You May Have a Point – but You’re Wrong.

IMG_1721I’ve heard it said that short-term mission trips can be damaging, that they are little more than easy ways for people to pacify an itch to be Santa Claus. In fact, I’ve had more than one person tell me that seven days have little true value in impacting real change in the lives of the poor and discarded, and that short-term mission trips should be abandoned for more “meaningful ministry.”

And to those people, I say “You may have a point. But – you’re wrong.”

Now, to be sure, I’ve been on teams that have been more about the “what we can do” than the “how might we be useful.” My precious friend Courtney says it best when she says those trips are actually a blessing – because they taught us what is best and what is worst and what is truly good. But I’ve seen the miracle of mission trips – what happens when the discarded meet willing hearts, and those willing hearts hold hands over time.

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It was 2009. A team of ten stepped onto the beautiful rocky slopes of Mi Pequeno Refugio, a place on the outskirts of Quetzaltenango that was home to children rescued from abuse and neglect.  Our two-day visit was chock-full of big plans. We had everything needed to make a difference in the lives of the orphans there. We had color-coordinated bandanas and bags full of VBS object lessons, and our duffels were filled with school supplies and Neosporin (things we were told were always needed at orphanages).

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We welcomed ourselves into the little cinder block structure and complained about the rain that was getting in the way of our activity time with the kids. We sang and told stories and laughed uncomfortably when the children already knew the scriptures we were prepared to teach them. And then, after clamoring our way into that sweet orphanage with our agenda and our duffels and our perfect plan, one simple statement changed everything.

“What a great day! We’ll be back tomorrow. So – uh – is there anything you all need?”

The answer shook us to the core. The two sisters who ran the orphanage, Lourdes and Teresa, looked at each other and then looked at us.

“We have no milk.”

We had traveled almost 2000 miles to find out our agenda didn’t really matter at all. We looked at our school supplies, stacked next to the school supplies donated by the mission team sent before us. We looked at the kids, smiling back at us as they held their scripture cards – the scripture they already knew so well.

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” ~Isaiah 43:4

 

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We wept. And in those tears, the agenda changed. The next morning we returned with milk, incamparina, and meat – and hearts set on listening. The sisters then began to share their hearts about what they desired for the children living at Pequeno. They longed for the day the main hallway of the two-story structure would be sheltered from the weather, and they longed for the day when there would be paint to protect the cinder block from mold. Parts of their building needed electricity. They hoped for a washer and dryer.

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They wished for a playground for the kids. They prayed to one day have livestock and a garden. They wanted a school with computers and a sewing room and a place where the girls could learn to bake. They understood that caring for a child meant so much more than food and shelter, and they wanted to help the orphans in their care thrive physically, emotionally, and spiritually – so they could succeed as adults.

We prayed for our new friends, and promised to tell others about the little orphanage.  Later that year, friends from Orphan Outreach traveled to Pequeno to hear the story. They listened to history and they listened to present. And they listened as Lourdes and Teresa shared the dreams of a future.

That was four years ago.

We’ve not stopped returning.

And we’ve not stopped listening.

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There’s now a school, with a computer room and a sewing room. There’s a bakery. Goats and pigs and chickens roam the hills. A moisture-proof pantry has been built in the kitchen, and electricity is stable.

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There is a playground and a place for the boys to play soccer. A workshop has been updated so the older kids can learn how to do woodwork. Our hands join with other hands to do what Teresa and Lourdes need  – moving rocks or painting walls or teaching ESL classes.

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Through Orphan Outreach, our hearts have now been joined with other hearts across the country to care for the children well – every child is now sponsored, and our visits to Quetzaltenango focus on simply investing time.

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We’ve played, flown kites and drawn pictures.

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We’ve made huge messes in that bakery, and bigger messes with sidewalk chalk. We’ve laughed until we’ve cried. And we’ve held each other and wept and wept.

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And we’ve talked a lot about life – about big dreams and big fears and the fact that we’re really not that different at all. We all long to be accepted, we all long to be loved, we’re all pretty clumsy at this life, and we’re all in desperate need of a Savior.

