“Short term trip”…you have inevitably received a letter or two or three from a friend, a relative, a student, or a colleague about their opportunity to go on a short term service trip. Or perhaps you have had the chance to go yourself. As I ponder this term, though, I find that it really does not completely convey what a trip like this is really all about. For you see, it is our heart’s desire that the effects of these journeys will not be short term at all, but will have long lasting repercussions not only in Africa, but among those who go. We believe that a trip overseas is a life-changing event causing our lives to never be the same again.
I know it was for me! In the midst of a fulfilling teaching career I took up the challenge to go to Morocco during spring break in ‘04. What I saw with my eyes and felt with my heart turned my world upside down.
To rub lotion on the cracked hands of an old man and see his toothless grin or watch little boys giggle as they lather their faces, to witness the relief of an elderly woman as she has eye drops placed into her dry & hurting eyes, to observe in disbelief and humor as 75 children tumble out of a beat-up bus meant to hold 25 children just to have the chance to come to camp, to work side by side with local people to help their own, or to serve tea and cookies to African women who are rarely, if ever, shown such honor…these are ways of extending compassion to those who are hurting. This is what our teams seek to do and how our lives are changed as well. And as we go, working together in unity and love for the “least of these”, we lend credibility to our partners who live and work in these hard places. It opens doors that once were closed and has long-lasting, positive effects that can strengthen relationships and raise curiosities about why we would come.
Such is the case in Mali…Timbuktu to be exact, where a team of 10 of us served in early January ‘08. Our Compassion Corps partners, Pastor Nouh and his TNT staff, work long hours to bring hope to those living in the Belt of Misery that wraps around the city and in the outlying villages. Our medical professionals saw over 1,000 people in 4 days of clinics and were encouraged to hear stories back of how thankful people were that we had come. Mobilizing a team begins with its formation. It is no easy task to get to Timbuktu, and even up to the cutoff date we did not have the 10 people needed to go. But as so often happens, on the very last day we had a doctor and his daughter join on, not only giving us our ten, but giving us another doctor who was invaluable to the work ahead. It was a reminder not to worry but to trust that all would come together to be able to accomplish our hopeful and ambitious task.
The nation of Mali is ranked as the 4th poorest country in the world and Timbuktu is particularly needy, so it was important for us to take over as much as possible. In a remarkably unselfish gesture, every team member gave up their own personal suitcase so that each bag checked (24 in all, filled with medicines, clothing, sports equipment, a basketball hoop, pots, pans, and the fixings for an American spaghetti dinner for the TNT staff and delicious Archway cookies for our ladies’ tea) went to help our partners. What a blessing we find in giving! On top of that, every suitcase but one made it all the way to Timbuktu. And that lone bag happened to be the one piece of luggage we could do without until it came later in the week. Stories like these are just a sampling of what happens when we step out of our comfort zones to love and to serve. Come join us on a future trip if you can – you’ll never be the same again