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An open door to more life and love

A caravan of aid workers on one of the author's mission trips

A caravan of aid workers on one of the author's mission trips

Taylor Tucker, Staff Writer

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Humanity: the most precious form of life. Whether American Indian, Asian, African American, Pacific Islander, or Caucasian the one thing that unites us is humanity itself, but we couldn’t look any less united.

We make war with malevolence, break apart families with carelessness, hate others with arrogance, kill with selfishness and harm with atrocity. How is humanity the most precious form of life if it’s treated as if it is the most worthless being?

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus says the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. He then states that the second greatest is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Missionaries are a group of people who take this verse to heart and live to serve the unreached and uncared for.  

We live every day striving to be something, to do something great, and in all the chaos we forget about the world around us. We overlook the beggar on the side of the road, the stray dog whining in the alley, the abandoned children with no home; we forget the broken life that exists around us. Missionaries strive to not overlook or forget others. Our lives are not remembered by our job title or how much money we make; our lives are remembered by who we are, and how we impacted others.

Emily Kelly, a fellow missionary from a past mission trip to Mexico, is an 18-year-old University of Louisiana at Lafayette college student who has been a part of a few mission trips. She says, “I think society is too judgmental. This comes from being overly opinionated but the truth, the hard-to-swallow, honest truth is that we as a society and as individuals do not get an opinion.” She went on to say, “Jesus laid the law out plain and simple for us in the Bible, and the bottom line is to love others. All of the issues on the news and all the violence we see happening are just the opposite of what we were commanded to do.  If we as individuals would be more loving of others, without bias or hesitation, society would follow and in turn most of our problems would be solved.”

You might ask yourself how could you change anything? You’re only one person; how could you help three billion people?

It’s not difficult to feel as if going on a mission trip is impossible, but anything is possible when in the hands of God. Whether one is 5 or 50, if God has a calling on one’s life, He will intercede and make it conceivable.

Kelly states, “Honestly, I never really decided to become a missionary. One day I just found myself agreeing with a promotion video my youth pastor played before service one night.” She explained, “My first thought was that there would be no way I’d ever afford to go, then I thought there would be no way my parents would agree, and from there many similar thoughts flooded my mind. Yet, somehow—and by somehow I mean by the grace of God—my parents agreed and my finances allowed me to go. And just like that, I was off on my first mission in Mexico City, Mexico.”

I have been on two mission trips in my life: one in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and the other in Mexico City, Mexico, alongside with Emily Kelly. Without realizing until my return to the states, all of the busyness and stress of my social life didn’t seem to matter while I was away. My eyes were taken off of myself, and were placed on others: my problems seemed so small compared to the people I met during my trips.

An epiphany overcame me as I realized no matter the how bad a day or how horrible a problem, there is always someone else who would consider my bad day the best day and my worst problem a blessing.  

I was 13 when I went on my first mission trip, and I was 13 when I began to dream of devoting my life to serving others. I am now 18 years old and planning to major in Intercultural Studies, otherwise known as Missions, and in Non-Profit Business at a college that is 9 hours away from my home and family.

Though it is hard to start over so far away, God has given me peace, for I know I am following the purpose God specifically molded for me before I was born. When I look back at my life, I have come to realize that my defining moments were on those two mission trips.

During those trips, I began to see who I truly was. I was taken out of the environment that defined me as not good enough and was placed in an environment that let God, my creator, define me. All my life I felt like a puzzle piece that never fit; I always tried to change myself to be someone else. I tried to force myself to fit in whether it be in a clique, a relationship, and what I thought I wanted my future to be. This was how I lived until I effortlessly felt a weight lift off my shoulders as I stepped off American Airlines onto the hard concrete of Mexico City, Mexico.

My first trip to Mexico City was an optical mission trip. My mission’s team was not there to get paid nor were we there to be acclaimed for helping others; we were there to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

We drove to three different churches that were hours away from the city, and performed eye exams to see if they needed glasses. I remember all the smiles and excitement as the people would be able to see clearly, something some of them had never experienced before.

There was an elderly man: he was tan, wrinkly, and his skin glowed as he slowly walked toward me. I sat him in a chair, covered one of his eyes and asked him to read the first line of large letters on the poster across from us. He looked at me confused, and said he couldn’t do it. I was shocked. This man had lived most of his life almost blind. I placed the strongest reading glasses we had on him and he started laughing. He then started reading the first line of letters followed by the second and third lines.

All I did was give this man glasses and in that moment I was the happiest I had ever been. There is no greater feeling than doing what God has called all humanity to: loving others by loving God. Just like Mother Teresa, we do not serve for something, we serve for someone.

We are born to love, designed to care for others, and yet, according to UNICEF, 80% of the world’s population lives on less than 10%, with almost half of the world’s population in extreme poverty.

The #1 cause of death, accounting for more deaths than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, is hunger. Though the enhancement of technology is continuing to make abundant resources more accessible, poverty still prevails by our social order, discrimination, self-centeredness, and over-indulgence.

According to the New York Times, the United States alone wastes more than $160 billion in food a year. There’s a plentiful amount of food and water for everyone, and yet 795 million people worldwide are undernourished and starving.

Most people are not aware that, according to UNICEF, more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, 1.3 billion live off of less than $1.25 a day, and 22,000 children die every day due to poverty.

