This article originally appeared in the World Orphans Spring Insight Magazine 2018.
Averaging 30 teams and 300 people each year, World Orphans sees the value in short-term mission trips. We send teams because we believe healthy relationships can be motivating, empowering, and life-giving. The time churches spend together building relationships is impactful, and we see value in learning from one another while creating space for children to build relationships with both their peers and their caregivers.
For a family that’s struggling to make ends meet and living sacrificially in order to care for vulnerable children, time and energy are often in short supply. Time to merely talk, read, or play is a luxury many of these families do not have. Thus, one of the greatest values we see in our trips is making time to play—creating space for kids to be kids, as they run, laugh, and act silly.
As orphans, many of the children we work with in India feel cursed and rejected by their culture. One of our Indian caregivers explains that for these children, the knowledge that people who love Jesus come all the way across the world to play with and encourage them demonstrates to them both that Jesus is real, and they are worthy of love. This caregiver went on to explain that play builds the children’s confidence. When children teach and learn games, they experience success and further develop confidence.
Consider your own desire for moments of downtime in the midst of life’s demands. In fact, I think it is fair to say that downtime—a break, a period of rest, some relaxation—is a need, not just a desire. God commands his people to rest. He created us, and he knows that we are finite beings who need time to rest. Again, in the midst of material poverty, time to rest and play may feel like a luxury beyond reach for many of the families in our program; however, as our teams engage with the children through play, caregivers have an opportunity to either take a deep breath in the quiet or engage in the fun.
In India, a team sat in a circle for hours, playing games taught by both the US team as well as the Indian children. The pastor watched quietly in the background with a loving smile on his face, relishing that the children had time to laugh.
In Guatemala, a pastor’s wife has dealt with many burdens both personally and in ministry throughout the years. The weight of health concerns, family relationship struggles, experiences with poverty, and concerns for children in their care is a daunting and heavy load to carry. However, when a team from the US visits and invites the Guatemalan church to play following a Sunday church service, she readily agrees. You will hear her laughter fill the air above everyone else’s, and you will find her leading the sack races and eagerly learning the new games. Once she learns a new game, nobody can hold her back. She will leave everything on the field, as she dives for the ball, falls onto the ground laughing, and outwits other players. Those who interact with her on a daily basis will tell you that this laughter and joy is a stark contrast to the serious woman many of them have come to know.
When we send a US-based team on a trip, we request that they humbly acknowledge that they are not going to “fix” any long-term struggles of poverty; however, they can love, encourage, pray for, and learn from their international church partner. The local church is both poised and privileged to do the hard work of fighting to see families stay together, vulnerable children cared for, and the Gospel proclaimed. We’re overjoyed that the church in the US has the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing through his church around the world. The opportunity to play together and build relationships is a gift.