Six Reasons Mission Trips Matter.

Yesterday at church I tried to talk about Zambia without crying or blathering on like a bimbo. I failed. Sam loves it when I cry at church.

What I think people want to know is this: Was it worth the money and the effort? Did you accomplish what you intended?

Short term missions can be tricky, so I’ll be months sorting that out, but here are six reasons I think fiscally responsible, culturally aware, Christ-centered mission trips are worth considering (besides the elephants.)



1. World travel is important because the world is circling the drain. Talking with a stranger, in broken English and sign language, we discover they too like ice cream, safe schools, jobs and Tide laundry detergent. This demystifying process reminds us people of other cultures are like us. But when we isolate ourselves with folks of our color, belief system and economic class, fear of others festers, and that makes it easier for us to bomb them when someone suggests we should. How much more of that can this world take?

Chongwe, Zambia

They stopped playing for three seconds!

2. America, while problematic, is still a global beacon of stability and function, so quit complaining. In many countries, the arrival of a new president/dictator/supreme overlord means all the rules change, again, and it’s hard to kick a ball through a moving goalpost. Although the American media insists the US Constitution is being dismantled, it’s still there and it still works. The Republic is far from perfect but it could be soooooooooo much worse. Be grateful. Be involved.

Community clinic.

Community clinic.

3. Pressure reveals what lurks under your spiritual exterior and Africa is wonderful at applying that pressure. So when the bus breaks down, again, turning a four-hour trip into twelve, will I pitch a fit and yell at everyone trapped in the same boat? Or will I ball up my blanket, scream into it and then say, “someday I will laugh about the Zambian dudes tying the leaf springs together with a tree bark rope.”

Wait Upon God’s Time … Often.

4. You may experience the life of faith you forget to live at home. On a mission trip, praying about things is the first resort. In Zambia, we prayed over constipation and shame and witch doctors in the woods. One morning, I prayed four times before 9am with different people for different reasons.  All day, I found myself in meditative conversation with Jesus over dumb things, big things, things that made no sense. Zambia took my prayers to a new level. And by the way, it works, but more on that later.

Chongwe, Zambia

She loved having her picture taken.

5. You are literally obeying Jesus, who said, go into all the nations and preach the gospel. Sometimes I forget to do that when the line is long at Starbucks or I’m stuck in traffic and it’s hot. It doesn’t matter where you are, Jesus commanded his followers to tell people about Him – that He is the way, the truth and the life. You’d be surprised how many people are hungry to hear that. Human beings are desperate for hope, so don’t let them down just because somebody might disagree. If that’s the case, just be nice and carry on. Remember eternal ripples are hard to count.

The girls' hut.

The gals.

6. Somebody might just say, “Yep, count me in.” On a dusty bench in Zambia that happened to me nine times. Not counting the 250 people who prayed for salvation after the Jesus film, nine people told Charity, me and a handful of others, they wanted to follow Jesus. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. All we did was open our mouths and follow Charity’s lead. Those people trust Charity because the love of God falls from her like rain. Don’t miss that…the love comes first. In fact, after hearing about the God who so loved the world he gave his only son, one woman tore off a necklace, placed on her baby by the local witch doctor, and threw it in the bushes.

Charity teaching.


So don’t go on a short-term mission trip to change the world, because you won’t. Go because the world will change you.

And that may just be what God’s after.

Notes from Zambia – Part II


The indomitable Hugh Ragsdale.

Standing in the bathroom of the SCRUBS Medical Mission team house in Lusaka, Zambia this afternoon, I watched water pour out of the faucet. It nearly made me cry.

For the past eight days, five men from Texas have wrangled, cajoled, pleaded and threatened the local cowboys (two well-paid, eight year-olds driving a team of Brahma-looking oxen) to keep ferrying drums of water from a nearby well.
Chongwe, Zambia
And when it runs out, we wait.

If our hair is dirty and the dishes pile up, we wait.

If we are thirsty, we wait.

If we have diarrhea, we wait.

Just like the 150 Zambian school children, whose feet and legs are powder gray from the rain thirsty ground, do. They are expert at waiting.

How many church services have you endured where a slideshow full of sad African faces forces you to bust out your wallet?

In Chongwe, despite a sketchy water supply, no schoolbooks, a basketball hoop that’s little more than a cut out barrel lid nailed to a pole, I couldn’t find a crying child. Sorry, no sad Zambian kid pictures here, though they absolutely have cause.

Chongwe, ZambiaAn engineer from a neighboring ministry called Tree of Life (seriously, take a minute and check out their orphan work) told me Zambia has the highest AIDS rate per capita in the world. Not surprisingly, it also has the highest orphan rate per capita in the world. (I thank you in advance for fact-checking mercies as I drop quarters into the Internet.)

