I did an informal survey on my private Facebook page and asked my friends who serve, or would like to serve internationally, what kind of negative responses they receive from people they know. Here are a few of those answers:
1 “There are people here that need ministering to. Why don't you work with ____ (gives a local option)?”
2 “You may never return to the U.S. If I were you, I wouldn't go to a foreign country.”
3 “Why would you fly halfway around the world to work in that heat and stay in a tent? Will you even have a toilet? Will they even have any edible food there?”
4 “Wouldn't you rather go to the beach for your vacation?”
5 “You know they don't take showers over there, right?”
6 “Why are you going there? We have enough to do here. You could use the money for plane fare to help people here.”
7 “Why do you have to pay for a trip to go and help others? The church should.”
8 “Aren't you afraid of getting killed?”
As a Global Village team leader, I can't tell you how many times I've received the same or very similar feedback from people, even family members. It used to make me furious; you can't compare poverty in the United States with poverty in a developing country. I wondered what was driving this type of reaction. What is it? Fear? Selfishness? Pride? Lack of compassion? Jealousy?
Over time, the Holy Spirit has helped me understand what exactly the script above means in this situation. How weird would it be to try to convince a poet that words were useless, and they could do other things like draw or paint? Why would you tell a songstress to quiet her voice and instead only use a musical instrument? And for those of us who have a passion – a calling and a purpose – ingrained in the very fabric of our being, to serve and minister to the needs of those less fortunate…why tell us there are others closer to home that could use our service more than people in other nations?
I know for a fact that the majority of people who responded to my question serve in their local communities, particularly through their church. I too have been an active part of Outreach Ministries (in the local churches around the country) that my family has been members of. It's never a question for me if I can, or if I should serve locally. That's a given. My question to myself every year is, "what country will I serve in this coming summer and in what capacity?" This type of service is in addition to local service in our communities.
I want to take a moment and break down what I believe is an issue with each of the eight statements above and give insight from my perspective.
1 We know there are people locally that need ministering to. When you are a Christian, your life is ministry. Whether at home, work or play, your actions and words towards others are a part of your ministry. With seven billion people in the world, there is need everywhere and there will always be a need to serve and give to those in need. We are not limited to only our communities, our states, our regions and our country.
2 I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that God doesn't give me the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. We have no control of when our lives will end. I can just as easily be killed in a car accident at home. If I worried each day about how I may die, I wouldn't be able to leave the house. I would be frozen in anxiety and thus, waste a life that could be filled with purpose because it was driven by faith.
3 If you recall, after the massive earthquake in Haiti in January 2011, thousands of people lost their lives. According to Habitat for Humanity's website, "The earthquake damaged nearly 190,000 houses in Haiti, of which 105,000 were completely destroyed. Of the more than 2 million affected survivors, approximately 172,000 are still displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration." Approximately 172,000 are still displaced four years later and many of those are still living in tent camps. That means pregnant women, children, the disabled and the elderly have lived in this form of inadequate shelter for almost five years. There are toddlers in Haiti who have lived their entire lives in a tent. I think I can manage to sleep in one for a week in a little heat if I had to. The hard part is coming home and getting back in my comfy bed with my central air and heat, clean running water, and porcelain toilet that flushes, after having to leave behind people in a country who don't have the option. Does every culture of people want these types of conveniences? No. Depending on where you travel to, that is their way of life and we have no desire to change their culture to match ours. Habitat's mission seeks to put God's love into action by building homes, community and hope, and doing that in partnership with these families. Safe, decent and affordable shelter in developing countries is very different from our standards in America, but our vision is still that everyone will have a DECENT place to live and that means whatever "DECENT" looks like in their culture.
4 I'm a southern girl so I LOVE the beach! I currently live in Kansas and I'm afraid of how I will act in public when I finally get my feet in some sand and cool gulf water. Yes, I would love to go to beach, and I still can, but I'm just making a decision that if I will travel internationally, there has to be a component of my trip that involves serving in some capacity.
5 There are people in America that have access to clean water and soap that don't take showers, or at least do them well. What's that got to do with meeting their natural and spiritual needs? Next.
6 When God places something in your heart and you know that this is part of His purpose and plan for your life, you know that He always provides every need you have to accomplish it. The price of the plane ticket is nothing compared to impacting someone’s life on a mission trip or the riches of God's kingdom. Many times when we impact one life, whether local or not, it can change the path of a family's legacy for generations. Like I said before, most of my friends who I know have a heart for global missions are also very active in their local communities as well. It's not always money that people need. There are some things that money can't buy. Just watch the evening news. Sadly, we see rich and famous people in America committing suicide. All the money in the world can't fill the voids that some people have in their lives.
7 One of the things I hear from partner families or affiliate staff members every time I lead a team on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip, is how surprised they are that Americans will pay a trip fee, buy a plane ticket, take off from work, leave their families and travel to a country and build a home with a stranger. What sounds silly to some of our fellow Americans actually gives hope and shines light in the lives of people we may never see in person again. The church - the Body of Christ - isn't obligated to pay for mission trips. Of course, I wouldn't join a church that didn't believe or support global missions because I know that is one of the things that God commands us to do, but I don't expect my church to fully cover a mission’s trip. I did complete a grant application with my church in Americus, GA for my first Global Village trip and they supported me with a $1,000 donation. That was a blessing! However, if God leads me to do a mission trip, I don't need or expect the church to fully fund it.
8 Traveling to a foreign country can be dangerous. On our Global Village trips, we ensure the safety of our volunteers by partnering with affiliates that are headquartered in the country and they coordinate our lodging, meal and transportation. Traveling on a Habitat for Humanity GV team is one of the safest ways to be a part of a mission trip. Habitat is very good about recognizing if there are any potential threats in a country, and will actually discontinue trips to a nation that could be unsafe for their teams. This leads me back to point #2. You can't live your life in fear. I mean really, I could choose not to fly in a plane within the U.S. ever again for fear of it crashing or disappearing, or look at the statistics for homicides in New Orleans or Chicago and choose not to visit those cities again. I would miss out on a lot of interesting, historic attractions, exquisite cuisine and gorgeous views for fear of being killed.
We all have our gifts and our passions. We're uniquely and divinely-created. Let us share our gifts in the way they were intended and not try to limit them to certain people out of fear, anger, selfishness or jealousy - whatever the issue may be. When we support each other in living our lives with purpose and meaning, we build a better world. Let the singers sing their songs. Let the poets write their scripts, whether the words rhyme or not. Let the musicians play their instruments in tune and in time. Allow the teachers to teach and the prophets to prophesy. Give those called to serve your blessings, whether they serve in their neighborhood in Atlanta or a village in Guatemala. Let the servers serve and remember that some of us are just "made to" go to the nations.
NOTE: The views expressed on this site are my own and not those of Habitat for Humanity or its staff.
When we support each other in using our individual gifts to live lives with purpose and meaning, we build a better world. - Tammie Ferguson, Global Village team leader