Allow me to be perfectly candid and honest about one of the more difficult and less talked about aspects of mission work: returning to life at home.
I can’t speak for others returning from short term mission trips, but I can speak openly and honestly about my own personal experiences over the span of this past week.
While in Ethiopia, we witnessed true miracles and saw God move in mighty and powerful ways. I personally witnessed miraculous healing and the casting out of a demon in Christ’s name. I personally experienced the joy of sharing the Gospel with someone for the first time and praying hand in hand with them as they accepted the gift of their eternal salvation. I met and rejoiced with families whose children were spared in miraculous ways from human traffickers. I was blessed to play with and embrace and run around with and share in moments of joy and love with countless children in the villages. I laughed more than I have ever laughed walking from hut to hut with our incredible Ethiopian translators and disciple makers. I experienced true fellowship with my teammates as we recounted all that the Lord had done in our daily team meetings, devotionals and debriefs. And in all of the moments in between I experienced true peace and an absolute sense of God’s goodness and grace.
And yet, while in Ethiopia, we also witnessed true and deep despair. We looked into the eyes and shook the hands of women who had been surviving on the streets of Addis with no other option but turning to prostitution to survive. We toured a museum commemorating the country’s rather recent and gruesome civil war, The Red Terror, in which hundreds of thousands of young people were brutally tortured and killed. We looked into the glazed over eyes of young street children in the city begging for food or money to survive. We met women at the fistula clinic who were cast out of their homes and lost everything they once had. We held hands with and played with street boys while at the Make Your Mark facility and said goodbye to them knowing that later in the day they would be back on the streets struggling to just survive another night. We listened to stories of true terror and horror about the realties many street children live in. We wept with and embraced mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters in their moments of grief as we educated them about the tactics of human traffickers and they realized for the first time the horror into which they had sent their beloved children and family members. We witnessed poverty on a scale that I had never imagined possible and prayed with families for rain and for work and for God’s mercy and providence in the midst of their extreme situations. We listened to people’s stories and looked into their eyes and saw pain and hardship and suffering in some of its truest and purest forms. And while we walked through some of the villages and past one large compound in particular we sensed true evil as we learned about the many practices of snake worship in the area.
And after experiencing all of those things within the span of about a week, we returned home and back to the nuances of our privileged daily lives here in the States. Despite all that we experienced and witnessed and the ways that God changed our hearts, things here at home remained primarily unchanged. For me personally, it has been an extremely difficult transition. After recovering from the exhaustion of traveling, trying to work through and process all that we experienced and witnessed brings about some highly charged and unpredictable emotions that often express themselves in unexpected ways. While it’s important to remember and acknowledge that our loved ones, families, friends, and coworkers have not shared in the same powerful experiences we were just a part of, it remains difficult to properly honor God and all that He accomplished on our trip in sharing what He would desire from us. It’s incredibly difficult to accept that those closest to us simply can’t understand all that we’ve experienced, and it’s disheartening when those you had hoped would be there to support you in the transition back simply aren’t able to. It all brings about extreme feelings of isolation.
But! In prayer and reflection and in seeking God’s purposes, it becomes clear that all of these feelings are a natural response to the mission experience and that the brokenness we might experience as a result is all a part of His great plan.
I am the first to admit that I am prone to being more sensitive than most and that witnessing certain things seems to stick with me and affect me on different levels than it might others. Having said that, I have personally been most deeply affected and burdened by the plight of and the struggle for survival that street children endure alone in the capital. I have been haunted by some of their stories and can’t shake the thought that many of the young children I know and love are the same age as the many thousands of street children on their own in Addis and across the world. Within the span of this past week back home I have cried countless times thinking about those precious children. And while my heart goes out to the many children suffering in severe poverty in the villages we visited, I have been particularly broken over the reality of the street children we witnessed. Their situations are absolutely devastating and should absolutely not exist in this day and age.
While it’s easy to fall into depression over the suffering of those sweet children and to wallow in our own apparent inability to do anything impactful enough to help them, the Lord has been reminding me of a prayer I prayed repeatedly before leaving on this particular mission trip. Hillsong has a line in their song Hosanna in which they ask the Lord to “break my heart for what breaks Yours.” That line and that prayer touched a deep place in my heart and I felt moved to pray it personally and repeatedly to God prior to and while on our trip. While I am completely unsure about how to proceed in attempts to reach those children with God’s love, one thing is clear to me: He has broken my heart for what breaks His.
I now have no desire to simply transition back into “normal” life here in States and to allow the memory of those dear children to slowly fade away. I also refuse to be defeated by the enemy and fall into great sadness and helplessness over the situation. I am reminded of and encouraged by the faith of those we met in Ethiopia like Cherry and Trent and Carmen who’s hearts were broken for what breaks His and who walked in faith to be instruments of God’s great love for those in need.
And so while I thank God for the experience and for opening our eyes and hearts to things unseen and for being so steadfast and true in answering my prayers and in breaking my heart for what breaks His, I now also pray for obedience and that He will make His will clear in the steps needed to extend his loving kindness and to help bring about a bit more of His Kingdom to His beloved children in desperate need.
He is so good.
May God bless, comfort and heal street children all over the world.