Monday, June 17, 2013

on my mind

Today as I finish up June blocks for the Love circle, I sketch the trajectory of a bright, shiny new dream.  It feels risky to share it here, because it's a tender baby thing, but maybe sharing and learning from you is more brilliant than reckless.  Maybe you have something to say.

Goose Creek for Love circle

Over stitches, making these Goose Creek blocks and enjoying Deborah's punchy, fun color scheme,  I'm refreshing my email inbox in hopes of hearing back from some missions organizations.  My husband and I have a pattern of acting fast, usually with great results, so yesterday's sudden realization that a family missions trip before we try for another baby could be a wonderful opportunity for our family to serve and be changed... the trip already feels half real. 

Late last week I started reading Half the Sky, a book about the plight of disadvantaged girls and women the world over.  Since the book was published in 2010,  I've heard it referred to time and again.  Glad I finally picked it up, even if it is hard to hear.  I care about social justice.  Always have.  But what can I do about it?  do. Good Stitches is a bit, and I appreciate so much it's tangible, incremental and personal nature.  But, reading books like Kisses from Katie and Little Princes, these have planted in my heart a desire to go.

Actually, Brandon and I have discussed a lot this year the possibility of adopting, instead of having another biological child.  That's a massive topic, and not one I'd really like to get into today, but suffice it to say that we've been praying and thinking a lot about orphans.   We have decided not to pursue adoption.  But, we can still go and make a difference by showing up, perhaps?

Goose Creek blocks

So yesterday I suddenly thought - family missions trip!  The kids are just about old enough (will be 7 and 9 at time of travel, I think).  Can we do this before baby?  Can we find a place to do a meaningful work for a week or so and be forever changed in the process?  It would be so wonderful to expose our children to the world beyond America.  It's kind of like the ultimate reality check to actually go help the kids who haven't enough, whether food or water or clothes or parents.  I know my few experiences witnessing the so-called "third world" were important life-shaping moments.  How I would love to be a small part of the solution both by serving and by planting in my children a perspective for social justice. 

I began researching options for a short term family missions trip yesterday.  I found a few possibilities at places like World Servants, which seems to have the most young-kid friendly options, and Embrace Missions, which specifically works with orphanages.  I've made some inquiries.  I feel like the kids and I would be most useful working with/caring for children whether assisting in an orphanage or school (especially for girls), while my super-handy husband is a valuable resource for building or repair projects.  Hopefully we can find a project that can use us.  And maybe - who knows - some friends and family will want to join us, though that's not necessary.

What I do know is I'm not afraid.  I'm not afraid of bringing my children to an unknown land.  I'm not afraid we won't be able to raise the money.  I am, however, uncertain as to how much it is wise to spend, resources-wise (even if they aren't my own), on a family missions trip.  I guess my practical side just wonders how much good we can really do weighed against the cost of travel and time.  So, that's something I'm praying about.  A story in Half the Sky illustrated how social justice experiences can yield far beyond the initial acts of service, because lives and hearts that are changed go on to effect more and more change, in a ripple effect.

So, that's what's on my mind.  Ha! Surprise!  If you have anything to add, any word of advice or recommendation for an organization or whatnot, it's most welcome.  We're looking for a trip this fall, winter or spring 2014.

Open and listening,

Rachel

30 comments:

  1. I went on mission trips in high school to Appalachia. Being from PA, it was a quick drive and easy to coordinate several teens. My sister now goes on the same trip every year, even after graduating. The mission there is pretty fun in that locals can ask for help with repairs and labor when they can't afford it. And the mission provides these services with the use of their volunteers. They really wanted the missionaries to experience the life lived by others, so food wasn't fancy, one shower per week was provided (the rest were taken in the river), and there was no TV, just company for entertainment. I still recall the specific people I helped and met while working there. All that I guess to say that I think it's an awesome thing to expose your children to. It's easy to assume everyone lives with the same luxuries you do and realizing that's not true and encouraging the desire to give back is really important, I think. :)

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    1. I'm really interested in learning more about how to volunteer for family mission trips within our own country. Do you know the contact information for that organization?

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    2. FYI, World Servants does missions trips in PA, KY and TN, as well as to Native American nations in North America.

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  2. I connected with a New Zealand NGO called Kids Worldwide where my husband and I did 4 months in Uganda pre-kids. It was the most affordable option and didn't seem to be a would-be money maker for a volunteer organization. It was quite a while ago but we had a positive experience and they have a wide array of options on where to go and what to do.

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  3. My church has an annual trip to Honduras and Costa Rica. My daughter who lives in Nashville is going to Honduras on a medical mission trip with her church. Maybe you look into area churches where you live?

