overnight bags and traveled across the country to meet with World Vision. I’ll share more about that next time… It was quite an adventure trying to get back to our hotel in the heaviest rainfall I’d experienced in my life! Cars were abandoned in near-lakes on the highways, hundreds of people packed in under gas station shelters on the sides of the roads – their motorcycles left in the rain. Somehow we made it back to meet with more organizations in the following days.
We came back from that trip encouraged by all we’d seen, cautious about who we’d partner with for the long-term, and hopeful for the future of the country. After a few weeks we met to make a final decision, and set a date for our next international mission trip. The trip would be in about 9 months, and we had lots of work to do before that. We had a new vision for mission to share, a partnership to develop, and a team to recruit.
For now, we were excited to put the ideas into practice in our local settings. We started looking for ways to reach out across the street, in our city, among the schools and clubs and teams and workplaces that surrounded us, and in the lives of those closest to us. The ideas of coming alongside to help, of equipping those who were capable, of educating those who would listen – and we have seen the benefits in many ways the last couple of years.
I believe most people genuinely want to help others, but they just don’t know where to start.
It has been a privilege to find starting places, and encourage others to cross their own starting lines – both at home and around the world.
Next time I’ll share more about the blessing of meeting Oliver, our World Vision child in Miches, Dominican Republic.