I just returned from 3 weeks in Malawi and Ethiopia—my 6th trip to Mother Africa since 2005.
Each year I take a ‘vision team’ with me to witness what the Spirit is doing in another place, usually a place with obvious needs and hidden resources. Sometimes our mission team makes a contribution through our gifts and graces, and volunteer service; most of the time it’s not about ‘giving back’ but about what Henri Nouwen calls “reverse mission”—having our social consciousness raised by those we seek to help, gaining so much more than we were ever able to give, and experiencing the joys of cross-cultural friendship.
I tend to be critical of church mission groups that spend too much money on themselves in order to travel to a foreign country to serve the ‘poorest of the poor’, and end up viewing them as they would poor animals in a zoo. If relational objectives, mutual ministry, and cross-cultural friendships are not the purpose of a mission trip, then it’s just volunteer tourism.
WorldHope Corps, Inc.—the relief and development organization I founded a few years ago to connect resources with needs, is clear about its purpose:
“to build capacity for sustainable community development with support from international partners. Our strategy is to come along side local, indigenous, community-based organizations and congregations as a mission partner with technical assistance and relational support; connect resources with needs by procuring humanitarian aid, mobilizing volunteers, and sponsor specific projects; and empower local leaders to access and build on local resources for assess-based community development.”
As stated on our website: “In all its mission partnerships and activities, WHC engages in what the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen calls “reverse mission”—the idea that those who serve the poor find themselves to be the poor that are served by others. North Americans who desire to travel to areas of need to make a difference in the world frequently find themselves transformed by the process. WHC Mission Trips tend to raise hope among those with whom we serve, and transform those who go together on mission.” See www.worldhopecorps.org
Six of us—Rebecca Laird, Megan Christensen, Mary Johnson, Sandra Bragg, Ilse Zwinkels, and me—traveled together to Malawi for 10 days. As in previous trips to Malawi, we were shown incredible Love by our hosts in the ‘warm heart of Africa’ and witnessed courageous Faith in those who have suffered much.
The gift we were able to share was Hope—reminding those we met that they were not alone in their struggle with AIDS, extreme poverty, and injustice. Faith, Hope and Love. The greatest of these is Love.” (I Cor. 13). Yet Hope was the gift offered and received, as evident in the following mission accomplishments:
We served daily meals and distributed hygiene supplies to orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children and led recreational and educational activities at two community orphan care centers, including Friends of Mzuzu Community Organization (FOMCO) and the HopeHome program sponsored by Mzuzu United Methodist Church—supported by WorldHope Corps.
We met some of the youth recipients of Hope Scholarships whose sponsors pay school fees for their secondary school education and vocational training, enabling these bright young men and women to stay in school.
We visited CitiHope Malawi food and medical projects and nurtured international friendships with local staff members and beneficiaries. And supplied a volunteer for a month or two.
We witnessed the drilling and installation of “Rebecca’s Well” in Njuyu village
(see http://rebeccasvillagewell.blogspot.com/ and visited three other villages where new deep water wells have been installed through WorldHope Corps sponsorship (for a total of 12 village wells as part of our community development program).
We met the nine recent graduates of our Hope Tailoring School and celebrated with them their new vocation as skilled tailors and seamstresses that will enable them to support themselves and the orphan care ministry to which they are committed.
We attended and facilitated a Shalom Committee meeting and training session focused on developing new micro-financed ventures, including a ‘piglet project.’ And supplied a mission volunteer—Shalom intern Katrina Walk—to work with the Committee for 10 weeks on their chosen community organizing and development projects.
We worshipped with our brothers and sisters on Sunday at a local Presbyterian Church and at the United Methodist Church of Mzuzu; and met with the Methodist church leadership team to help them plan a new transitional housing project and build a Hope Home to sustain the Orphan Care and Youth Scholarship programs.