I came into my CE internship at Grace Church this summer with a lot of “firsts”. Just one month before we departed for Allendale, I had boarded my first plane for a three week trip to Israel. Two days after I returned, I was hard at work at Grace planning a mission trip to Allendale, South Carolina, a place I had only vaguely heard of and most definitely couldn’t locate on a map. Other than the fact that I was now planning a mission trip there, my only prior knowledge of Allendale came from the documentary Corridor of Shame. The documentary depicts the inequalities and neglect facing schools in the counties along I-95; Allendale is one of these counties. I had previously viewed the documentary in both a Poverty Studies and an Education class at Furman University. So, the two viewings of the hour-long documentary were my only thoughts about Allendale.
That being said, two things during planning began to emerge. First, I acknowledged the fact that I myself had never been on a mission trip. I had to take a step back for a second. The trip that I was planning, and would be majorly responsible for, was based on something I had never actually seen or done. That was a lot for me to handle, and at first made me put a lot of pressure on myself. I was constantly stressed over whether or not things would work out, and felt like every logistical detail had to be perfectly planned out.
ESPECIALLY FOR MY FIRST MISSION TRIP, EITHER OF THOSE PLACES WOULD BE A MUCH COOLER DESTINATION.
Second, I started thinking about the vast majority of places I could be going instead of Allendale, South Carolina, a mere three hour drive from where I call home. Why not Nicaragua or Eleuthera? Why couldn’t I be planning and going on one of those other trips that Grace takes? Especially for my first mission trip, either of those places would be a much cooler destination.
As the planning process continued I felt myself begin to get more bogged down by these two concerns. It wasn’t until I spent a day in Allendale tying up loose ends before the trip that I truly began to get it. As we drove into the city I felt an immediate shift. I looked out the window to see abandoned buildings to my left and right. I felt my heart being changed as God whispered to me, “See, this is what it’s about. It’s not about you.” As I sat across from a city leader and heard the passion with which he spoke about the city, God spoke to me again. He assured me that it didn’t matter that I had never organized or even participated in a mission trip. He assured me it didn’t matter that I didn’t want to be in Allendale.
As I left that day, prepared go back in just four short days, my heart had been completely changed. At the beginning of my internship, I was tasked with reading the Leader’s Guide of Helping Without Hurting in Short Term Missions, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. The book introduces a new approach to short term missions and changed a lot of the way I thought about our trip. In the beginning as I planned, I easily became stressed over small details like where we would work and how the daily schedule would flow. To me, those would be the markers of success at the end of the trip.
I REALIZED THAT SUCCESS IS QUANTIFIED IN MORE THAN A RIGID SCHEDULE OR A MEAL THAT GOES OFF WITHOUT A HITCH.
But as we got there, I continued to read Helping Without Hurting and experienced the people of Allendale, and I realized that success is quantified in more than a rigid schedule or a meal that goes off without a hitch. Success can be a night where a 15 year old boy, who is failing school, comes from summer school during the day to sing worship songs with our high-schoolers at night. Success can be sharing a popsicle with the farmers that sell their cucumbers and watermelon at the farmers’ market every day.
However, it wasn’t until I got back to Greenville and to the end of the book that I came across this quote that beautifully captures the essence of this all, “Rather than focusing on the trip itself as the primary element of success, we need to deliberately situate short-term visits as one piece of a larger undertaking. When properly designed, short-term trips are an opportunity to learn from, encourage, and fellowship with believers in the context of long-term engagement with God’s work, focusing on understanding His body and our role in it more fully.”
You may be like me at the beginning of my trip, someone who doesn’t know much about Allendale and certain you can’t have an impact. You may have prior judgements and think of Allendale as insignificant since it is so close to home. You may doubt that God could use you in a place like Allendale. You may even reject God’s call for the hope of a more romantic destination. I would dare to say all of these patterns of thinking are wrong. God knows where he wants us and he equips us to be there and do His work, no matter where it is.
After being there for just four days, I can tell you so many things. I know that Big G’s restaurant is owned by a husband and wife, and they get a lot of business from college students during the school year. I know that a woman in labor has to drive an hour away to have her baby because the Allendale Hospital isn’t equipped to deliver babies. I know that there is a 102 year old former schoolteacher in the nursing home there, where she taught another one of the residents to read. I know that just about every handicap ramp in the city was built by a man named Frank. I know Frank and his wife Lottie love the Lord and love their community.
I came out of this trip completely different than I went into it. I realized it was not at all about me, but completely about what the Lord wanted to do. I firmly believe the Lord has things to do in Allendale. If you are interested at all in what my church is doing, let us know here.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 12:20-21