Can one week of service really make a difference?

This discussion was shared at our third 2014 team meeting on June 9. 

Going to a place like the Dominican Republic, especially on a week-long mission trip, can seem so unfulfilling.  You plan for months, raise money, pray for the trip and the people you will meet, and then you go. You arrive and see a country that looks very different from your home in the United States. You see people living without even some the basic necessities of survival—clean water, food, shelter.  Children run around without shirts or sometimes even pants, and you know most of them don’t go to school past fifth grade if they even go at all. You see mothers who are only 12 and fathers who have long abandoned their families, falling prey to alcohol, gambling, and drugs. You see a pastor who wants to give his all to serving Christ and a community that more often than not rejects him and the love of the church to follow a path that is not what God had in mind for them. We know we have all of these problems here in the US, but definitely not to the extent you see it in the DR.

You had been excited to spend your week bringing your skills to the DR, healing people of their sickness and spreading the good news of the Gospel.  And now, all of a sudden, it seems overwhelming and you wonder how you will make any kind of impact during your short time on the island.  You might even suggest you should skip your trip to the beach so you can spend an extra day helping people, squeezing every last drop out of the time you have there.

While I’ve never suggested we skip the beach (I can’t claim to be that charitable), I have felt all these feelings each time I arrive in the DR and begin to look around me. But each year I’m reminded during the week that no matter what I do,  who I meet, or what I get done, there are four things I can count on.

It’s important I am there. God can’t use me to love people, to help people, to heal people, and to spread his good news to the people of the Dominican Republic if I’m not in the Dominican Republic.

It’s important I tell the story. God can’t move others if they don’t know they should be moved. Before we go and especially after we come back home, we need to share our experiences and tell others how God is working in our lives.

It’s important I return. I know not all of us will go back to the DR. I’m not saying if you go once, you need to go twice (or seven times). But it’s important that when you discover where God does want you, you make sure to return to that place if you leave it. For some of us, that means returning to the DR each summer. For others, that means moving to the DR. And for many, it means taking the experiences they’ve had and moving somewhere else where God is going to use them. No matter what God has in store for you next, I pray you will use your experience preparing for the trip and your time serving in the DR to help shape the rest of your life.

God is sovereign. I looked up the definition of this word, but it was the synonyms listed that stuck out to me: supreme, absolute, unlimited, unrestricted, boundless, ultimate, total, unconditional, full. Wow—those all seem like words that have described God at one time or another in the Bible. So what does this have to do with my lack of ability to do much each time I go to the DR? I have to believe God is watching over the DR and the people there and that he has a plan for them. I found a quote from A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God that I think really hits home what we mean when we say God is sovereign.

What do we mean by [the sovereignty of God]? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Daniel 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psalm 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psalm 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

In the DR I need to know that my plans don’t matter and that whatever I am lacking and feel like I can’t do is under God’s control—Jeremiah 32:17 says “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” God doesn’t need us. But he will use us if we let him. Paul reminds of this in Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” It’s not always easy to see how this plays out in the course of a week for each of us individually, but it’s been pretty awesome to see it play out over the course of six years. Whenever anyone has said, “I want to go and I want to bring my abilities and use them however I can,” I’ve seen God do great things through medical clinics, murals, music clinics, and more.

Finally, we can trust that before us and after us, God has been and will be working. We are not the final piece. In Revelation 21:6, John writes, “He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.'”  In the end God is above all things and before all things—he is immortal and present everywhere so everyone can know him. We need to make ourselves ready to be a part of that story, but we also need to remember that God is the ultimate—the sovereign.

QUESTION: How do you balance your desire to make a difference with your trust in God to provide? Where has God called you serve?