Overall, this was another great trip. As I look back on it there are many reflections that I have had as I processed all of our experiences. So here is my TOP 10 Reflections of the COZV Trip of 2011!
1. Change is a constant. Lisa and I had many memories of the previous trips we have gone on, but after 2-3 years pass by, there are going to be a lot of changes. I think that sometimes we hold on to the memories of the past hoping for an identical trip, but with all the time that has gone by and a major transition between missionaries, there is going to be a significant amount of change. And in all honesty, from everything I could tell, all the changes were positive and in the best interests of the children. Your first experience with any mission is going to be amazing from the stand point that the experience is all brand new to you. But when you go back several years later, hoping to recapture that “magic”, it just won’t happen the same way as before. Be flexible with each trip as so much changes between each visit if you go on any trip more than once.
2. New missionaries. The Curry’s on so many levels were just amazing. They interacted and engaged with us and all of the children all the time. They had a great approachable spirit for anyone. Their story was just amazing considering the stage of life that they are in and then deciding to sell all their stuff and go be missionaries in Africa! But on the other hand, after observing 2 weeks at COZV, I came away thinking that you needed to be super-human to be the only couple taking on the responsibilities of 59 kids (30 of which are teenagers now!)! Although they were doing a great job, I expressed my concern to them about burn out. I believed that they needed to have a least one other couple there if not 2. Then they could split up responsibilities so that no one person would have to be available 24/7 for everything. Plus, just to have one other couple there for their mental, emotional and spiritual benefit, as well as sharing in all the responsibilities, I believe will help tremendously in keeping them engaged on a healthy and positive approach with the mission for the long-term.
3. The Epiphany House. If there is one thing that we as a whole church have jumped on, it was raising the money for us to be able to cover the cost of a brand new transition home. This is such a critical and necessary step to help the kids who are growing up to begin their transitioning into their adult lives. So many of the kids are growing up! I was shocked by how handsome many of the boys were as they are developing into young men and just how pretty many of the girls were as they have grown into being young women now. This transition home is a very necessary and critical piece for the long-term success of the Children of Zion Village. And it could not of come at a more critical time.
4. Networking. It was so awesome to see how Travis and Lorna were networking. They were making strong connections with the town, other Christian missions, with tribal leaders and with people who were new friends to them. Travis and Lorna seemed to have so many positive connections now all throughout the community. I even got to see Travis interact positively with 2 very important tribal chiefs.
5. College Students. I know that I own a lot of books that bemoan why the college age students seem to be leaving the church in droves. In Africa, I ran into 5 different college students who gave up months of their lives to come and serve at COZV or another mission in the area. I was in awe of their faith, dedication and joy as they served with reckless abandon. I, along with the rest of our teenagers, was very inspired by all of them.
6. Mission Organizations, the local church and the missionaries. I became even more curious on this trip about the interconnected relationships between the home church, the COZV mission organization as an independent mission, the mission that represents Travis and Lorna, and the village. I had a lot of questions as to how these things all tried to worked together, and why it is independent instead of being a United Methodist mission. With every decision that needs to be made I am sure there are positives and negatives that need to be heavily weighed and prayerfully sought after. In the end, I know that God works through it all and brings out the best. I just became really curious how this all works between all the parties involved and how and why decisions were made with certain details. None the less, I stand in awe of all that is being done in the best interests of the children and teens at the village! It is just that sometimes my inquisitive mind wants to understand all the aspects that go into how the mission is administrated locally and internationally between all parties involved.
7. The experience. Money will never be an issue when you consider the impact that this kind of trip has on our teenagers. They end up being a huge blessing to so many people at the village as they also feel blessed by all that they interact with. Just throwing our money at an issue does not even compare to physically going and helping at the mission. You will make an impact on the kids themselves, but I would dare to wonder if you also come back with a life changing experience. Every teenager needs to experience this trip just one time before they graduate from High School. It will really give them a lot to think about as far as their own spiritual life, what God is calling them to do with their life, and it also provides them with something to compare and contrast when it comes to worship, culture, materialism, spiritual growth, and relationships. It will open their eyes to the reality of sin, grace, love, and many, many other aspects that will impact their spiritual growth.
8. Support! We discovered that there is a difference between supporting the mission and supporting the missionaries. So Lisa and I came back with a new effort to make sure that we are doing both!
9. The USA. I am in love with COZV and the people of Africa. And I am sure I will stay connected and go back with other teams in the future. But here is the catch, I also learned to be very thankful and grateful for the country I have grown up in. I find it easy to get cynical about our country, government and culture at times. And I do know that there is plenty to be cynical about! But I am so glad that crossing a boarder here is not a big event. I love the choices that are available to us each and everyday with the freedom that we have. I am grateful for our government, although not perfect, really is the best thing going. I love the creativity that we experience in our lives through culture, music, gadgets, technology, etc. I also love, love, love our food and the choices we have in that category. I especially love that I am a native Ohioan. I feel I have the right balance of Northern Ohio cynicism and Southern Ohio optimism. I love the four seasons we experience. I love football season. I love youth ministry. I love the home God has provided for my family to live and grow up in. And I love the opportunities available to my kids to get involved in so many great things (including a great youth group). I love roads that are relatively flat and not crazy bumpy. I love camping where all I need to worry about are raccoons and skunks as opposed to being trampled by an elephant or eaten by a tiger or lion. I love the great lakes and area pools where I don’t have to fear being killed by crocodiles and hippopotamuses. I love all Ohio sports teams. I love that anything I attend will have a reasonable time to begin and end except for Loveland High School “Meet the Team” events. I already explained to my kids how that is not an event I can attend anymore. But most sports games will begin when they are scheduled and they end at a reasonable time. And I attend as many of those as I can be a part of! I love all of that! Sometimes it is all too easy to just grumble about the things we don’t like or gripe about the things that rub us the wrong way instead of being extremely grateful and thankful for all the God has blessed us with, and then to be used of God to share his blessing with others locally, nationally and internationally. To know that we have such a significant connection and relationship to a group of kids in Africa where we are able to provide for them and give them a future is just profound and amazing. I love it!
10. Our teens. What I love about trips like this is the profound impact that it can have on the lives of our teenagers. As adults, many of us have ourselves planted into a community with work, community, church and family responsibilities. To go on a mission trip for a couple of weeks is great but ultimately we need to get back to our routine. Teenagers, on the other hand, are at a stage of life where the sky is the limit as far as how an experience like this can change and transform their lives. It truly is priceless when you consider what God can do with an open heart to further the Kingdom of God. I am always anxious to see weeks, months and years ahead to watch how our teens will filter this experience (along with all the other experinces) into who they will become, what they will choose to do, what major they pursue in college, and how they will develop a missional lifestyle into their adult years. This generation has so much potential if we just step aside and allow God to do what He wants to do instead of our limited ideas that at times can be a distraction from the true purpose of their life.