One Year After My Mission Trip To Kenya: Was it worth it? Should you go on a short-term mission?

READ TIME: 7 minutes

Simply put… It was life-changing!

I confidently exclaimed that a year ago, but I wondered if that “life change” would stick, or if I’d go on my merry way slowly discarding those lessons. It takes time to know if an experience will have a long-term effect, because you never know...

A year later, will you actually be different?

As someone who went on a short-term mission, these are the lessons I learned and how I’m applying those lessons to my daily life a year later to perpetuate the change.

 
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Lesson #1:
You don’t need safari pants to go to Africa.

I think the first lesson that’s important before going on a mission trip is learning how to prepare.

If you’re traveling to another country for vacation, you’ll probably search the local hashtag on Instagram or search “What to wear in ___” on Pinterest. I know I do.

But a mission trip isn’t created to look cute or feel better about yourself. A mission trip is mission-driven. On our trip, we had an evangelistic mission, which means we were trying to reach unbelievers with the message of Jesus’ love and hope for them.

A local church pastor in West Kenya asked the organization I went with, Go Love Africa, to bridge the gap between neighboring communities & households that weren’t interested in the Gospel. By going to Kenya, we created a bit of a spectacle in that people were naturally drawn to us to find out what the heck we were doing in their villages. And that opened the doorway for the Gospel.

We didn’t announce our organization to the locals. Instead, we promoted the local church & pastor in that region. The pastor made thousands of new contacts with people who previously closed the door to him & the Gospel.

Prepare for your trip by doing the research on what would help you relate to the people you’re ministering to. If you need to say a specific greeting in the local dialect, do it. If you need to cover your hair & wear dresses, do it. If you need to eat something you’re unaccustomed to, do it. (I passed on some fresh goat’s milk that had just been milked 2 minutes prior, and I still regret it!)

Lesson #2:
They don’t need our junk or our janky help.

This is the first mission trip I’ve ever been on, and there’s a good reason why. I’ve been skeptical of some mission trips — what good does it really do? — and rightfully so. We need to think about the long-term benefits and consequences our work has in the region.

What I loved about this mission is we didn’t donate any of our western luxuries that weren’t truly helpful. Every day, we drove to remote villages in West Kenya, set up a photo shoot space, took portrait shots of villagers, printed & gave them to each person, and on the back of the photo was the Gospel message in just a few Bible verses. The photo idea is simply genius, because many of the people didn’t own a photo of themselves — a few had never seen their own faces! This item will be cherished and passed down through the family for generations to come. These seeds will need to be watered with continual evangelism & discipleship, but it’s a start.

In 2 weeks, we gave out 2,600 photos with the Gospel printed on the back, and I’m sure those photos are still held close, one year later.

We also held several educational seminars about women’s health and distributed 362 Days for Girls kits (women’s feminine hygiene products), which can be cleaned & re-used for 2+ years. The problem with giving out disposable maxi pads is that none of the villages we went to had garbage service. Some of the schools had maxi pads donated to them, and they just buried the pads in the ground to dispose of them.

IMAGINE DOING THAT! …burying your maxi pads in your backyard. That’s not a great long-term solution, right? Sure, it’s a start, but I think we can improve the way we help as we observe the long-term effects of our help.

The problems with donating knick-knacks and paddy-whacks are:

  1. They don’t need our toys. They aren’t lacking because they don’t have an XBox One. If something requires batteries or replaceable parts, they can’t really use these items long-term.

  2. They don’t have trash pick-up, so if it’s a cute little thing to play with and discard, you’re just sending trash that will stay in their land for years, decades, & generations to come.

  3. Exporting our goods detracts from the local economy. Unless it’s an emergency situation, try to support the local businesses. Economic empowerment is a good long-term solution for communities.

They don’t need our junk, and they don’t need our janky help. The problem with providing low-quality “help” is the long-term effects. This one article makes a poignant point:

“The money spent by one campus ministry to cover the costs of their Central American missions trip to repaint an orphanage would have been enough to hire two local painters and two new full-time teachers and purchase new uniforms for every student in the school.”

Why you should consider cancelling your short-term mission trips
by Darren Carlson

If you want to dive into how to help long-term, whether overseas missions or the NFPs in your community, I recommend this book:

 
 

Lesson #3:
What did I really learn about God, myself, and the global church?

What did I learn about God? I saw ways that God was trying to interact with us — just outside of the box I place Him in. God isn’t American or white or male or Republican. He transcends labels, and His interactions with people aren’t because of their social place. He loves everyone freely, and His personal relationship with willing hearts can’t be contained by tradition or dogma or my own ideas about Him. Today, I’m seeing God’s hand at work in the waves of the ocean, in my daily grind of blogging, and in the love of my friends as much as I’m seeing Him under the church steeple.

What did I learn about myself? I learned that I’ve spent most of my life insulated to hard, harsh problems facing many of my Christian sisters & brothers around the world. I live in a bubble — we all do, right? — and I will only see people’s real needs when I force myself out of my me-centered world. I have to choose to see suffering, to learn how I can be of service, and to follow my convictions with real action.

I learned that I make a lot of B.S. excuses for why I don’t help. Things like, “Oh, I’m not sure what long-term good it would do” is an excuse, when I clearly don’t hold myself to tougher standards with my weekly Amazon purchases. “I’m not sure how I can help” is an excuse for not doing the research to find out. I learned that if I have the desire to help, I’ll find a way to do it. If I don’t, I’ll make an excuse. A year later, I’m finding ways to support reputable global missions organizations like:

What did I learn about the locals? They aren’t people to feel sorry for. They’re rich in community, landscape, and hospitality. Their rich looks different from ours, which means helping and serving requires discernment and understanding of their culture. As I said: they don’t need our junk or janky help, but there are ways we can support the believers & the work of the Gospel there.

shocking numbers

I’ve done some research on missions work, and I’d like to finish this post up with stats that shocked me, and I hope they shock you, too.

  • “Americans have recently spent more money buying Halloween costumes for their pets than the amount given to reach the unreached.”
    The Traveling Team
    …If American Christians donated that $20 to missions instead of buying dog costumes, we could see so many people come to know Jesus!

  • “Despite the accessibility and personal benefits, most Americans have never experienced a short-term service project. Just 9% of Americans have ever been on one of these brief service trips, including only 11% of churchgoers.”
    Barna
    …Which means: Christians, we’re only marginally more likely than non-religious people to serve?

  • “Christians make up 33% of the world's population, but receive 53% of the world's annual income and spend 98% of it on themselves.
    Barrett, David B., and Todd M. Johnson as quoted by AboutMissions.org
    …Yikes!

  • “20% of non-Christians in North America really do not ‘personally know’ any Christians.”
    Christianity Today
    …Maybe evangelistic outreach starts by inviting your neighbor to dinner.

 
Americans have recently spent more money buying Halloween costumes for their pets than the amount given to reach the unreached. Quote by The Traveling Team. Graphic by Priska Jordan.
 

Was my mission trip worth it?
Yes, but…

Going to a new location won’t automatically change anyone. Reflecting on the experience & making small, daily changes will lead to long-term change in our hearts.

For me, going to Africa didn’t automatically make me a more selfless, loving, charitable person, but it did kick-start some lifestyle changes that are forging those qualities in me. It was life-changing for me because decisions I made afterward.

Question to ponder: Have you had a meaningful life experience that could produce deeper changes if you reflect on the lesson & apply it to your daily life?

Written with love,

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P.S. If you have a mission trip coming up, let me know! I’d love to pray for you & donate to support your mission.

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*Disclosure:  Priska Jordan is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Photography credit.