What I Learned on My International Mission Trip

In the summer of 2014, I had the amazing opportunity to travel across the world to Kenya, Africa for two and a half weeks. I never imagined what I would see, experience, and learn during those long two weeks and began learning and being tested from the moment we got on the bus to travel to Dallas and continued even months after I returned.

1. Things may not go as planned

Each person was allowed to have one personal suit case and the other two that we carried were full of supplies we needed throughout the weeks and items like clothing we planned on giving to people in the country. When we arrived at the airport in Nairobi, we soon discovered that not all of our bags made it. Our team did not receive around twenty of our bags because there was a glitch in the computer. I was one of the lucky six that did not receive their personal bag. If this had been any other trip, I probably would have been very angry, but I did not have a single worry in the world. The only thing that I could think about is that I was waiting for my suitcase full of more than enough clothes for the trip, snacks, all of my toiletries that make me “comfortable”, but all of the people around me were not waiting for their luggage. What they have and will most likely always have are the clothes they have on their back. They weren’t waiting for their suitcase. We also ended up at a sketchy hotel that night called the Strand, which is where we stayed the night before getting on a plane the next morning to Kisumu. We had originally thought we were going to be at a different place that night and we were completely thrown off. I learned that plans can be made, but it might not happen the way you want it. I was tested in these two moments and trusted God through it all that no matter what everything was going to be okay.

Some of us did not have our clothes so we either borrowed from others or we found some at an African grocery store. The first day in the village, we had to walk through muddy water so everyone decided to re-wear their shoes the following day to the same village.

2. You will never be fully prepared

My church had taken a team in 2012 and in 2013 before I went. I had heard all the stories, seen all the pictures and watched all of the videos. I thought I was ready for the culture I was about to step into and prepared enough with my relationship with God, but I was wrong. Words cannot describe what it was like seeing people in villages, schools, hospitals and all throughout the city and how they live. Most people don’t have clean water and they have to walk miles to get contaminated water. Not every child goes to school because they can’t afford the tuition, supplies or uniforms. Little kids have bloated bellies because of malnutrition. The pictures, videos and stories could never capture what it is like and a person will never be fully prepared to experience it.

3. Survival mode

I think one of the most frustrating things I experienced was when we passed out flip flops in the village. This is such an awesome thing to do because it helps protect people’s feet from the ground itself to bugs like jiggers. However, I soon found out that it was a very stressful process. We handed flip flops out of our van, but we would be completely swarmed by people and people would hide the pair of flip flops they received and would get more than one. It frustrated me because I felt like it was so selfish of them to do this. Ironically though, I live in the country that is probably the most selfish. I had to step back and realize that they were all in survival mode and if I was in their situation, I probably would react the same way.

4. Missions don’t always have to be on the other side of the world

From my experience, I think a lot of people look at Africa and other places around the world as places that are “lost.” Why do we point the finger at other countries and not our own? Missions do not have to be carried out to other countries on the other side of the world. Missions go across the street, to your neighbor across the street. It goes to the cashier at Walmart. Missions are not a two-week part of a person’s life. Missions is a lifestyle.

5. I can’t save lives; Jesus does

As we would travel to the villages in our matatus, an African van, people of all ages would wave and little kids would chase after the van yelling, “Mzungu! How are you!?” During these moments it was very easy to get caught up in the feeling that I was a “celebrity” because I was a mzungu – white person – and want to take the credit for the good things that were happening around me. It was a slap in the face when I realized that yeah, maybe I can give people candy, flip-flops and even read a bible story, but I am not the one who gives salvation. Salvation has been given to anyone who believes that Jesus is God’s son and died for their sins. I did not do that. God did. Everything I was able to do and experience was for God’s glory and not my own.

6. They didn’t need me, I needed them

I remember before I began my journey, I watched the commercial of starving children in Africa. You probably know which one I am talking about. No, it is not the one with Sarah McLachlan Angel. That would be the one with the dogs – a different tear-jerking commercial. I felt so sorry for the kids in the commercial and was angry that people aren’t doing anything about the issues that third world countries face. The lady who runs the organization made the comment that, “They don’t need you to come and tell them the gospel, or give them items. You need them.” Having conversations with some of the people in the village made that statement so true. They taught me that material items do not matter. They have absolutely nothing, but hold on to God and their faith because they know that is worth so much more than any item they could ever possess.

7. Culture shock

 Noun: culture shock

the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Culture shock is a real thing and I definitely experienced during those two and a half weeks. While I was in the villages, I felt like I stepped into a time machine and traveled back hundreds of years. We built houses from sticks and mud. There was not any running water. Holes in the ground were the only forms of a bathroom. The food, which consisted of an entire chicken cooked (lungs, ribs, everything), ugali (corn maze in dough like form), and sukuma wiki (collard greens), was cooked on the ground, on a fire made from wood. Although, it wasn’t what I was used to being around, I loved the experience and the generosity I was given even though I did not do anything to earn it. It was very different being in the villages, but when I came home I think that culture shock affected me even more. Stepping back into a culture that complained about slow internet access, deciding what to eat because of the countless options and other things that I would hear would make me so mad, and anything I bought made me feel sick. It took me a couple of months to see that it is okay to spend money because I do work for it, but there does have to be a balance between spending and giving.

8. A piece of you will always be there

When I returned I was offered the opportunity to go back to Kenya and for free. I thought I was going and then a couple of months later I decided that I was not called to go back that year and decided to stay home. Three months later I was asked again to go for free and the same thing happened. I was going, but then changed my mind. This decision has definitely been one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make. I argued with God for several days because I just could not understand why I was not going back. A part of my heart is still in Kenya and I think it always will be. I grew a lot during that trip and learned many things. I hope that someday I will go back and experience it all over again; I just don’t know when that will be.

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Note: I appreciated everything I experienced while in Africa. I appreciated the generosity the people showed even though I didn’t do anything to deserve it. If I could fix everything, I would in a heartbeat, but I can’t. I’m only human. I loved Kenya and I loved the people. I hate that there is suffering in this world. I hate that people are starving. I may not have felt comfortable every moment I was there or even enjoyed every single moment because it was something I was not used to, but I appreciated every single thing. It was different, but I would never want any of my words to make it seem I was ungrateful for the love and generosity that was given to me during my time in Kenya. My goal of this post is to show others the differences in cultures and societies and to hopefully open the eyes of people to understand that we (either Americans, or others) are truly blessed and should appreciate everything we have been given.


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