Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s November 2017 issue.
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Standing at the baby gate separating her frame from a hoard of toddlers, my daughter looked at me with pleading eyes that silently screamed, “What do I do?” We had just completed our brief tour of the baby orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania, the place we were to serve for the next week. At 8 years old, this was our eldest daughter’s first mission trip. We were three jet-lagged moms and three culture-shocked daughters, standing in the middle of 33 babies and their nannies, nervously wondering what would unfold in the days to follow.
When we began having children, we were keenly aware that our life situation here in America is one akin to a fairy tale. We have uncontaminated water at the touch of a faucet; homes that heat up when it’s cold outside and cool down when it’s warm outside. We have clothes-filled closets, and food-filled pantries. This is not the tale for billions around the world. As soon as our children grew to the age where they began to notice the world outside our walls, we wanted their eyes to see, their hands to touch, and their feet to walk the dusty roads that the majority of mankind treads. We are hoping that in seeing, touching, and walking a spark ignites a purpose in their hearts and minds beyond what traditional American culture offers them today. Years from now, when our children leave our home, we long for their lives to be marked by giving, not taking, by loving, not seeking to be loved.
In 2001, one such mission trip wrenched a man’s heart so much so that he came home determined to do something. Dick Larson carried a woman having an asthma attack into the local hospital of an eastern European country. Hurrying into the building hoping to find relief, all he found was a coat rack and a wheelchair. If it weren’t for the expertise of a woman on the team who happened to be a nurse, the little girl would have died. Returning to the states, Mr. Larson thought of the plethora of medical supplies available and got an idea. He gathered medical supplies and shipped them to the hospital. Unbeknownst to him at the time, his actions launched a beautiful Christian, humanitarian organization, Provision International.
Sitting at my kitchen table, Lance Lanning, Provision International’s current Director, graciously shared with me the history and heart of Provision.
“Dick’s heart was, and still is, the key to the ministry.” When Lance first met Mr. Larson, he was blown away by his passionate heart and the way he loved the people he met who were in great need by determining to find the resources required to help them. He lived in such a way to say, “You’re either all in, or you’re not in at all.” “He really set the tone for the ministry.” Lance witnessed Mr. Larson intentionally, prayerfully living out Provision’s vision of feeding, clothing, and loving one life at a time.
When I asked Lance how Provision carries out the task of helping people he explained, “We ship things. We take resources here that people don’t want or need (food, clothing, shoes, medicine, and medical equipment) and get them to those who do need them.” For instance, thousands of pounds of donated Montana crops were shipped to countries suffering from famine. Another tangible program of theirs is Share-a-Pair. Share-a-Pair is a shoe drive that puts shoes on thousands of men, women, and children in countries where walking around barefoot causes countless infections, diseases, and injuries. Lastly, Provision sends teams of people around the world to help in any way possible, whether it be building buildings, distributing supplies, or ministering in various areas of service. Currently, a few places Provision has containers, shoes, and teams going are El Salvador, Tanzania, Honduras, and countries in Eastern Europe like Moldova.
Provision’s separation from other humanitarian organizations is their focus. They are not merely concerned with meeting the physical needs of those who are desperate, but also with introducing them to the God who truly meets every need physical, emotional, and spiritual. Provision doesn’t show up with a team of people and resources just to hand them out and leave. God leads them to people in countries who understand the dynamics of their own culture, people, and government. Some are natives of the country, while others are seasoned missionaries who are in the trenches daily and can accurately discern what assistance would be truly fruitful. These connections shift the spotlight from merely humanitarian relief to feeding, clothing, and ministering to people they hope to develop relationships with for years to come.
Hence, it isn’t chiefly about the stuff and things that meet needs, but about the people and relationships birthed while needs are being met. Lance continually witnesses this in his travels in service to others, as have my children and I. On the trips we take, we arrive with suitcases laden with materials. The supplies are essential, but actual connections form while rocking babies next to native nannies trying our best to communicate with the little Swahili YouTube taught us. Our second daughter developed a sweet comradery with children a little younger than her as she nervously fumbled through what little Spanish she knew to assist them with their math facts in Bolivia.
In these relationships with people, paradigms shift. In Bolivia, while working at a care center, this same daughter forged a friendship with a sweet girl around her age. Although they could barely understand each other, they had a blast playing together as any two young girls would. On our last day at the center, we discovered that this sweet girl is an orphan who is also responsible for her younger brother. Tears filled my daughter’s eyes as she asked me, “Mom, can we adopt her?” We’ve often talked of and prayed for the orphans in the world at home. Her prayers have changed since our trip. She now has a face for them.
I was expecting a shift in my perspective upon our return home. What I wasn’t expecting was how immediate and pervasive the change would be. I remember praying before we left that all five senses would light up; that we would go where God pointed, say the words He gave us to say, do what He would have us do, that every move while overseas would be productive for His Kingdom.
I didn’t realize that God answered this prayer until the moment I stepped back onto American soil in Washington D.C. As we walked with the passengers from our plane to customs, I physically felt my body and mind shift back into autopilot. I was no longer concerned about the person’s wellbeing walking next to me. Nor was I thinking of the family-less babies I just tenderly placed in their cribs hours ago. Rather, my mind raced to the nearest Starbucks. Conviction flooded me.
Why is it easier to live and move with the purpose of loving and serving people in a third world country than in my own? Why do I long to scoop up the boy sprawled out on the cement block on the side of the road in Africa, but barely notice the teen with the sign on the corner?
This epiphany led to soul-searching. Where do missions begin? Lance has learned through years of giving back to missions, that it truly all starts in the heart. We can be mission minded in our heart, have it pour out in our home never leaving the city, and make a lasting impact. One thing he said to me was, “One of life’s greatest things is helping another person along life’s way.” That can happen at the grocery store. Buying the person’s groceries in front of me and sharing the love with that person is just as missional as building a house for a family in Honduras.
While reading through Provision International’s website, one phrase struck me. It said, “…intense service and pouring out of ourselves.” If this is the heart of missions, and I do believe it is a big part of it, isn’t motherhood missions? Are we not intensely serving our children, our husbands, those with whom we work in our careers daily? What if we poured the intense service of love into the young girl cutting our kid’s hair or the receptionist at the pediatric clinic? What if we decided to feed, clothe, and love each person that crosses our path in our hometown?
So, what has unexpectedly changed in our family’s life as a result of taking a few missions trips, is the same change I saw come over my daughter’s face back at that toddler gate in Tanzania. When she stared at me with trepidation, I motioned for her to get in the toddler room, whispering to her, “This is what we are here for.” I turned around but looked back to see what she would do. I watched her stare at the gate and beyond it into the room filled with 18 stumbling, crying, giggling toddlers. She paused for a moment, and I watched her decide. She decided to jump the gate.
Something shifted in my precious girl when she chose to head into that unfamiliar room. She realized that sitting and playing with a handful of toddler orphans was just like being at home on the floor playing with her little brothers. For me, I realized that bringing a suitcase of clothes, diapers, and vitamins halfway across the world is just the same as hauling the same suitcase downtown to the Montana Rescue Mission. I can jump the gate into their cafeteria, sit down, and share a meal with a sweet family who is in a hard spot with the same love it takes to sit in the red soil of Africa with the Maasai children.
The key for all of us, whether we fly across the world, walk across the street, or never leave our homes is to look beyond the gate into the unfamiliar and decide. Decide, in love, to leave our agendas behind, jump the gate, and generously give whatever is needed to those who are in desperate need. Lance explained how he does this daily. He said, “When I get out of bed, I don’t make it about me.” It’s not about a mission trip per se; it’s about living a missional life. Anyone can do that.