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Two things. Returning and listening. Things that, when I think about it, I need in my own life. I need others, need community, need at least one person who is going to show up and keep showing up no matter what. And I need to be heard. I don’t need to be famous – I just don’t want to be anonymous. Knowing someone finds my voice beautiful gives me courage to use it more. The scripture – the one the orphans already knew so many years ago – is the reminder of what happens when we know we are truly loved. We are not afraid. Lourdes and Teresa and the children of Pequeno Refugio have taught me what it means to be unafraid.

So to those people – the ones who say there is no value. To you, I say “listen – and return.” To you, I say “be not afraid.”

And I’ve not stopped telling the story.

I’d love for you to meet my friends at Pequeno. We’re journeying there again soon. Here are the details. 

This entry was posted in Advocacy, Care for the Discarded, Mission Trips, Musings and Thoughts and tagged , , , , , by Ronne Rock. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ronne Rock

Ronne Rock’s heart finds its strongest beat where beauty and pain collide – because hope always finds us in the shattered places. There’s more than 30 years of marketing and communications experience in her bones, and she finds great joy in sharing leadership wisdom as a regular contributor to Orange Leaders and QARA. But more often than not these days, she's with the vulnerable in difficult places around the world, gathering stories that change stories. Find Ronne's words in "For You, Love" the prayer journal that invites you to respond, and in Everbloom, a collection of stories from the Redbud Writers Guild. She is currently writing, "Building Eden: Principles of a Grace-Filled Leadership that Restores and Redeems." 

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12 thoughts on “You May Have a Point – but You’re Wrong.”

  1. I love this. The teens at my church have adopted a ministry in the DR. They return every year. Because of them, an orphanage has been built, a school was built, hundreds have come to Christ, and thousands of Northern Virginia, mostly privileged children, have a completely new outlook and perspective.

  2. Beautiful story, Ronne.

    Sometimes the best stories happen only when we listen first. I love the transformation your team was able to make both in heart and in the orphanage! God is good in the small and the big. I can’t wait to hear about your latest trip.

  3. Love this. You are so right.

    Here’s a child’s perspective on just how right you are.

    I was a very sick kid. I had immune problems and lung problems, so a great deal of my childhood was spent in hospital and treatment facilities.

    I was sick over Christmas one year, and a trio came to Texas Children’s hospital, all dressed up in costumes. They played a guitar and sang to us. It seems too simple, but back then, nobody sang to sick kids stuck in a hospital on a holiday.

    Why were we special to them? Who knows. They saw a bunch of snotty, phlegmmy children with tubes and wires running everywhere and thought, “We should sing them a song and make them feel better.”

    It worked.

    It’s been three decades. I’ve never forgotten their kindness.

    1. Dang it. Now I’m crying. Thank you for sharing this. It’s a great reminder that we don’t need to come up with great things to fill the time we have to offer. Just giving that time is enough…

  4. Your passion and heart for these kids and ministry is so refreshing and lovely. In our own ministry in West Africa, we see every day the effects of people coming back and investing in life with the people here. Just sitting and talking, listening, and loving them. No programs or agendas, but rather just doing life with them is what makes the biggest impact. Even for us, when we don’t see people for two weeks, they ask if we “threw them away”, or forgot about them! People long to be in community and be important to other people. Doesn’t matter where you live!

    1. Though I don’t get to visit as often as I’d like, the kids at Pequeno know there is a goofy friend in the United States who adores them and prays for them daily. When I arrive, the first thing they take is my phone because they know they’ll find their photos there – multiples of them over the years. Even those photos tell them “you belong.”

  5. I’ve been on the receiving end of many short-term teams; this perspective is incredibly refreshing. Listening to the long-termers, holding the agenda loosely, and showing up consistently (thus building relationships) – all were appreciated.

  6. I have done both long term and short term teams and I think we have to be careful in comparing one to the other. Jesus went so many places during his ministry. Some places he only stayed for a week but would return when he was in town (ie. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus ). He touched so many lives and his message was the same. What is important is that His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. That should not change no matter how long you are there. Touching lives is what it’s all about. Love you! Miss you!

  7. You are beautiful because you are so willing to be used, to be challenged, to be moved, to be transformed AND because you share all these things with those who will listen in such a way that they, too, are moved- Love you, Ronne!

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