Written by Lydia Albrecht / November 2016
I served as a mission helper to Africa in the summer of 2015. My group spent three weeks in Zambia, where we were escorted by a native pastor there, named Ibrahim. We spent each week in a new city and got to meet multitudes of people each and every day. Throughout the time I was there, everything happened so fast that I didn’t truly see or appreciate how the trip affected me until I returned home, back to my normal routine of work and school. I then realized that this process of helping others also helped me grow as a person. So I will now share with you insights from my time in Africa, and why I think you should seriously consider taking one of these trips yourself. Although I only speak of 6 reasons why you should go, there are many, many others. I encourage you to reach out to anyone who has gone on a mission helper trip if you have any questions, and don’t forget to pray about it! It was a truly enriching experience.
1. Cultural Enrichment
One of the most staggering parts about the experience abroad was the difference in culture. Not only did I learn a lot about African culture, I learned a lot about American culture. I quickly noticed how our sense of time was vastly different from an African’s. Often Ibrahim would tell us that he would come pick us up at a certain time, and rarely would it be the time he said. But this just allowed us to have another cup of coffee, plan our lessons more, or play more card games.
Another differing characteristic that we encountered was when we went to one of the church services at a congregation. Like most services, they had time set aside for individual prayer. When we do this, at least at my church in Hales Corners, we have a minute of silence so you can pray in your head. At the African congregation, everyone started talking at once, almost shouting, and pleading individual prayers aloud to God. At first, I was taken aback, but then I thought to myself, I wonder if this is what it’slike for God, hearing all of our prayers. It was very moving and allowed me to look at the situation from a new perspective to appreciate how this was effective.
Although many things were different, I was also very moved by how much we are all alike. It was easy to see similarities even with cultural differences. Through faith in Christ, we are all created by God in His image. We are all sinners that need to be saved. And we are all benefitted by Christ’s sacrifice through this same faith. A lot of people are scared or at least wary of differences in culture, but I have learned to love and cherish the differences. God created all of us and He loves all of us the same. His redeeming love is what saves us and brings us together. The differences in culture just make this world a richer and more captivating temporary home, until we are united in Heaven someday.
2. Resumé Builder
Obviously, this should not be the main motivating factor to go on one of these trips. But it is a plus. When I was in Africa, I learned a lot of valuable skills that can be applied to a future career. As a college student, I’m often told how experiences and skills can be transformed into something that makes you more desirable in the workforce. A few skills that I learned to value more while on my trip were the ability to be flexible in different situations and how to communicate effectively without language.
Often during our trip, things wouldn’t quite go as planned. There were at least two instances where we were driving to a different city, with people waiting for us to get there, and our car would break down. Many would view that as an inconvenience, an accurate portrayal of a day ruined. But we made the most of it, talking to the people who were fixing our car, or just looking for other ways to serve. I’ve found that you end up learning a lot more from the unexpected things that happen than if everything always goes as planned. Adapting to situations and making the most of them are very valuable skills in life, and ones that can prove to make you a useful employee.
As for communication, many of the people I met spoke at least a little English. As long as you talked a bit slower and pronunciated a lot more, people would understand you. The smaller children were the ones who did not know English, so we just had to come up with creative ways of getting our point across. People love seeing pictures, so we used a lot of those. Hand motions, smiles, laughter, and thumbs-up are universal, so if you couldn’t communicate any other way, those would serve as the go-to. I also found that African children are just as entertained by the hokey-pokey as American children are, even if they don’t understand what you’re saying. Changing your tactics to ensure you are understood is another valuable tool in the workforce.
3. Newfound gratitude
Being in a third world country really makes you look twice at everything you have, and renew your gratitude for these earthly blessings. There were multiple times when I would talk to people after lessons, usually people close to my age, and they would ask me one similar thing, Can you send me a Bible? Can we keep in touch so that I can learn more about this? Most of the people I met had very little, but all they wanted was to learn more about God and His love. What a stark reminder of the One Thing Needful in this life. When I came back home and returned to work at Target, I looked at all of the many aisles filled with things. Fifty different kinds of toothpaste, hundreds of different toys, dozens of different pencils, and I can’t help but think of how needless it all is. There is one thing needful and that is Jesus Christ.
4. Get to know your fellow Christians
I was blessed to be a part of an amazing group of people on my trip. Before we departed, I had never really talked to any of them, but when I came back, I had four amazing friends. You learn a lot from the people you are with and you learn a lot about each other. Your fellow mission helpers are a blessing from God to help support you on your trip. Going abroad also gives you the opportunity to connect with Christians from a foreign land. I had never fully appreciated how vast the Christian religion is until I saw it with my own eyes, and I only saw a very small portion of it. Experiencing that gave me a renewed sense of wonder and awe at God’s all-encompassing love and that He loved us all so much that He gave His only Son to redeem us. Going on one of these trips and spreading this very message to others will give you friends with a special bond and experiences you will never forget.
5. Be a good representative
During your time abroad, you act as a representative of where you came from and what you believe in. People notice that you’re different, whether if it’s how you look or how you interact with others. When we would be traveling from place to place, children would see us in a car and chase after us shouting “Wazungu” (white people). Just looking different from them made them curious about us and what we say and do. People will want to talk to you, giving you ample opportunity to witness to them. People will also notice how you act and interact with others. Being respectful and polite affects what people think of you and whether or not they will listen. Especially at a time when not many people think highly of Americans, you can use your time abroad to be a positive light on the perception of not only Americans but also Christians.
6. Witnessing in action
The most important aspect of these trips, is the opportunity to see witnessing in action. In previous articles, we have talked about how it can sometimes be discouraging trying to witness here at home, because many people aren’t interested in what we have to say. That is a major difference from what I saw in Africa. When we were holding our Bible story lessons at schools and churches, people would keep flocking in to hear what we had to say. If you had previously been discouraged by failed witnessing experiences, seeing the thirst for the Word of God there erased that discouragement.
These trips also give you more opportunities to witness when you return. Many of my coworkers knew where I been and would ask me what I was doing there. This created a great platform for witnessing to them. The same goes for school. Many new classmates would try to make small talk before (or during) class, asking if I had done anything exciting over break. Once again, witnessing opportunity. Windows appear in more places to spread the Word, and talking about a trip you went on offers a relatable and intriguing way to do so.
When on these trips, God is using you as a tool to spread His Word to others across the globe. You may not see any difference immediately when you are there, but you have no idea how what you do there can change and affect the lives of others.
I understand that sometimes there are circumstances that prohibit one from being able to go on a trip like this (you have kids, you can’t take off of work for that long, etc.) and that’s okay. There are many other ways that you can contribute to the spread of the Gospel. Encourage others to be a mission helper, give monetarily, and of course pray! Pray for those who are going on the trip or are contemplating on going on one, but also pray for those lives that they are touching while abroad, that their faith may grow and they too can share the Good News that brings us all together.