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  4. Very cool to read about. A family mission is something that my husband and I have also talked a lot about, when our youngest (now 18 months) gets older. I've been reading about the Pine Ridge reservation and the possibility of my family eventually doing a volunteer trip there. Here's a link in case you're interested.

    http://re-member.org/

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  5. Hi Rachel,
    Since it sounds like you are in the "collecting information" stage, I just thought I would offer the counterpoint to short term missions. Here are a couple of blog posts which provide some food for thought -
    http://allthingshendrick.blogspot.com/2012/06/short-term-missions.html
    http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2011/12/whole-can-of-worms-at-glance.html

    My husband and I are funding a project in Ethiopia which helps 35-50 mothers and babies (most of whom are HIV+) stay together. While we would LOVE to go to Ethiopia and see the project in action, we feel it's more important to invest the money back into the program. We do plan to go to Ethiopia again someday, but that is because it's where our daughter is from and on that trip we will probable visit the program, not as a mission trip but because we will be there already. We sponsor three kids through Compassion International and we would also like to visit them someday (2 are in Ethiopia and 1 in Ecuador). Even though it would be expensive to visit, I have heard these trips are life changing for the child. We've written to our children on a monthly basis and have a relationship with them. But again, I don't see this as "mission work" but seeing children who are important to our family.

    I'm not saying this is the right path. It's just been the one that feels right for our family. My husband grew up in West Africa and his parents were linguists there. He saw so many mission trips (and secular trips) gone wrong, so he is only an advocate of these trips if they are done for very specific reasons that cannot be done by the local people in the community. That's just his perspective....

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  6. Hi Rachel--

    Thanks for your post--I appreciate your desire to show your children life beyond the US and to nurture them into lives of compassion and service. I was deeply moved by Kristoff's book and the PBS documentary.

    I too have seen the disaster side of volunteers coming for very short-term mission trips and I too lean in the category of "slow down" or ponder something else.

    I suggest regularly volunteering at a shelter, food bank, or soup kitchen. I think the routine of volunteering/serving will teach your children more about service than one week in a developing country. Also, their ongoing interactions with people living on the margins will give them a taste that life in the US isn't always wonderful.

    I also suggest sponsoring a child (or two or three) through Compassion International and that could be another way of introducing your children to different cultures. An additional option might be to sponsor projects through Kiva.com with money your children have raised or earned.

    Personally, I would wait until your children are older, but that's me--you know your children and what they can manage emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Perhaps God is calling just you and your husband for a short-term mission trip while your children get some time with grandparents?

    Just my thoughts. I will still faithfully read your blog no matter what you decide! :)

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  7. There are so many wonderful opportunities available, I am sure you will be guided to the right one. As our priest says - if you open your heart, you will know what God wants. Your children are the same ages as the missionaries' children that my grandfather sponsored in the 60's and they learned a lot and grew stronger and more compassionate as a result of the experience. Sadly, the place they did their mission in is now a tourist trap in South America.

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  8. My church has used Adventures in Missions since 2007 and we LOVE working with them. And we have groups within our church who have used them as well on family trips.

    http://www.adventures.org/trips/?prg=family

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  9. I have worked in the arena of poverty alleviation (with a passion for women's empowerment, reproductive health, equity and justice) for a couple of decades, and have spent about 13 years all told in sub-Saharan Africa. I know for certain that taking such a trip will change you, and the way you view the world, forever. That's a positive, positive thing. You are right in being concerned about the cost of your trip versus what those resources could do if provided more directly to people in need. Only you can determine what feels right to you in that regard. That said, as we collectively become more analytic about what poverty is and why poverty is (and you did reference this), we've moved beyond the naive (forgive if that's a harsh word) notion that bringing people 'things' (water, food, clothing, school supplies, what have you) will fix their poverty, which is underscored by a profound lack of opportunity/social norms and power differentials that relegate whole rafts of humanity to lesser lives and the inability to become what they could be. Note that I hardly claim know what the answers are! But I do know that if you travel with a mind to find some answers or at least ask deeper questions, plus the attitude that the people you will meet are smart, funny, talented, capable, caring, hopeful and eager to be the best they can be (as they surely are, and not the abject, miserable, beaten-down caricatures of poverty that our past selves may have imagined), then you will have a life-altering trip.