Vittana, a website that focuses on big issues, statistics, microfinance and poverty, states, “3 million children are believed to die from malnutrition every year. That’s equivalent of every child under the age of 4 dying in one year in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia right now.”

The list to help others is boundless, yet it is not advertised to society as one would expect. Emily Kelly agrees by saying, “I never gave missions much thought before the day I signed up. I was new to church and had never met a missionary before. I probably thought that missionaries where some Jesus freaks who condemned people for sinning and wore long skirts. Man, was I wrong.”

The sad thing is that most people’s outlook remains the same as Emily Kelly’s initial outlook on missions. Unlike her, those who at first do not believe in God, harden their hearts when they are presented with an opportunity to help others because of their perspective on Christianity.

The fact is that one does not need to be Christian to be a missionary because at the core, serving is only lending a hand to a fellow companion in need.

It is smiling at the homeless man and asking how he is doing. It is seeing the stray dog and offering it water. It is taking in the abandoned child as one’s own. It is crazy that every little thing you do, can change the path where your life will transpire; every decision can alter who you will become and what your life will be remembered as.

According to the University Baptist Church, there are two distinctions of opportunities to serve: gospel-centered and service-centered. Service-centered fall under the category that does not use the gospel. If it is gospel-centered it can either be evangelism or missions.

Regardless of the purpose or activities that take place through a mission trip, service openings are typically divided into three-time as: short term/volunteer, extended/long-term, and career/life.

Short-term mission trips are the most common, but there is nothing short about short-term missions.

The two trips I served on can be categorized as short term, with one being seven days and the other being nine days. These types of trips usually range from one to two weeks, but can last as long as one month. Though it is short, the impact is everlasting.

My dreams and desires changed due to the impact of one week. This statement from the Church defines how it can affect one’s life:  “God can use a week-long trip to ignite a heart and passion for telling the lost about Christ – perhaps their life to serving overseas where the message of Christ has not been.”

Emily Kelly explained what she did on her mission trip by saying, “Our trip was relatively short, but we managed to pack in a lot of ministry in those seven days. In no particular order, my team and I did community outreaches, nightly services in the local churches, played with and ministered to children, performed medical exams to hundreds of people and still managed to have down time and do some market shopping.”

Long-term trips are longer than a month and can go up to five years. These trips usually need the participant to have training to be able to handle rough environments and situations. Some people decide to make missions their career.

This category is not for everyone because it takes a lot of sacrifices and a willingness to live a rough life. This is laying your whole life down for God and his work. Many people who choose this lifestyle are the ones who lead groups who want to participate in short-term and long-term trips. This requires a lot of preparation and training and also learning the language of the people they are serving.        

Whether it is a service-centered or gospel-centered mission, the list of needs around the world is endless. Though believers in Christ desire greater expectations to help others, there will always be an abundance of non-believers around the globe that do virtuous services with the same goal: serving others.

According to Vittana, there are six causes of poverty: there is an overall lack of education available in the world today, our food distribution systems are inadequate, there is a lack of basic sanitation facilities, the need to survive instead of finding a way to thrive, and the need for violence to protect and survive. The sixth and most influential cause of poverty: us. These are the problems that missionaries are striving to solve.

Skill-based mission trips necessitate precise skilled hands to focus on one task at hand such as: construction, administrative training, medical/health trips, agriculture projects, education training, preaching or teaching in churches, business training, sport outreach, and more.

People who yearn to encourage and offer their time who may not have specific skilled abilities, can go on a skilled-based trip as a Christ-based trip.

For example, I went on a medical mission trip and did not get to aid the people in as great a way as medical professionals did. Even though I could not offer service in that area of expertise, I provided simple eye exams, talked with families waiting in line, and played with the children.

Care-based trips can consist of philanthropic or compassionate deeds such as: outreach to inmates, disaster relief, orphanage outreach, minor construction, trash pick-up, homelessness outreach, food pantry work or soup kitchens, prayer walking, tutoring, Vacation Bible School or Backyard Bible Club, street evangelism, random acts of kindness and more.

No matter what the mission is based on, there will always be an impact. When Emily Kelly was asked what impacted her the most on her trips, she responded by saying, “I will never forget the hardest part of my most recent mission to Costa Rica. The organization’s pastor had asked me to pray over a homeless woman—in front of my team and half of the community. I was terrified that I would butcher every word while interceding for this woman, and then the Lord moved.” She paused and continued with saying,  “By the end of the prayer I had looked up to see the eyes of everyone around me filled with tears. I learned that day that my fears do not limit God’s faithfulness. I learned to trust God all the more, despite of fear, rather than to run from Him because of it.”

I could talk about how much mission trips have impacted my life, I could explain every story and every person I met, but no one will ever truly understand unless they embark on a mission trip themselves. The world will always be dark and chaotic, but united, humanity can shine hope in the darkness. We must to hope to be able to live and we must love to be able to hope.

I, among many others, will strive to create change, to be a catalyst, and to bring hope and love to others. Though the obstacles I face are great, the God I serve is greater.

If you are interested in volunteering on a mission trip, whether locally, nationally or internationally, simply start your journey by researching online or finding a local church that offers service opportunities. A great organization that accepts donations and offers mission trips is http://coreluv.org/

While you may only be one person, your life can impact others, because in the end, it only takes one small act of kindness, an act of love towards a neighbor in need, that can lead the world closer to ending poverty and altogether finding peace.

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