Short-term missions. I’m for them. I’m against them. I’ve waffled back and forth for several years, seeing good points and bad points. You may have read my daughter’s post about her short-term experiences, or some of my own thoughts on the topic (see “World” listed in the Categories to the right) . We’ve supported friends and relatives going overseas, I’ve read numerous books and articles, and I’ve even accompanied Pete as he’s attended meetings and spoken at conferences on several continents. Sure, there’s always some role for me to play on those trips, some way I can be helpful, but I’ve always been there as Pete’s wife, not me.
Well, this year all that will change.
When our church announced the mission trips for 2013, I prayed over the list as I always do. In the past, God has always answered me with “Wait.” This time, one trip in particular seemed to stand out. I prayed some more. Yes, I was definitely sensing an excitement, a prodding. I couldn’t get the trip out of my head.
I talked to the trip leader, Melissa. (She runs the mission department at our church.) I know her, but not well. When I walked up and explained that I wanted to go on her trip, she was thrilled!
I got a few more details. Then I put down a $250 deposit and turned in a copy of my passport. Suddenly, the trip is real. I’m actually signed up!
So, where am I going? Swaziland. This is a tiny country with a population of around 1,200,000. It’s surrounded by South Africa on three sides, and Mozambique on the east. It also has the world’s highest incidence of HIV infection and therefore (depending on which source you cite) the shortest life expectancy. Actual statistics are hard to come by—the CIA World Factbook puts Swazi life expectancy at 31.9 years, while the World Bank data claims 48.3 years, but either way, it’s far too low. In fact, there is concern that without drastic changes, the country will eventually cease to exist.
Traditionally, most Swazis were subsistence farmers. According to the U.N., “Some 75% of the population are employed in subsistence farming, and 60% of the population live on less than the equivalent of $1.25 per day.” Recently, more people are benefiting from economic development, holding down jobs in addition to working their farm plots.
Interestingly, Swaziland is also predominantly Christian. Operation World puts the Christian population at 84%. Of course, identifying as a Christian doesn’t always mean that you’re following Jesus. Operation World goes on to explain, “Most Christian and even evangelical denominations are in decline due to spiritual stagnation and AIDS deaths.”
In spite of their professed faith, aspects of indigenous religions still figure prominently in Swazi society. Polygamy is common. So are occult practices. According to Wikipedia,
A sangoma is a practitioner of ngoma, a philosophy based on a belief in ancestral spirits. … Sangomas believe they are able to access advice and guidance from the ancestors for their patients through possession by an ancestor, or channelling, throwing bones, or by interpreting dreams.
Our small team will be staying in Manzini, the primary industry and business center. From there, we’ll travel each day to a more rural site where our church, in partnership with a local church, has a care center. Currently in operation, but with more to come, the vision for this center includes support to the area through education, agricultural development, micro-enterprise, medical care, meals, etc.
At this early stage (the trip isn’t until October), my understanding is that my primary role will be “photographer.” I expect to document our team’s experiences, as well as the role the care center is playing in the community. It’s also possible that my gardening expertise will prove useful—in my eleven years as a Colorado Master Gardener, I often taught classes and answered questions about growing vegetables. Of course, all this is subject to change. All I know for sure is that God wants me to go.
My individual cost for this trip is a whopping $3,500. I’m quite curious to see how God will provide that amount! At this point, my faith is strong—we’ve watched him raise similar amounts in a very short time frame in the past.
I’m also quite confident that God will have plenty of surprises in store, no matter what my expectations may be. I’ll keep you posted as I prepare for what is sure to be a life-changing experience!