This post has taken me a long time to write. Notice it's almost February, and the trip happened in October? I've been going back and forth since the trip trying to figure out how to write about this for someone other than myself. Because I've discovered a whole bunch of issues I never knew I had. First, I never put photos of other people on my blog without their express permission, but never had a problem doing so from missions trips. After Peru, I didn't think twice before putting up photos from that trip, and I'm not sure when I changed, but I did.
Because it bothers me that we go on these missions trips and then use these people's photos and names and stories and lives for our own gain. To say "look how good I am, see what I did?" To shock people with the conditions. To awe them with what we're doing. To raise funds for our organizations. But how often do we think to respect them by not using their photos and life stories for the whole world to see? And yes, I understand that these photos and stories provide "proof" of the missions work happening, where sponsor's money is going, etc. But how do we find the balance? With this new awareness, I've had a hard time with this post.
Then there's the safety thing. So many countries that are visited for missions work are dangerous, and sharing these names, stories, locations may cause problems for the people themselves and the ministers in those locations. This struck me hard not long after we came home. One of the men we ministered a lot with, who was with us nearly every day, went missing and hasn't been seen, aside from one reported confrontation with a group of people where he was pushed into a vehicle. This is someone I got to know. I went to his ministry, his home. I shared a meal and prayer with his wife and children. And suddenly he's gone, leaving behind a family and life.
In sharing the stories of the ministry work we did and the people we met, I have a responsibility to honor these people and their stories. To respect their privacy and safety, to treat them as the people I know them to be, not just statistics or stories to entertain. To find the balance between sharing and invading. Compassion did a post that addresses a little bit of this. I've come to the conclusion, it's okay to share photos and stories, but there needs to be balance and respect. Every detail of their stories do not need to be shared. Names shouldn't be shared unless the person gives permission. Specific locations and photos that could identify those locations are off-limits.
For all these reasons and more, I've found this post difficult to write. Here's my best shot.
Much of this trip was more information-gathering than hands-on missions (visiting schools and churches, getting to know the pastors, cast the vision we have for the area, get their input, etc.) but we still did our fair share of ministry! Pastor spoke at several venues and we met with lawmakers to discuss the plan we have to help their country. We also did a giveaway at one of the outdoor church services. If I'm remembering correctly, over 400 people showed up! And they were so orderly and calm about waiting in line for their turn! New England needs to take lessons!
Then, there was my favorite part of the trip, the children's ministry! I had planned for one night of a children's service. I was told there was about 50 children that would come....there were a few more than 50...
Notice some of the kids sharing chairs?? The place was PACKED! I taught them the Spanish song I had learned in Peru. I call it Chicky Chicky. I knew a lot of the kids coming had been in church and the children's program for a while, so I had written a lesson that would be appropriate for kids who know Jesus, and kids who don't. It's basically a lesson that God made us all with a special mission in mind, tying in the Gospel message. When it was time to pray, this was the response we had.
We ended the night with some singing, puppet dancing, and candy! It was so much fun, and such a fun time! I had a blast and it was one of those "This is What I'm Made To Do" moments. When we went to church later than night, the kids flocked around me, so I think they enjoyed it, too.
Several nights we went to services at the home of a man who opens his property to church services and kids programs. The same day as the first kids program we did, Pastor spoke at the service in the yard. I had a pile of kids all around me the whole night. We danced together during the praise music, and sat on the grass together during the message. I kept trying to get them to listen to the pastors, but, like any other children, they kept talking and trying to ask me questions that I just didn't understand. A young man came up behind me and translated a few of their questions (hooray!). Soon after, Pastor had an altar call, so I asked this young man to translate for me as I started talking to the kids. I explained that Pastor was asking for anyone who wanted to know Jesus to go forward. I asked if they knew and loved Jesus, and they all said yes. So I suggested we pray together, me in English, and they in Spanish. I may not have understood every word, but man can these kids pray!
As Pastor continued praying for the adult's various needs, the kids and I continued praying, and soon it turned into singing. My young translator started singing a song in Spanish that I recognized, so I joined in. It was "Let It Rain". It was such a sweet time of fellowship! Worshiping with my church kids is always a highlight of my week, and getting the chance to do it in the DR in two languages was so special! Huge thanks to my great translator and good luck with your studies at university! (excuse my sweatiness...the Dominican is HOT!!)
That night the high continued! We stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we got some so-so rice and chicken, and some delicious lamb! Once back at the hotel, we all agreed we wanted to swim to cool off, and got permission from the manager (it was past 11pm). While I was changing into my suit, I heard a drumming sound out my window and assumed it was just the AC. When I opened my door , it was POURING! We still went swimming, and it was so much fun I can't even tell you. It was raining the hardest I've ever seen, and then it just rained harder!! We were just swimming and laughing the whole time, it was marvelous. It was like God smiling down at us, cooling us off, and just delighting in what happened that day as much as we were.
The second night of ministry was a God-organized thing. It wasn't supposed to happen. I showed up for a church service, and was asked "Ashley, can you share something with all the kids that are here?" Suuuureee....Almost immediately, a message formed in my head around one of my favorite Bible passages, Psalm 19, particularly verse 1. Talking about how the entire world was designed to show off God. I used my camera as an example (a Children's Minister can turn anything into an object lesson at the drop of a hat!) that pictures help us remember people and events, just like nature reminds us of God.Sorry for the blurriness. The lighting was weird, and the power for the lights and microphone kept going out! This was the night of the giveaway, and there were hundreds of people, mostly kids! Way more than I've ever spoken to in my life, especially spur of the moment! But it went well, I think. The power outage didn't help keep the kids attention, but hey, they got the message.
Do you have a favorite missions memory? What do you think of the privacy/respect issue I talked about at the beginning? Its part of my new outlook on missions that I will try to share soon.