Ruth Schenk on Mission Trips

Know when you sign up for mission outreach anywhere that you will never be the same.

It doesn’t matter if it’s outreach across town or across the globe, hours or days away from home. A community in Appalachia, Louisville or Uganda. It changes everything.

I hear it every week as I listen to debriefs from mission trips.

Mission trips disrupt you. They are about people more than tasks: those with special needs; those with few possessions but strong-as-steel faith; those who fled violence and persecution and live in camps with other refugees; church planters in communities that have no interest in God; women who have been trafficked; children who have been abandoned.

God shouts when we step outside our version of ordinary.

Sitting in red Ugandan dust with families in refugee camps, I saw gritty, knuckle-hold faith that refuses to let go of God. If health and wealth were the barometer of blessing, they wouldn’t register on any scale.

If faith and devotion were, they’d be off the charts.

I held babies who peed all over me and watched weary women carry yellow containers of dirty water while I unscrewed a cold bottle of clean water.

Monica’s dirt-floor hut has a hammock and a few mats. She walks a long way to fill her yellow water can. It’s never enough to last the day. She has one dress. Her granddaughters are the only family she has left.

She has never seen running water or a bathroom, a grocery store or a fan for a hot day. She could not imagine life anywhere beyond the camp.

Yet she lives with courage and determination every day. She knows this world is not her home.

I asked about her dream. It is to own a few goats to provide for her granddaughters.

Her dreams are simple. Her faith is not. It’s all in.

Rebecca fled from soldiers marauding her village in Sudan. As she ran with her three children, she told them, “Today we die. We cannot outrun bullets.”

She hid in the bush with the children and walked in the dark for days until they reached Uganda, a nation that is kind to refugees. In Nyumanzi, a refugee camp for thousands, she has a mud-and-reed hut.

No matter. No one is chasing her here.

The church in Nyumanzi took Rebecca in. Pastor Isaacs counseled her about the trauma they endured and gave her hope. He assured her that with God’s help, she could care for her children.

Meals packed by people in Louisville helped her family survive the first six months. Life in Abundance, a mission organization that brings holistic transformation to communities throughout Africa and the Caribbean, helped her learn to make liquid soap to sell in the market. What she earns buys food and pays school fees for the children. She is grateful. She depends on God.

And she is not alone. Others are making lanterns, bread, baskets and clothing.

Barnabas, 14, brought a request to the mission team. He leads six Bible studies for children in the camp. Invitations to join the group begin, “I have good news for you.” There’s no doubt Barnabas has a cache of needs, yet all he asks for is some Bibles.

Florence lives in Nyumanzi with her husband Saviour and three children. Both volunteer as transformational development assistants with Life in Abundance to care for 20 other families. They visit these families weekly to encourage and disciple.

They have nothing more than other families in the camp, yet they pour countless hours into others. They are not jealous when another gets a goat or scholarship for school fees. Saviour does not even complain about his bandaged hand. He lost tips of three fingers while repairing a motorcycle.

They are men and women of gritty faith who believe God. Matthew 20:16 explains the shocking ways of Jesus. “‘Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first’” (MSG).

Since coming back from Uganda, I’m still trying to catch up with the brave men and women I met. I’m pretty sure they will be first.

Ruth Schenk is a contributing writer for The Southeast Outlook and a volunteer in Southeast’s Missions Ministry.