"Rio de Janeiro Mission Trip meeting on Tuesday, September 6, at 6:30 in room . . . . "
Those words greeted me when I opened my church bulletin Saturday evening, and I was instantly intrigued. I served on a missionary team to Mexico in the Spring of 2005, and I've wanted to serve again, but illness, moving, moving again, etc, has prevented me from doing that.
Then I saw the date of the trip; because it will take place while I'm on sabbatical, I could serve without taking off from work like I did last time. But Rio de Janeiro? That destination raises more than a few concerns.
I shared on Facebook my intention to attend the informational meeting and learn more about the trip. In the ensuing discussion, and from others I've been a part of, I know some people, even Christians, are less-than-enthusiastic about foreign mission trips. Over and again, I hear the same 3 concerns, objections even.
There are plenty of places right here in the U.S. where churches and individuals can serve.
That is, without a doubt, the number one objection to short-term foreign mission trips that I hear.
There certainly are plenty of areas, plenty of people here in the U.S. who are in need of help. You only need to watch one story on a local or national news program or read one article in the newspaper to know the truth of that statement.
But there's another very simple truth that applies here. It's not an either-or proposition. It's not a matter of we can do only domestic or foreign short-term mission work.
If all the able-bodied U.S. Christians spent even a fraction of their time on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, or even yearly) serving the needs of others, I'm pretty confident that we could handle many of the issues that can be addressed by individuals or volunteer groups. Don't believe me?
84.8% of Americans are over 12 years old. According to self-reporting and government statistics, 19% are disabled, but for only 9% does the disability impair their ability to function -- work, do life tasks. Considering the 2016 population of 324,118,787 and only considering those over age 12, gives us 274,852,731 people, of which 250,115,986 are physically and mentally capable of some sort of work.
Look at that! A volunteer pool of over 250 million people!! Just imagine what we could accomplish. I can't imagine that we would actually have enough projects for that many people, which leads me to the point that volunteerism isn't an issue of domestic OR foreign service.
If those who are not comfortable, don't have the means -- physically, financially, or otherwise -- or don't feel led to serve outside the country volunteer in some way to address domestic needs, that would leave foreign volunteerism to those who feel led to that and who have the means to do so.
Wait, some will say, the fact is that not all of the 250+ million able people are serving. Therefore, those who can serve should serve domestically. I disagree. I can't worry about those who don't.
Instead, I hope that those who don't currently volunteer in any way and who are irritated by the fact that some Americans serve internationally will gain a "Well, I'll show you" attitude, stop talking about what should be done by others, and start doing what can be done by them!
A majority of those people and groups who are more than happy to receive help from volunteers are able-bodied and have the means to do the work themselves. They choose not to. Doing things for them that they could do for themselves isn't making a difference; rather, it's perpetuating the problem-situation.
I have to admit that, to a large degree, I agree with that statement. Two points to consider, though. If you are a Christian and are looking at this from a Biblical perspective, God repeatedly instructs us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, etc. He does not instruct us to first figure out why they are hungry or poor and only help those who can't help themselves. (By the way "God helps those who help themselves" does not come from the Bible; it comes from Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac).
On a practical level, that last sentence -- that helping those choose not to help themselves brings no lasting positive change -- has merit in my eyes.
As a result, I am first careful as to where and how I choose to volunteer. Second, when I serve, I diligently put out of my mind any thoughts as to whether those I am serving really *need* assistance. I figure that if God led me to serve in this capacity, I'll trust Him that it's where I should be.
It's not safe. I have a wife/husband, children, parents, etc. who depend on me. I cannot go somewhere that would put my life at risk or expose me to a dangerous illness that I would then bring back home.
Zika. Ebola. Drug cartels. ISIS. Those and other words can strike fear in the hearts of people considering foreign travel. As a widow and single mom, I understand that fear. I've read the horrible story of Kayla Mueller, US aid worker captured by ISIS, repeatedly raped and tortured, and finally murdered. I certainly don't want to endure anything remotely similar.
Of course, I can't tell anyone else what to do, but my plan is to approach any foreign mission opportunity with an open mind; learn as much as I can about the target country, those around it, and the risk of danger from unbiased, reputable sources; pray diligently, seeking God's guidance; and then decide.
If I feel God is telling me to go, despite a very real concern on my or my children's part for my safety, I hope that I would still obey. But I would take every precaution to ensure my safety and health both before and during the mission trip.
So . . . am I going to Rio de Janeiro? I have no idea. I'm going to pray about this and attend the informational meeting Tuesday night.
Perhaps there will be a very clear need for a person with my talents and skills to perform tasks behind the scenes, here at home. Perhaps there will be a very clear need for people like me to travel to Brazil. Who knows now where God will lead me?
I'll keep you posted!
Have you ever served on a foreign mission team? Or a mission team that served here in the U.S.? I'd love to hear about your experience and thoughts and hope you will comment below.
Have you dreamed of serving on a mission team? What's holding you back? Please feel free to share via a comment.