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  10. It's interesting that you mention this now, as I'm sitting down finalizing the menu for next week's mission trip coming to *us*. We are an Indian mission organization (www.midwestindianmission.org)up here in northern Wisconsin (my husband is a pastor at one of the three missions churches here, as well as growing up here, for his father is the mission director). As someone mentioned above, we work with Adventures in Missions (AIM) (www.adventures.org) as they bring their youth and families to come work with our people (I am the head cook for the weeks that AIM is here).

    While I can't say anything about the organization from the church/family side, I can say that working with them from this side of a missions trip has been pleasant.

    I must admit, I have mixed feelings about short term mission trips. On one hand, they can be really good and profitable for the people coming. Life is seen at a different angle, taking each individual out of their comfort zones and showing them that life for others can be quite different. You'll find this whether you travel to a different country or stay in our own. On the other hand, I know and live with the people/youth that these mission groups are coming to see and work with, and aside from a few exceptions, there isn't much of a lasting impression. Granted, many of these groups come to help those of us who are here day in and day out (for it gets sooo discouraging and lonely sometimes!!), but some do come for the purpose of connecting with the youth in our community. Seriously, due to the past, our Native Communities are one of the hardest cultures to evangelize. With it being "the white man's gospel" and all. And yes, those feelings are quite alive and real in the 21 century.

    The decision certainly is yours, and whatever it is you decide, Lord willing it will be the right one for your family. It is not necessary to travel to a 3rd world country to have a life changing experience, nor to be of a help.

    Perhaps looking at this as an opportunity to not only expose your children to life beyond what they know, but also as a way for you and your husband to support (financially, physically, and/or prayerfully) those of us who live the "missionary life", will help to bring some clarity to many of your questions.

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  11. A lot of my friends go on missionary trips through Teen Missions. One of my friends went on the trip to Malawi and said it was really hard, but worth it. Another of my friend is a team leader for the trip to India. But their trips go for a lot longer than a week. (The longest I remember a friend being gone on one was two months. The shortest one a friend went on was four weeks.)

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  12. It's fun to read people's different ideas here. we did Missions overseas in Africa for 7 years, two seperate trips. I took my children when they were 2 years and 4mths the first time. . We went back to that continent again when they were 5 and 7 for 4 years. I too have seen things go right and things go wrong with short-term missions. but that is often to do with the personalities of the people involved and their expectations. I know my children have a different world view as a result of their living in different cultures and at the moment my daughter and her best friend are saving to go early next year to visit an aunt in India who is teaching in a Mission School. She is 16. I think the Lord will lead you and your family to the best place for you to serve short term giving your children an experience they will not soon forget and a heart for those children or adults they see in need. It is not just about those who you go to help - God generally do so much in your own heart. Blessings Karen

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  13. I was part of a volunteer group in college. Though a little different than mission work, it was still spending a week of our spring break doing work for others. We remained in the states. There are so very many opportunities to volunteer and do good in the US...

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  14. Wow! This is my dream too, to travel with my children and show them the places I lived in that are still so close to my heart. I lived in an old castle, refurbished by a Baptist mission, in southern Poland for a year when I left school and I would go back there in a flash with my kids. (I went back with Tim pre-kids) It was next door to an orphanage and the mission had a mini farm and horses for the kids to connect with, and did other things in the village. It depends on what you're after but I loved that experience (connections through a friend) rather than through a mission organisation. I think we experienced more of everyday life. (Though I haven't been on short term missions that are organised officially). Then when Tim and I travelled together, we stayed with some YWAM girls in Moscow who were working with orphans. It was so eye opening and devastating and beautiful and I was much less sure of whether we were actually helping. Adoption is *really* hard in Australia, but oh man, that trip made me just want to move to Russia, adopt about 10 kids and live on a farm somewhere giving them lots of cuddles!
    The thing that would appeal to me taking my family back to Poland is that there were other families living there, Polish, American and Australian. I think that's what I'd love to expose my kids to: other families living in missional communities, investing in their local community.
    I love that you share these things Rachel! (and what a wonderful way to wait for a baby!) Praying for wisdom and peace and a really great fit for your family. xx

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  15. I have lived overseas for 2 yrs BC-Before children- and was exposed to the many different cultures of Europe. And I have been on a Missions Trip to the Dominican Republic through Medical Ministries International (MMI) after children; where I used my nursing skills to serve the healthcare needs at a local surgical clinic (they do have opportunities for non-medical people also). Both changed my world view and life outlook. Both were tough but great experiences. That being said I think it is important to really look at what the purpose of the mission trip is and what your goals are. Matching up your skills with the appropriate organization is critical whether here in the US or overseas. You are a guest in their country or community and there to serve, not everything we may know/do/have at home is necessarily wanted or needed by those you will meet. I hope you find the perfect match - one that works for both sides. It is a worthwhile endeavor and a learning experience for everyone.

