I grew up in a church in the small town of Fort Pierce, Florida. When I was young, my mom was referred to as “Missionary Dampier.” However, she was not a member of a mission’s agency. She was not involved in any domestic or foreign missions per se. She was not a goer or a sender. “Missionary” was simply a title given to young women who were active in our church. Moreover, at our church, there was no teaching or preaching about the critical role of missions in the work of the church, internationally or local. Yet, we had “missionaries.” Needless to say, my view of missionaries and the importance of missions was skewed from a very young age.
As a matter of fact, it was not until a few years after I had come to faith in Christ as a young man that I was confronted with my lack of understanding on this matter. Scriptures like Romans 10:13-14, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 25:31-46, and James 1:26 began to ring in my conscience like never before. I found myself desiring to be inconvenienced for the sake of the least of these, wanting to temporarily sacrifice first world luxuries so that the glory of God could be declared in third world contexts. I begin to pray for the opportunity to be on the frontline of missions. God is a prayer answering God…
One Sunday in 2016, Nicole, a member of my church and staff member of World Orphans, approached me about going on a mission trip to Haiti. I answered “yes” on the spot! I could see that she was a little taken aback. She did not know it at the time, but I did; God answered my prayers. Therefore, in January 2017, I went on my first mission trip to Haiti. It was a life-altering experience. I had never seen breathtaking beauty and heart-breaking poverty existing in the same place at the same time. I was overwhelmed...literally on the verge of tears every day. Interestingly enough, what overwhelmed me most was the spirit of the people. They were proud and full of dignity despite their circumstances.
We visited schools where the smell of raw sewage hit your face like a bat as soon as you crossed the threshold, where there was no glass in the rectangular openings in the walls, where there was no electricity and therefore, no air-conditioning. Yet the children were present, zealous, and aspirational about their education. Many of them expressed ambitions of becoming teachers, nurses, doctors, and pastors.
We visited churches where the majority of the congregants were jobless because the unemployment rate in Haiti is eighty percent. Yet, the fervor of their praise put me to shame. I was there to declare the glory of God, but it was being declared to me. My faith was edified and my desire to make missions a regular part of my walk had been affirmed.
Recently, I had the privilege of going on my second mission trip with World Orphans to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This time around, I was a little more emotionally prepared for the dichotomy of beauty and poverty. However, I was not prepared for the stories. During my trip to Haiti, I did not really get to hear the stories of the people we were serving because we were doing group activities. The trip to Ethiopia was very different. We were there to hear the testimonies of how the World Orphans economic empowerment program was impacting the lives and families of the participants.
The most poignant story that I heard was that of a Muslim woman who was being served by one of the partner churches in Ethiopia. She told the story of how she was a beggar prior to being a participant in the World Orphans economic empowerment program. She was homeless, living by a river, when she had given birth to her son some years ago. She told us that when he was a baby, she would hide him under her dress so that he would not be taken and eaten by the wild dogs and hyenas. She told us that during those times, she felt like she was just waiting to die and that her only prayer was that her son would be taken care of and have a better life. She then began to testify of the changes in her life since becoming a participant in the program. She was able to start a business that has enabled her to become self-sufficient. She has been able to accumulate months of savings in a bank account in her name. She is able to provide for her son and pay for his education without apprehension. Her dignity has been restored and affirmed.
Listening to story after story, like the one above, during my trip to Ethiopia made me realize that the World Orphans economic empowerment program demonstrates what true and undefiled religion before the Father looks like. It was an honor to go. Lord willing, it will be my honor to live my life on mission in order to go again and again. If you would like to go, do it. It will change your life for the better. If you do not think you are called to go, be a sender. Whether a goer or a sender, we are all called to the mission field to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.