It’s Thursday morning, and 11 Campbell women and I have gathered at a local watering hole (a Raleigh-Durham International Airport Starbucks) to do some sole-searching (stuff 86 pairs of donated shoes into our checked bags to give to the children of South Africa) before starting our journey from Raleigh to New York to Amsterdam to Cape Town (plot twist — we’re still in New York City a day and a half later).
Our plans were foiled by a harrowing day of delayed flights and poorly-timed layovers. Now that we’ve settled down in New York to wait for a flight, we can look back on our 14-hour stint in the airport with (almost) no bitterness and start looking forward to the week ahead.
Our mission for this week is to be extra hands and feet to the staff of Living Hope in Cape Town, South Africa — missionaries who provide educational opportunities, health care and spiritual resources to local communities. After a briefing on the trip, and even after hearing that a fourth-grader from Coats had collected nearly 90 pairs of shoes for us to donate to South African children, I found myself thinking, “If we’re just there to hand out supplies, why are we spending the money to travel when we could use it to send so much more?”
What I’ve learned is that — although done in good faith — responses like air-dropping food and clothing, or delivering a few Christian tracts and then flying the coop can be extremely damaging to communities when it comes to long-term health and faith. We believe that people have spiritual and emotional needs to be met, not just physical. Sometimes the only way to hear people’s stories and come away with a clear picture of what a community is like is to go be a part of it. And in return, visiting places where Christianity is less welcomed than it is in the U.S. can help us appreciate the power of the Gospel and how it applies in cultures different than our own.
“Our philosophy of missions is not that we’re going to change everybody or be big bad Americans who can save everyone. We walk alongside people to build their faith, but its equally important that we take our experiences home to entwine into our daily lives,” explained our fearless leader Caitlyn Rogers, who was recently promoted from intern to associate campus minister for missions and ministry. “People overseas tend to be better at being in relationship with God because they have physical needs that they often look to Him to provide. We have a lot to learn from the believers there.”
So with Caitlyn’s words in mind, we’re looking forward to building authentic Christ-centered relationships and providing hands wherever needed. And even though we haven’t quite made it to Cape Town, we’re already getting better at drawing on the power of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives — namely for patience, especially as we sat in the airport last night after countless phone calls, miscommunications and rushed trips up and down the concourse, all culminating in a seven-hour long camp-out at the baggage claim.
“I feel like I’m a prisoner here. But hey, at least we’re bonding,” said one of our rising seniors, Hayley Barber, as she stared listlessly into the void waited for her luggage that never came. There’s nothing like a little shared adversity to bring people together. As we waited and intermittently searched for someone ANYONE who could tell us where in the world our belongings were, we got to know one another over trail mix, goldfish and YouTube videos.
At the end of the night, we still don’t have the answers we were looking for. Still, we found a hotel and got a few hours of sleep, and God has already showed us grace this morning in the form of a quality continental breakfast and a phone call from Tony Thompson, pastor of Greater Vision Fellowship Church (and fellow-traveller Ashton’s dad). He encouraged us, prayed for us and guided us through a good old-fashioned, Old Testament-style anointing with oil.
Above all, he reminded us that “understanding what God is about to do where you are is more important than telling God what you want to do for Him.”
Currently, half our team is without luggage and we don’t have concrete flight plans to Cape Town. But we’re having a blast exploring New York City on a budget and trusting that God would use us wherever He sees fit. Please join us in praying that we travel safely abroad this weekend and that we make a lasting impact at Living Hope.