In the last month several friends of mine have visited Africa for relief and rebuilding efforts on missions trips. Being raised Catholic, of course we had our causes that we pursued. We collected money in little boxes that looked like milk cartons for children in other parts of the world who needed our nickels and dimes to buy, well, milk I suppose.
We heard about Catholic missionaries in third world countries (yes, there ARE Catholic missionaries…it’s true.) I do not think the term was heard as often in 12 years of Catholic school however as the number of times I have heard it since leaving the Catholic church to visit the protestant side of the religious fence. While I tend to not be overly “evangelical” in my approach to my faith I LOVE the thought of materialistic Christian americans dedicating their time and money to go to Africa or Honduras, etc. and building schoolhouses, digging wells and playing with children who so dearly treasure this time.
I suppose growing up Catholic I always thought of missionaries as foreign nuns or priests who would come to our parish once or twice a year and give the Homily in broken english. I felt so removed from the reality of the world outside of my own street, my own parish, my own bedroom. It just did not occur to me that “lay people” would visit and serve in missionary roles.
When I began to know more evangelical protestant types I would hear about how the other half lived and subsequently about these “missions trips.” I had always shunned the “evangelical” part of the trips, the Christian speak built into the concept because it seems to me that to exist as a follower of Christ means that it is EXPECTED that I would serve the poor…not that I would serve them so that they might be “saved.” I confess that in recent years I have tagged far too many people with my unfair and unfounded judgement that somehow they were more interested in putting another “believer” feather in their cap than building the literal bridge that was much needed in order for these people to actually LIVE. I know now that I was wrong to be so judgemental, especially when I have never served the poor in this way myself. (Not yet…at least)
Now, as a grown up; a materialistic consumer Christian living on the edges of the organized church system I look at my friends who take these missions trips with a sense of awe and wonder. I look at them that way because I see them as such a gift to the people they serve and such a gift to me in the process. It makes me want to go and do this so badly. It’s difficult, though, at this point in my life to even think about how I can take a trip such as this…my children being so small, my husband travelling as much as he does, being untethered to the modern version of “church,” these things all seem to work against my going to Africa to serve.
I desperately want to take my children there, to see what life in the world is like, to help them know how selfish we all tend to be, to put it on their radar, to put it on MY radar…because with the music lessons, the gymnastics, the scrapbooking nights and all of our “commitments” as a typical american family it’s the first thing to fall OFF the list of important things to consider.
So, this post, as long as it is…really began as this thought when I read about my friends’ return from Africa…the thought was simply, “Thank you. Thank you for serving the poor. Thank you for placing this back on my radar. Thank you for doing something that I have not done but desperately needs doing. Thank you for going to Africa.”