Don't Wear a Watch on a Mission Trip
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made on a mission trip was to wear a watch. I did this two years ago when I, and a team of seven women (which is a whole other story), went to Kenya to work alongside Chosen Children of Promise (CCP), serving children in the slums of Nairobi. Once you get to know me, you’ll see that I’m a pretty casual person. I buy most of my clothes at Target and prefer comfort to style. I also don’t own any bling. Or, as Michael Kisaka would say, “He’s not very bougee.” I do, however, own a Fitbit that I purchased a few years ago with some birthday money. This is the watch I decided to wear to Kenya.
I decided to wear my Fitbit on the trip because I had read a book Running with the Kenyans and was hoping to go for a jog in Kenya some morning and track my progress (could I run as fast as Eliud Kipchoge?). However, the problem with wearing a watch on a mission trip is that a watch puts me on a schedule. A watch makes me aware of time. A watch is a Western concept for those who think that hurriedness adds significance to life. Martha wore a watch. Mary was oblivious to time; Mary knew the value of sitting still.
I had been on several mission trips before and a few of them to Africa so I understood that schedules and timeliness are treated differently outside the U.S. and Europe. I had a team to lead so I rationalized that having a watch was important. But in reality, the team led me just as much as I led them and our hosts were the ones who kept us on schedule. In addition to my occasional fixation on time, another problem with the watch was the impression it made on the kids we were with.
Each day, the ladies and I worked with the CCP team from Kenya running a Vacation Bible School camp for kids. There was a routine to all of this: Wake up, have a group devotion, eat breakfast, load the vans, and then spend time with kids. We’d sing songs, perform dances, teach and preach, play games, lose in every competitive activity (that was me – not the other team members), and then hang around with kids for a little while before we left. It was in the hanging out that one boy noticed my Fitbit. He liked looking at it and seeing the different screens it had and things it could do.
“It’s a smart watch,” he declared.
“You’re right,” I replied.
“How much did it cost?” he asked.
That’s when I realized my Fitbit was both a mistake and a lesson. You see, my Fitbit (one of the cheapest models offered) cost what was equal to a week’s salary for the middle class worker in Kenya.
“How much did it cost?” he asked again.
This kid lived in a 200 square foot “house” with a dirt floor and no plumbing and I was wearing a watch that could feed his family for two months.
Mission trips are like that. They screw with your mind. They remind you that what you value is of no value at all. They remind you that your worldview may not be the best way to view the world. Mission trips change how you view yourself and others.
I never had the chance to run with the Kenyans on that trip. And, although I still wear a Fitbit, I’m learning to slow down more each year. That’s because, to me, the most important thing about a mission trip isn’t where I go or what I do. The most important thing is who I become when I get home. Don’t get me wrong – I love traveling to other countries, meeting people, and serving in contexts outside of my comfort zone. But if what I value most is the experience, perhaps I’m missing the point of it all.
If what I do on the mission trip is simply an experience, it was of little value. Jesus said, “He who hears my words and does them is like the man who builds his house on a rock” (Matthew 7:24 paraphrased). Doing brings change. Doing brings stability.
For me, the outcome of a “successful” mission trip is that I learn what it means to be obedient to God’s call and in the process, I am changed (and, by the grace of God, others are changed too).
Oswald Chambers said that we aren’t created for “mountain top experiences” but we are created to take those experiences into the valleys of everyday life. Who I am becoming at home is a reflection of what God did in my life on the mountain tops of short term missions. Now that I’m home, hopefully I look at my watch less. I aspire to covet the presence of God more. And life is becoming less about me and more about the people God brings across my path.
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