I awoke with my face on the smooth concrete floor and a hideous low moaning sound in my ears.
In case you didn’t know, the climate in Juarez is dry. Bone dry. The kind of dry where even I can drink gallons of water and hardly ever need the little girls’ room. This is especially true if you happen to be building those concrete block houses on the dunes for people who need shelter from the heat in summer.
One night, I didn’t drink enough. And I had a cold, so I took cold medicine which also dehydrated me. When I woke up in the early hours, the rest of the women’s dorm slept.
I made my way to the toilets and then found myself on the floor–face down and hearing that awful moaning. I felt worse when I realized I was the moaner from my place on the cool concrete. The low groan was coming from deep inside of me.
I carried the shiner for the rest of that trip and even after I got home. Juarez marked me physically for a time.
And then, of course, I had fun on occasion.
In the compound where we stayed, one continuous basketball game kept us entertained in the evenings after the heat cooled and we had long ago finished the work of the early morning hours. The temperatures dipped down into the 90s.
Because I wore flip flops, I soon thought it would be best to just play in my bare feet on the rough concrete and kept it up long after the pain should have made me stop. Because of this less than smart choice, I spent the rest of the trip with bandaids over the bottoms of my feet. I didn’t have blisters. I had one gigantic blister across both of my soles. Our trip nurse became one of my closest friends.
As I am now getting ready to go to Louisiana, I did what every writer or rabid reader would do: I googled books about the area. I even asked my librarian friends for tips and ended up with a lovely list of fiction and non-fiction reads.
My favorite has been the Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman. The middle grade novel follows a 14-year-old girl as she gets sent back in time by a Brier Rabbit sort of character. There she lives life as a slave on the sugar plantation her white family had owned. It crosses the lines of the owners and the owned and explores the connections between family and history while keeping me guessing at each turn of the plot in a way that sometimes middle grade does not.
Today someone asked me the hard question that I’ll use to end this post.
“Why? Why go through all the expense and hassle of a mission trip to a far away place? Aren’t there plenty of people in need here?”
I fumbled over an answer because the need to go elsewhere is so ingrained in me that I’ve never given much thought about why I do it.
A while later, I came up with a few organized answers. I don’t know if they would satisfy the person who asked. But at least I can say what I believe about it now.
- I believe that going to a far away place shakes you up and shapes you. You see the world in a new world and find ways to do things you never could have imagined before. Some of us take vacations or educational tours to do this. Others of us feel called to help when we travel if we can. And not all of us could afford to do this work without the financial support of our church. This is an incredible gift to offer to our young people and their chaperones. It’s an old and perhaps tired saying, but the people who help do get more benefit than those receiving the help. I’m sure of it.
- I believe there is an ancient precedent for this sort of mission. Jesus walked far in his time–relatively as far as we will travel now. He didn’t limit his miracles and healing to those in the town of Nazareth. His supporters even helped pay for him to do this work across the country where he lived. Paul went even further and so, I dare to hope, did many of the women in the early church. We walk in the footsteps of our wise elders.
- I believe that having a connection to people far away changes the world for the better one person at a time. I came back from Juarez forever changed. When I hear of the murder rate in that city, I cringe, knowing the faces of the people there and knowing how much they deserve life. How could I not? I stayed in that city and worked beside the its mothers and children. In our brightest moments as residents of this planet, we reach across the barriers of time and space to lend a hand. Doing so does not take away from the work we do at home. It adds to it.
Wishing you grace,