July 2007 - Vol. 10
Facing Poverty

reflections on a micro-mission trip to Mexico

by John Hughes

Eight Americans (Gringos from the USA) and eight Mexicans, all affiliate members of The Servants of the Word, an ecumenical missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord, traveled together on a micro-mission trip to some of the poorest areas of Mexico. John Hughes, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA recounts the experience and what he learned about the face of poverty. 

[John plays soccer with a group of boys from the orphanage in Naco, Mexico]

Sitting in Denny's restaurant in Tuscon, Arizona enjoying a nice dinner, none of us felt good. I had come down with some Mexican illness the past day. We were all tired, getting ready for our "red-eye" flight home to Michigan, and most of us had school or work to look forward to in the morning.

Our discontentment, however, wasn't rooted in any of these things.

The tone of our re-cap discussion was sober we had each been reflecting on our experience of the mission trip and what the various highlights were. Brendan Murray, one of the affiliate members of our eight-man American team, somberly reflected, "You don't necessarily come away from a mission trip like this feeling good about yourself."
He was right.

To be sure, it's not as though we didn't have our share of fun on the trip: scaling a volcano, a "close encounter" with a pair of wild boar, a few rowdy games of soccer with the lively orphans at Naco, Mexico, and a big Lord's Day celebration with the Servants of the Word affiliates from Mexicali, Mexico, were among the many highlights of the trip. On another level, our times of prayer together with our Mexican brothers were particularly anointed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  It was amazing to experience a bond of brotherhood and unity in the Lord, in spite of our coming from different cultures, languages, and church backgrounds.

Indeed, taking a four-day weekend in January and turning it into a full-scale mission trip is, in itself, quite an adventurous endeavor. After a brief stop in Ejido Cuauhtemoc on the way to Agua Prieta, Mexico, however, our adventurous spirit was replaced by one of powerlessness.

[Joseph Mathias plays with orphans]
Crippled by high unemployment and extreme poverty, this village is painful to look at. Lean-to shacks and poor excuses for houses stood quietly in the bitter wind, surrounded by trash and an occasional three-legged dog. We visited one particular family a mother and her seven children bringing sorely-need warm, donated clothes, blankets, nutrious food, and some chocolate for the kids.

The next day, while I was at the height of my sickness, I remember thinking: soon I'll get better and go home to central heating, clean warm clothes, a college education, and a future. The orphans in Naco and and the  kids in Agua Prieta won't have a story like that. How easily we forget these simple realities!

Most people hear a lot about poverty, and many are roughly aware of how big a problem it is. When one comes into direct contact with those whom it affects, however, everything changes. When one gives poverty a face scruffy and unwashed things come into clearer pespective. Namely, it's not about us and our weekend of philanthropy, or the stamp on our passports, or our "goose bumps experience" of seeing an orphan smile.

As one member of the team later commented, maybe the Lord leads us to do this kind of work so that we wrestle with these questions, and let the painful reality of a broken world sink in. God wants us to realize our own helplessness in these situations, lest we begin to rely on ourselves. Furthermore, we may reflect on the great poverty we knew before we found the ultimate treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44), for which we have given all of our lives.

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