And evidently there’s a rumor circulating, perhaps perpetuated by the lively and demonic witch doctoring industry, that the cure for AIDS is sex with children. The practice is so widespread, last year a SCRUBS nurse saw a billboard that read, “Don’t have sex with children!” written in Nyanja.

So please spare me any talk about cultural imperialism and Christian crusading in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the slums and the bush, where people live in fear of curses and poisoned children and witchcraft, the gospel of Jesus Christ is incredibly good news.

“Come to me all you who are heavy laden and weary, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said.

And while there are folks of others faiths, it’s primarily Christians in the slums, educating orphaned kids. It’s Christians handing out anti-retro viral drugs to children infected with HIV. And in the case of SCRUBS Medical Mission working this week in Chongwe, it was exhausted, unwashed Christians treating rampant STD’s, caring for pregnant mothers, diagnosing TB, worming kids and splinting broken bones.
Chongwe, Zambia
And when that was all done we prayed, hard, on our knees in the dirt, for people we may never see again.

For all my questions about efficacy, here’s one thing I know for sure:

Zambia taught me to pray. Specifically a 24-year-old teacher named Charity taught me to pray. She is a powerful, fearless woman of God, who understands with such clarity the rest of God, when she opens her mouth, people listen.

Because Charity already knows, what I am learning fast: When you’ve got nobody to rely on but Jesus – an experience foreign to a lot of Americans – you learn really fast to rely on Jesus.

For all our pride, our posturing, our strutting, the Bible says we are in fact, helpless and naked, blind little waifs in desperate need of salvation.

And in Chongwe this week, the edge got a little more jagged for me. Stripped of my quotidian comforts, my naked helplessness and desperate need for Jesus grew a little more apparent.

And that was before the demons showed up.

Notes From Zambia

Garbage smoke.

Garbage smoke.

Greetings from the land of contradiction, the lovely and tragic Lusaka, where no matter how you try to sort it into matching African piles, so you can avoid saying blithe and stupid things on your blog, you will still fall backward into the land of hopeless paradox, praying for mercy as you try to explain.

Here’s kind of what I mean by that:

Rickiey, our favorite team carpenter who speaks oddly prescient and accidentally hilarious things, spent an advance week with the orphans in Chongwe.

“These people don’t need us here,” he reported to the team. “They don’t. They’re happy, they’re content.”

He’s wrong of course, but he’s also deeply, inarguably right.

Charity and the water.

Charity and the water.

Hugh and Rickiey spent four frustrating days replumbing the orphanage before the rest of the team arrived. Through the miracle of southern engineering they managed to pipe water into it after three deep, expensive bore holes failed to yield new water.

When Charity, one of the three teachers for 150 kids, saw water running out the kitchen faucet, for the first time in three years, she cried.

Do they need us? Yes.

But on our third day in Zambia’s capital city, I asked our local friend Chase why, with four million people in Lusaka, the streets aren’t more crowded.

“They are mostly in the compounds,” he said. “Some people will never leave them, never walk on Lusaka’s pavement a mile or two away.” There’s no reason to, he said, they can’t afford it.

The compounds are massive urban ghettos, some with upwards of 40,000 people living in their dirt streets. Concrete huts that once housed two families, have been subdivided to house six. Pit toilets behind the houses and shacks are predictably too close to the shallow wells which makes dirty water and sick kids. Same old story.

And here we come, two van loads of Muzungas to check it all out – something that feels condescending and necessary and horrifying because I really want a bottle of water but I can’t yell out the window for one, saying, “Does anyone have change for a hundred kwacha?” That’s twenty bucks.

Do they need that? No.

And I know those people would trade places with the rich Muzingus in a minute, they would take hot showers, eat more than just shima – the local cornmeal staple – and not watch their kids die of malaria.

And what? So they can die of loneliness and depression like we do?

Are our lives better because we have the money to fix diarrhea and sleep safely in our homes? Yes.
Are contentment and gratitude our natural response? No.
Is kindness to strangers a national priority in America like it is in Zambia?

Lima Compound

Lima Compound

As the van inches down the dusty alley with open pits on each side, from which kids fill water bottles for reasons we hope don’t include hydration, they check us out shyly. If any of us waves first, they erupt in smiles, big white, bright eyed smiles. The adults do too. This happens all day every day, everywhere we go.

One kid even yelled, “Look, Chinese!”


So are we helping? Yes.
Is a large portion of Zambia’s GDP fueled by the Christian Industrial Complex? Yes.
Are a lot of those Christians doing thankless and spectacular work? Yes.
Is our work a meaningful response to systemic, global economic injustice? I doubt it.
Does Jesus require it of his followers regardless? Yes.

In an hour, we leave for Chongwe where a troupe of orphans have prepared songs in our honor. We will set up the clinic, build school benches and chicken coops and maybe welcome a baby into this fearsome, magnificent place.

And as we sleep under the stars of the Southern hemisphere, maybe The Lord will call us out of our huts, and dare us to count them.