Lizzie W. from Taylor University traveled with us to love on children in Peru this past January. We’re thankful she was willing to share her questions and insights with us.
Traveling to far away places, experiencing new cultures, seeing beautiful sights and playing with kids in poverty all while bringing the love of God and experiencing mountain top faith; that’s a mission trip, in case you were wondering. It’s all about meeting God in a whole new way in a country that’s not your own. This was my perception of missions trips in the weeks leading up to my trip to Peru this past January. I had a lot of questions running through my head that created a lot of doubt surrounding our motive and purpose for going. I didn’t think just another group of Americans going to play with kids would do anything good for them in the long run. It seemed like it was really just about us getting to travel and come back with pictures of cute kids.
The first couple days in country were still a big challenge for me as I was constantly surrounded by doubt. We had begun our VBS program and I didn’t feel like I could connect with any of the kids and if I couldn’t teach them something actually meaningful then what was my purpose here? That was the real question I was struggling with: why am I even here? A lot of time, energy, money, and prayers had gone into this trip and I knew it couldn’t be for this, unless we are sending people just for the sake of sending them and nothing more. My biggest fear was that this trip would be all about me–my cultural experience, my awesome pictures with cute kids, my mountain top experience–I desperately wanted to avoid this trap that so many short-term mission teams fell into.
Throughout that first part of the trip I got to have a lot conversations that challenged me to dig deeper and to not be afraid to ask all these questions. The thing is, God taught me exactly what I already knew (well, sort of). It’s not about me. That’s the point. But my perception of “not about me” was skewed. I was thinking it meant that I shouldn’t have fun, that I should be pushed to the breaking point, constantly doing more and meanwhile having this great affect on people. That’s not what God meant.
By trying to constantly do more or connect better, I was actually making it all about me – my experiences, making myself feel good and creating stories I could bring back to my supporters of all this stuff we did for the locals. But our team from Upland, Indiana wasn’t God’s first spoken word to these people–He had been at work in Peru long before we even knew this ministry existed, at work in the lives of Pastors Jorgee and Mariela, the kids, their families, and each and every Christian in the city of Ayacucho. Our purpose in coming was not to transform their lives but to join in the ongoing work. My perspective was completely wrong–instead of writing the story, we got the opportunity to be a part of God’s grander narrative of that place. He invited us there to be vessels of His love to the people we came to serve and to receive their love for us that was ultimately from Him. It was about supporting the body of Christ and sharing in His deep love for us. As these kids grow up, they may or may not remember the Americans by name who came and hung out with them for a few weeks, but Lord willing they will still know His constant, unchanging love for them. In the history of the world, the stories of these three weeks are insignificant, but because they are a part of the kingdom of God and His grand story, they have great significance in His abiding love.
So in a sense I was right. It’s not about me–it’s not about the friendships I could gain or doing the things I wanted to do (another great lesson in flexibility). But I also totally missed out on the bigger picture. It’s not about the influence I can have because our purpose is rooted in His kingdom, not my own good will. We are all just temporary vessels of an eternal love. We are all part of God’s master story, traveling with His love, not our own and it was a gift to get to be a part of this chapter.