My trip to Africa was an unexpected calling from God. I had recently graduated from a conservatory and had big plans for my career. Suddenly those plans came to a halt when I found myself back in my hometown, living with my parents, without many friends nearby, and feeling useless. I looked forward to church every week because that was where I found my worth. Week after week I asked God to use me, to do something with my life because I didn’t think it was going anywhere.
My church, GracePlace, sends out a few different mission trips every year: Two to Mexico, one to Ukraine, and one to Africa. Every week one of the pastors would speak about signing up for the trips, and every week a voice in the back of my mind would say “What an amazing opportunity,” but an even stronger voice said, “What would you do on a mission trip? You don’t have the right skills, you don’t have the money.” I listened to the second voice, thankfully God didn’t.
As the weeks passed, I started thinking about going on a mission trip more and more. I was thinking about all of them, but the one on my mind the most was the Africa Trip. The Africa trip was to a school in Swaziland. Perhaps it was because my mom had been sponsoring children at the school for years, but this trip intrigued me, and to my dismay it was also the most expensive with a price tag between $2500-$3000.
I got to the point where I couldn’t go a day without thinking about going to Africa. I had arguments in my mind and with God numerous times a day. I didn’t have the money and the deadline was approaching, I had never been out of the country before, I didn’t think I could be of any use, I didn’t know anyone else who was going, I despised getting shots (and still do). The only thing I had for this trip on my own was a passport which I obtained the year before when I was auditioning for several cruise ships. Yet just when I thought I had completely shut down the idea, something would pop up in my daily life and remind me of Africa. I could feel my heart yearning to go.
I prayed daily about it, I spoke with a close friend about it, and the deadline was coming up in a couple of weeks. To quote my personal journal, “Part of me says ‘start off small, do the Mexico trip.’ But another part of me says ‘go big or go home!’” I went big. I think my decision to go to Africa came down to this concept, could I live with myself if I didn’t go? The answer was no.
So I signed up two days before the deadline. I then found out that I had approximately two weeks to come up with $1,857 for the plane ticket. As soon as I found that out, I dropped to my knees and prayed. I prayed harder than for anything in my life. I prayed, I reached out to the prayer ministry at GracePlace to have them pray, I sent out requests to the church in LA that I attended in college, I went online to various Christian radio prayer ministries and asked for prayer, you get the point.
After I prayed, I wrote letters. I wrote four letters to people who I thought might be supportive of my decision. Within a week, I had more than enough money to cover my plane ticket and entire trip! Lesson learned: prayer is powerful! All the while, the outreach pastor at my church had been saying “don’t worry about the money, it will come.” She was so right.
After I had my plane tickets, all I had to do was wait for the trip to come, and seven months sure does go by fast!
The organization I went with is called Building Children of Promise International. For more detailed information, you can visit the website bcopi.org. BCOPI supports a school in Swaziland called the Moriah Centre. The Moriah Centre provides the children with a Christ based education as well as giving them steady meals, clothing, school supplies, and basic medical supplies. Another member of our team is the founder of a different non-profit called Generation Prosper which provides backpacks for underprivileged children. We were able to bring 60 backpacks filled with clothing, books, and other supplies to the kids.
Our project for this trip was to build two rooms onto the school to house future missionaries on the premises. We also painted areas of the school and did some smaller construction projects, completely reorganized the office and made it functional, and cleaned and restocked the school. This is all the work we did, but the real and rewarding “work” was being with the children. I was able to help in the classrooms several times. I helped them with reading, coloring, and counting. I also made an effort to play with them at recess every day! Obviously the kids are adorable, but they also have such a desire to learn! They love school, and they love anyone new who comes to visit. Hugging them and holding them is something I miss everyday.
While the kids at the Moriah Centre come from poverty, they were not the worst cases I saw while in Swaziland. I also helped with a “soup kitchen” in the bush for around 60 orphans. The “soup kitchen” was actually a tiny table set up in the middle of a field, and the soup was made up entirely of the leftover scraps from a hostel dining room. It consisted of : tomato sauce, rice, burnt toast, leftover meat, french fries, cole slaw, vegetables, stale bread, water and who knows what else! When we arrived, again the children were so happy to see us. Another lesson that I learned from the trip: racism is learned, it isn’t born. Those kids didn’t care about the color of my skin, what I was wearing, where I was from, anything! All they wanted was my love and I gladly gave it to them.
The kids at the soup kitchen were in dire shape. Their clothes were tattered and completely ill-fitting, either too small or too big. One little boy in particular was wearing only a pair of pants that practically swallowed him, and they were filthy. He wasn’t wearing a shirt or underwear and he was skin and bones. When I served them their food I could barely look at them because I knew if I looked into those desperate eyes I would break down. When I was growing up, when my dad would pray before our meal he would always pray for the “starving children in Africa.” I can now fully grasp that statement. They swarmed me once I started serving the food. One little girl was licking the bucket clean after supper was finished. The soup kitchen visits them twice a week providing them with their biggest meals. We also brought them some blankets because a lot of them were sleeping on cardboard. Their “homes” had fully dirt floors. The most amazing thing about the soup kitchen was that they sang for us twice to say thank you. They have so little, yet they are completely grateful for the little they have. To this day I have not had a meal without thinking of those children.
I learned so much from this trip, and I’ve only told you about a few of the many experiences I had. So trimming it down, here is what I learned:
1) God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. I didn’t think my life was going anywhere, but God decided I was going to Africa. I didn’t think that I would be able to come up with the money, but God provided the funds. I didn’t think I would be of any particular use, but God blessed me with a healthy working body able to do all sorts of projects big and small. Our job as people is to do the work of God. If we ask to be put to work for Him, He will provide a job.
2) Children are the future! 50% of the population of Swaziland has HIV/AIDS. This means lots of children being left parentless. James 1:27 states, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Who knows what children can become unless they are given a chance! If 7% of the people who called themselves Christians in the world adopted, there would be NO MORE ORPHANS.
3) A mission trip is also about God’s personal mission within your own heart. I learned so many things from this trip about myself, and the way God views me, and the way I view God, and the way I view the world, and the way God views the world. We are all God’s children. We all have different paths, and not everyone’s life may involve a mission trip to a foreign country. It could be a mission trip in the grocery store by paying for someone else’s groceries, or handing $5 to a person on the street. But if you feel the urge to go across the world to help others, do it! I'm so glad I had the opportunity to go to this incredible place while I had the chance. There are organizations all over the world, and in our own backyards that need our help. The point is we are all called to love the way He loves us, and by doing that His ultimate mission will be completed.