Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Help or hindrance?

We just got back from a youth mission trip.  We took 11 teens and 5 adults from our previous church on a puppet mission trip to Newark, NJ.  Yeah... once we save all those puppets from Newark, we'll go on a nation wide tour.

We ran 2 Bible clubs every day and we performed 2 outdoor puppet shows in the projects of Newark.  We worked with a great ministry, World Impact, and we had a blast.  Really, really had fun, almost every minute of the day.  

But at the end of the day, Robin and I would sit around and discuss the age old question, "Who is benefitting from this?"  
"Is this just a chance for us to feel good and pat ourselves on the back because of all our hard work?"  
"Do the missionaries even want us or are we just in their way?"  
"Are we kind of like the benevolent grandparents, spoiling the kids, and once we leave, the parents will have to work hard to get those kids back on a routine?"  
"Are we doing any good in the lives of these children?"
"Should we just take the money we've raised and donate it to the mission?"

Obviously, I believe in the value of these trips or I wouldn't keep organizing them.  But for all of the time, money, work, and travel involved, what exactly is the point?

We had a great discussion with our own teen girls at the end of the week.  Emily has gone on several mission trips, not just with us but with other groups.  She also has a good friend who spent several weeks in Haiti, thinking that God was calling her to be a missionary, but she came back totally disillusioned.  She felt hopeless.  And my daughter has also felt that despair after these trips, but to a lesser degree.

The reality is that we probably didn't change anybody's life in those short 6 days.  Hopefully we made positive contact with some new kids and the missionaries will be able to develop relationships with those children and their families.  Hopefully we provided a fun break for some kids who don't have a lot of fun in their lives.  Hopefully the power of the gospel will resonate with some of the kids.  It will be a spark that stays with them.  

The pat answer is that our own lives were touched.  Emily wants to know what that looks like.  She looks cynically at us as a group and more personally as a family, and wants to know what has changed for us.  She doesn't beat around the bush.  It's so easy to be "touched" but then to just as easily forget what exactly we felt.  

I know that I was "touched" by the dedication and love of the missionaries we worked with in the children's program.  I will encourage them with a note this week.  I will pray for them weekly.  I will be more aware of compassion and less concerned with efficiency when putting together a program.

I was "touched" by the older kids who faithfully came to our Bible club.  They did not have to be there.  Nobody forced them to come.  If they came, it was on their own, or with younger family members.  Yet, as the week progressed, I could see their aloofness come down and their enthusiasm shine.  I was "touched" as they joyfully participated in the songs.  I will tear down some of my own walls and joyfully worship my God.

I was "touched" by the kids at the projects.  They were full of life.  They loved the puppets and they let us know.  Every time I go by that big old cemetary on the Garden State Parkway in East Orange, I will remember and pray for those children who are just on the other side.  

Wow, I could go on by how I was "touched".  I pray that each of our group will allow themselves to feel their emotions.  They will allow God's power to work through them.  Lives will be changed.  Definitely their own, maybe others.

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