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  16. I have good friends who once benefited from the Lighthouse Family Retreat and now go back to serve as a family (of 6 kids!). It's a domestic trip, but I know that this type of serving works great for families. http://www.lighthousefamilyretreat.org/get-involved/volunteers/

    Good luck on finding the place to serve together!

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  17. Having been a missionary in Russia for years, both with a five-year-old brother when I was a teen, and as the mom of a four and two-year-old years later, I can honestly say that there's no such thing as "too young" to go on a mission trip. Some friends of ours took their 9 month old in a baby sling to Africa a few years ago and he did great! As for your concern about the cost of the trip, I understand the dilemma. The money spent on tickets could fill bellies, rebuild roofs, etc. But there's a difference between a missions trip and a humanitarian aid trip. Yes, I believe that God wants us to help meet people's physical needs. But ultimately we are here to share the love of Christ with people and you can't really put a pricetag on that. I think you just need to pray about it and trust God that regardless of the cost if He wants you to go, He'll provide and you will have peace about how that money is being used.

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  18. What a good mom and good example you are and will be to your children. And I love your blocks.

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  19. Oh, I have a heart for missions too! Check out Lemonade International-some friends of mine started this organization to help a community in Guatemala and they are changing lives! They have schools, a safe house for kids, and do tons of community development. I am starting a charity quilt drive for all the kids in the safe house-I've completed one out of 18 needed and he to get some help! They definitely have short term mission opportunities and I know they have taken their own daughter who is 7. Just another resource in case you are interested. I enjoyed Kisses from Katie too!

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  20. Love your heart in doing this with your kids! Such a beautiful way to parent and teach them to be a part of this world in a positive way! Half the sky is a totally life-changing book, will definitely look up your other reads on here, so thanks for passing them along.

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  21. I have traveled quite a bit, been on short-term missions, and lived internationally. Exposing your children to the world is one of the best gifts that can be given. I think of your concerns with the money. I struggle everyday when making purchases to determine how I can best use the money. The reality is that there isn't really a limit on the amount of money available. It all is G-d's. You could raise all the money for a trip and use it instead to donate to an organization that will feed many. Yet, if you do not go, will that money really be going to needy people or will it get swept up in the normal spending that occurs each day? It all is G-d's and what you spend on one trip may be multiplied in such a great way through your resolve to help the community upon your return. You may form a life long bond with the individuals you encounter. Just considering that you have this blog, the number of readers that can be changed by your family taking a trip could be worth far more than the few thousand dollars spent.

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  22. Just want you all to know that I am pondering each and every response. It's a lot to think through. Thanks for speaking up!

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  23. Perhaps consider looking right within your own community for the opportunity to help others. I've spend over 20 years in the human services field and things are not getting any better for our most vulnerable citizens right here in America.

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  24. you are not afraid because you are full of faith and most likely because you know in your heart it's right. God will guide you, of course! what a splendid inspiration you've had. and the adoption idea . . . awesome. =)

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  25. I haven't read your blog enough to know your religion etc but another option is to find some missionaries that have come from your own church (or one in your town) then go visit them to share in their work and support them. Maybe you could even bring them some supplies, items difficult to get in that country. They would help you with the logistics in country, you would just need to get there and back. That might save a bit of the expense of an organizational type trip. Having done both local missions and international, take the kids international. They can apply what they learn at home, but they NEED to see the rest of the world so they can come back and help change it (both here and elsewhere).

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I also tend to feel that it's important for kids to SEE the world to have a real grasp of reality, problems, solutions, values, etc. This is so much more of a complicated issue that I had originally anticipated. It's been really helpful to hear from the community!

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  26. Half the Sky is wonderful! Although I've only seen the documentaries, and not read the book. It inspired a paper I wrote in my Community Education class about women's education. Something which I'm rather passionate about and would like to get more involved in eventually... like after I'm done being a poor college student.

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  27. I too have a heart for missions and a desire to make a difference, and a desire to share with my children that not everyone lives like they do. I jave been on mission trips and lived abroad a semester in college. Those experiences were certainly life changing for me. BUT, recently I finally read a book that had been on my to-read list for a long time, and it has very much impacted how I see these issues, ans especially how I see the short-term mission trips of which we Americans are so fond. It's called When Helping Hurts: How to Help the Poor without Hurting Them...or Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It examines the ways in which we unintentionally do harm in our efforts to help, and gives practical advice for ways to help that will not be counterproductive. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to serve others, especially others who are less well off than ourselves, or in poverty.

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