I returned from my first short term mission trip on Saturday, July 19 at 2 pm.  See previous post for background.  The trip went off without a hitch, other than the virus I apparently contracted from one of the 250 new friends I made on the flight home.  You know you’ve traveled a long way when you have three meals on the same plane.  End to end, it was a 36 hour marathon each way.

Our work site destination was the Matipane Village in the Limpopo Province of northeastern South Africa.  While there, we were very comfortably accommodated by owner/couple Bootlap and Dalene at their Magnab Safari Lodge.  Not exactly roughing it.  My purpose here is not to give you the day-to-day details of our “work camp”.  Instead, I want to provide you with a general overview of what we did and then try to capture the essence of how the overall experience has impacted me…at least thus far.

But first, you should know that our original destination was to have been Zimbabwe.  Given the political unrest and violence in that country, we were diverted to South Africa, the first of four African countries that Horizon International operates within, including Uganda and Zambia.  Out of concern for the safety of Horizon personnel in Zimbabwe, I must be short on details here.  But, suffice it to say, the situation in Zimbabwe is far worse than what’s being depicted by the mainstream media.  Some of the sponsored orphans have not only lost their parents, but their Horizon caregivers as well.

Our work camp was focused upon light construction and painting within a property in Matipane recently given to Horizon by a Catholic charity.  Imagine a third world 4H fair type of facility and you get the idea.  The site had served as a city market and agricultural gathering place.  There are many small structures formally used to house livestock and farm produce.  Given our small group of six people, our two main projects were to convert one small building into a library, while creating a storage room within another building for equipment and supplies related to the fledgling sewing
operation that provides work for the young women of the village.  We made lots of wooden shelves and did quite a bit of painting. The Horizon workers and orphans seemed to truly appreciate what we did for them.

The single greatest impression this trip made upon me was in illuminating the fine line between hope and hopelessness.  For $35 per month, Horizon sponsored orphans receive a hot meal every weekday along with a weekly bag of groceries and maize meal to take home with them.  They also receive minor medical care, school fees and spiritual guidance.  All of this for a mere $35 per month!

I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the Horizon kids and the average kid within our own Indianapolis Public School System.  Is it possible that these South African orphans have a better shot at “making it” than do those trapped within our decrepit inner-city schools and violent neighborhoods?  This begs a question that I am still pondering –how do I determine the level of time, money and resources to allocate to charitable causes around the world versus those in my own backyard?

Our daily commute from the lodge took us through several rural villages via the backroads.  I was struck by the number of villagers constantly walking along the dirt road.  I felt badly that anyone we passed along the way received a coat of red dust from the very dry and dusty roadway.  Adult males were notably missing, while women everywhere were fast about their daily chores.  It was rare to see a woman walking without carrying something atop her head.  This was often an incredibly large batch of firewood constantly being gathered from the fields.  The strength of their necks and shoulders must rival that of the Colts’ offensive linemen.

Unlike our football fields, however, grass was virtually non-existent.  It was red dirt as far as the eye could see.  The women took great pains to neatly sweep the dirt surrounding their homes.  We created alot of saw dust at our work site, something that I saw as far preferable to the red dirt that it fell upon.  Not so.  One of the Horizon workers politely gave us a broom and dustpan to clean up our “mess”.  I found the dirt and dust to be quite oppressive.  Sometimes while driving through the villages I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenges these forgotten people are facing. Sometimes it seemed hopeless, but then I’d look into the bright eyes and big smile of a Horizon kid and hope would abound once again.  Imagine how big those smiles will be when we install the real grass soccer field we’re planning?

So, was this trip the life-changing experience that so many promised it would be?  I truly think it was, but only time will tell.  Time will tell if I will actually shift more of the focus of my life from accumulating to serving.  Time will tell if my African experience will motivate me to re-double my efforts to help the many suffering just a few miles from home.  Time will tell if Ambassador Missions will make the kind of significant difference it’s capable of if all teammates and constituents catch our vision for changing the world.  For me, time will tell.  What about you?

If you’ve never been on a short term mission trip, I would urge you to consider doing so as soon as possible.  It will wreck you…and that’s a good thing.  To learn more about upcoming opportunities with Horizon International, contact them directly .  I would also encourage you to consider sponsoring one or more Horizon orphans for $35 a month.  Where else can you provide so much hope for such a small investment?

The Horizon meal is often the only meal for these orphans

Horizon kids love getting their pictures taken

A little library opens up BIG possibilities