Yesterday morning, I returned from a one month long mission trip to Fiji.
To avoid answering a million of the same questions and giving awful, holey answers, I’m going to take the opportunity to summarise everything I can in a few blog posts. Also, seeing as it was only yesterday morning I was shivering in the dark on a beach praying with my mates, a lot is still processing. There just isn’t enough space on the internet or room in my brain to talk about every second of every day. However, hopefully here you’ll get a glimpse of what it was like, how I feel and most importantly what God has done.
Short term mission would be nicely summarised as going overseas to spread the gospel, and a large part of our goal was to help support the churches that are already established and that we’ve already supported previously. Something to keep in mind is that, while I was only there for a month, there have been groups going to Fiji from Year 13 for about 10 years, so our impact isn’t as limited as some other short term mission trips. A lot of the people we came to knew had known our predecessors and it was inspiring to recognise that what we were about to do would be remembered.
People have a large range of feelings about short term mission, or even just mission in general.
I had a (non-Christian) friend angrily rant about the invasion of mission on the people of a place- shouldn’t they be allowed to keep whatever ideas they had? The thing is, though, that 128 of us decided to spend the money, time and energy to get to Fiji because we know how significant the impact of Christianity can be. In a country with 35.2% living under the poverty line, a bit of hope can be useful. In a country with a military government, knowing there is a sovereign yet loving God can be comforting. And knowing that whatever happens in this life isn’t all there is to come isn’t just awesome, it’s news Christians are commanded to spread. The first missionaries came to Fiji 150 years ago and got eaten. The only reason Fiji is still largely Christian is because people continued to courageously recognise the importance of spreading the hope and good news of Christ to them. And, while we were under no such threat, it was still slightly terrifying to leave home and all its comforts to go and spread the gospel. While a few sermons were preached but 90% of ministry was through two way conversations and the rest was through manual labour. So, no invasion.
Another conception is that short term mission is pointless. You can’t learn the language, build strong relationships, or make a strong change in the time you are there. One missionary who has been there for three years described us as “dogs running through a museum-seeing everything but understanding nothing”. So, if we were on any sort of pedestal in our own minds, we were quickly knocked off them. The thing is, while you can’t convert a Hindu taxi driver in three minutes, it quickly becomes apparent how important it is to you that they are converted. For a lot of people that will manifest in a new found courage at home to tell people about Jesus and keep trying when it seemed initially too scary- for some it may actually manifest in coming back and trying again, or being a long term missionary overseas. The focus is on the change around us while I think by the end the point is to look at the change that’s occurred inside us and how that will then begin to affect our surroundings. A friend of mine said he was worried that our mission trip would turn into something selfish- that he would only change within himself, and not make that much of an impact. My response to him was that perhaps God wanted or needed the change to happen within himself first. Yes, our short term mission impacted us the most greatly- every time we talked to people, painted something or taught a scripture class, the cost and impact was adding up to no one but ourselves. However, I think of two things at this point.
Primarily, the starfish story. The value of short term mission is that it’s still an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. People were still astounded and, dare I say, changed by a group of teenagers paying to spend time with them, dressing and acting differently and respectfully, and pioneering for a God they knew so well. [How often we saw white tourists and felt ashamed at their short shorts, tribal tattoos and sunburnt necks. White person, a.k.a. kavalungi.] Every person we talked to may not have heard about Christ before as we know him so well, and now they do. Whatever impact we made was part of God’s plan and he’ll use it. But, another big point is that the way in which we have changed are significant. These changes, even if unseen aren’t insignificant and will impact our daily lives, our activities, and our churches.
So yea, it had its ups and downs. But it was definitely worth it.
One of my last diary entries reads this:
“In year 12 Biology we had to catch some bugs and examine them in a slide under a microscope. That’s how Fiji, or rather our short term mission, has been. You cannot escape as you are closely examined. You are representing Christ every waking moment. And, as you friends, leaders and Fiji watch you I’m reminded of a quote from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.
“And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin …?”
Every emotion within you is also magnified. You love stronger, you hate harder, you cry easily and you always want to sleep. Your head, heart and body are tired. So tired that kids making fun of you in a language you don’t understand, or one more dog yelping or even someone’s kindness can tip you over the edge. You fall into a drum beat fast enough that you don’t have time to think, you pretend you don’t need what you want and you march – crawl – slog through what you thought was light rain until your feet became stuck in the mud. The chairs you scrubbed will become dirty again, the kids may forget what you said and your bones will ache to the rhythm of your heartbeat.
So why am I here?
Because I’m looking forward to home.
Not the comforts of a warm shower and my dog.
Where God will greet me and run as he sees me coming. Where everyone I impacted in Fiji, everyone changed by me will embrace me in thanks. Where I’ll get to sit for eternity and play games with the kids who made me laugh. Where I’ll see my lifelong friends from my LCM and their tired, ashen faces will instead be lit by joy.
I’ll dance with Jesus.
My Father will be proud.
Everything makes its mark. If I’m feeling sad, it means I’m reacting to something, which will initiate a change God planned for me. If I’m smiling, it’s a reminder that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. And as much as it hurts now, when I’m counting my bruises, I’m grateful for each one.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33