Recently, I boarded a plane to Managua, Nicaragua, with a group of 20 teens and adults to spend a week on a mission trip with Mustard Seed Communities, a ministry that cares for abandoned children with special needs -- providing care and a loving home for them for their whole lives.
Admit it. In the back of your mind you're thinking, "They went all the way to Nicaragua? They couldn't find anything to do in this town? Or at least this time zone?"
If you didn't think that, you're a nicer person than I, because that's what I used to think when I'd hear stories of people taking mission or volunteer trips overseas. It's not that I didn't believe in helping people -- I just thought there was enough to do locally.
Then I went to Belize.
As a college senior, I was a classic Southern girl, wearing flip-flops with pearls and cardigans. I had never gone camping -- my idea of an outdoor adventure was dining at a picnic table. The only thing appealing about the trip to Belize and the overcrowded, un-air-conditioned classrooms we'd be working in was that it would give me some great material to put on my resume and bring up at job interviews.
I had traveled to Europe and seen life that I considered more "primitive" (single-ply toilet paper) and had volunteered with local charities. But it was in Belize, packed five deep in a minivan with Bibles under my feet and three guitars stacked on our laps, careening through villages without electricity or running water, that I felt everything I thought I knew unravel.
While I had always known there were people in the world who didn't have enough to eat, kids who didn't have shoes, and schools that couldn't afford to buy pencils, witnessing it first-hand was life-changing. I could not ignore the reality that fellow human beings lived in such extreme need.
The principal of the local high school in Belize asked me to return the next year and teach for $12 a week, living in a bungalow with a cement floor. I served as a missionary in Belize for two years and this changed the way I viewed not only developing countries, but the United States as well. I learned that when you serve others and share Christ with them, a knowledge of oneself and one's beliefs is gained that can't be learned from books or lectures.
In 2 Kings 5 is the story of King Naaman, a leper who traveled to Samaria to be healed by the prophet Elisha. Elisha instructed him to bathe in the Jordan River. King Naaman was perturbed by this, since he traveled so far and the rivers in his hometown were just as good. "Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?" he asked.
God is certainly not limited by location, but when Naaman bathed in the Jordan he was healed. God chose to have Naaman make this journey before he could encounter his healing.
In a similar way, leaving what is familiar allows us to see the world -- and how we can affect it -- in a different way. My hope for our mission team was that they would have a profound awareness of the world, what they have been given and what they have to give at a local and global level.
Does one have to leave the country to do this? Of course not. However, the more we remove ourselves from distractions, the more God can open our eyes to the world and what we have been given to share.
Follow Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.