In Your Words

Life lessons from a mission trip

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After prayerful consideration, my husband and I set off to Africa with seven other people from our church on a short-term mission trip called Work & Witness.  
As the trip drew closer, I remember Pastor Brian specifically telling us to be open for what God would show us on this trip because He would show each one of us something. He further warned us not to go on the trip “knowing” ahead of time what that was. I laughed at this because I was two months ahead of both him and God. My over-analytical mind had long-ago figured out what God was going to reveal to me; not only that, but I had some pretty good ideas as to how He was going to do it. God was going to help me let go of the desire to control and of my desire for comfort; He would do this by allowing my luggage to be lost and/or allow our team to become captives or even martyred in a foreign land.
Despite the severe nature of the latter imagined life lesson, I was at peace with what God had planned for my life and this mission trip and even gave my boss a heads-up to prepare for the possibility of not seeing me again.
Pastor Brian helped bring me back to reality: I was not God and do not get to predetermine what it is He wants to show me. I still wondered about my luggage and our safety during the flight to Africa, but I left America at total peace and with an open heart to wait for God to speak to me.
While in Africa, God allowed all of us to learn some spiritual and cultural lessons. 
Prepared for the worst
God revealed Himself to us as a team very early on in the trip. We had been told ahead of time to financially and prayerfully prepare for customs—chances were strong that we would have a hard time getting our JESUS Film equipment through without having to provide a large amount of money. We were told about a previous Work & Witness team that had to pay hundreds of dollars as they went through customs. Our church took up a collection for this very purpose with the plan that we'd either use it for customs or give it to the Work & Witness team leader (David) to use for a project.  Furthermore, our church family, mission team, and our Nazarene brothers and sisters in Ethiopia prayed for our equipment to get through.
We went through three other airports before we got to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. At each airport, the two gentlemen in our group carrying the bulk of the JESUS film equipment (packed as part of their carry-ons), were pulled aside and asked several questions about the equipment while officers looked through it. By the time we got to Ethiopia, we anticipated the worst. Our plan was to split up and go through customs separately between “native-looking” people so that we wouldn't stick out. As it turned out, we seemed to be the last off the plane, the last through immigration, and the last people in the line going through customs.  There was no way to split up. God had a plan, though, and we walked right through the baggage screening without even one bag being opened or questioned! 
Our pastor spoke with David and told him that we had brought money for customs that could now be used for something else. David informed him that the district ministry training center where we would be spending our week needed a water tank and tower for the pastor and family. Their water supply would get shut off by the city at random times and because of this, there were times that they had no water. If they had a water tank, they could pump water and store it for when their supply got cut. David figured the cost for the project and came up with a figure within one dollar of what we had brought with us. God is amazing and had a plan! Our pastor preached about this when we returned to America, using the scripture from Genesis 50:20. What Satan had intended for evil to discourage our team and even the previous team, God used for good!
How beautiful are the feet…
One of the things I personally struggled with in Ethiopia was how I was dressed. To be respectful of the conservative and traditional women, we had to wear skirts.  I wear skirts almost daily as a professional woman, but I always match it with a smart-looking flat or stylish boot.  I wore tennis shoes on my trip because I didn't know how much walking or what kind of work we'd have to do.  Now, saddle shoes may have looked cute with poodle skirts 50 years ago, but there is no way for an athletic sneaker to look cute with a long floral skirt.  I felt ridiculous and was just convinced every person looking at me was judging me--not for my skin color but for my poor style in footwear.  Whether the Ethiopian women and teens noticed my shoes or not, each woman that I came into contact with lovingly embraced me and seemed genuinely glad that we had come and were in their presence.  This was a life-lesson that God showed me:  Authenticity is more beautiful than a woman in a coordinated outfit.  
This life lesson further played out with impact when we watched a worker join our group to dig a hole for our water tower.  He had what looked like jelly-shoe sandals (falling apart) on his feet.  We watched in awe as this didn't hold him back from hard labor.  He wasn't worried about his footwear and I realized then that if he noticed mine it would have probably been in admiration for how comfortable and sturdy they were. 
The youngest member of our team, a teen-aged boy, gave him a pair of his own shoes. I watched with tears in my eyes as this man accepted the shoes with so much gratitude. I don't think I could have seen a happier look on his face had he been told he could be king for the day.
Reconstructing the heart
Something that all of us noticed within minutes of walking into church in Ethiopia was the humility and reverence the people showed. Before church began, each person was hunched over in their seats praying. There was no visiting about what they had done over the weekend or what their lunch plans were. They were 100 percent focused on our Lord.  Worship through music was just as beautiful.  I think had we not been there they may have continued in worship for hours. 
God had been impressing on me for a long time before this mission trip that I need to slow down and improve how I care about people as individuals.  It's hard for me to focus on cultivating relationships in the moment and in taking time with people when my analytical mind is so aware of all of the tasks I need to get done and  the clock ticking away.  
In Africa, we had a schedule, but it was one that allowed for several hours at meal-times and at the district center to build relationships. Africa gave me almost two weeks to put this into practice, and really, I didn't even know God was changing me until a week after returning to America. We had a new student in our Sunday School class and rather than just trying to make him feel welcome, my husband and I really took some time trying to get to know him.  Much more than we had ever done. 
Our team has seen God at work in practical ways and in our hearts.  We are excited about how God is going to continue to work in our church and in our role in the international church.  Personally, I am striving to be more authentic; I am striving to slow down in my interactions with people and be sensitive to how I can be a blessing; I am letting go of more of my life to God (including my thoughts on how God is going to teach me lessons in the future!) and lastly, I am never taking toilet paper or tennis shoes for granted!
-- Wendy Walker attends Marshfield Church of the Nazarene in Marshfield, Missouri.
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