|Several months ago I'd been feeling like I was just kinda on cruise control. Things were generally good with nothing of substance to complain about. I'd been hanging out in my comfort zone, not stretching myself and not doing much to feel like I was making much of an impact in a way that truly mattered. Call it a rut or maybe the beginning of a mid-life crisis with 40 approaching in November, but I was feeling restless and a bit lost about what to do about it.
God stepped in. Not more than a few days later, Cheryl from Chase Oaks Church (the church Kylie and I call home) emailed me and asked if I was interested in going on a couple mission trips to capture the work being done and the relationships being built to help tell visual stories that would hopefully move more people to get involved. I talked it over with Kylie, and while my knee-jerk reaction was one of hesitancy, Kylie encouraged me to go as it was an opportunity to grow and do something meaningful... the very thing I'd been seeking. So after a couple conversations with Cheryl and John Stanley (Pastor for External Ministries at Chase Oaks), they felt the most immediate need was an upcoming mission trip to Jamaica, and so almost everything was set. The last thing to do was to raise $1500 to cover the cost of the trip expenses, and I was blown away how quickly friends and family responded. Within a week or two of the email, Facebook post, and blog post I sent out, I had all the money I needed. Thanks so much to those that made donations and/or prayed for this trip!!
The trip itself is difficult to summarize in a few sentences. One night the group from our church was hanging out in one of the couples' room, and Todd asked a simple question; "When you go back home and people ask you 'How was your trip?', what will you say?" For me, it was some of the hardest physical work (old school manual labor in mid-90s temps in the sun with 100% humidity) and witnessing some of the most heart-breaking circumstances, and I'd do it all again in a second. And I'd encourage anyone one else who's interested to do it, too, because anything I can say still isn't as impactful as experiencing a trip like this yourself.
God used this trip to make me re-evaluate my own perspective. We have every convenience we could want here in the States, and for many of us, it's often still not enough. We got annoyed, if not angry, about trivial things that, in the big picture, really don't matter. We are a culture of instant gratification, often accompanied by a sense of entitlement. And heaven forbid Facebook or Twitter goes down for a few minutes. Of course these are generalizations, and I acknowledge it's hard to blame people that have grown up here in the US for these things because in most cases, it's all we've known. Ignorance is bliss, so to speak... short of a few commercials asking for donations to help the needy, most of us have never witnessed or experienced a life where each day you depend on the generosity of others to meet just your very basic needs. Yes, we see it in the news almost daily, but it's because we see the stories so much that it almost just becomes background noise that we eventually tune out because we feel like we can't individually make a true difference or simply because we don't want to think about it. At least that's how it was for me. One of the high school students from another church group said something one night as he was sharing that really stuck with me, though. He said that sometimes we don't feel like we're making much of a dent in all the work that needs to be done, referring to the sites we were at in Jamaica. But he made the analogy that what we were doing was adding a twig to the camp fire... it doesn't seem like much, but it sustains the fire just a little longer until the next person or group can add more wood. That' strue whether we're serving somewhere around the world or in our own back yard. There's plenty of need everywhere.
The kids we visited in Jamaica at the orphanage and the school for the deaf have so very little, nothing compared to our standards, and yet they're so incredibly thankful for even the smallest gifts. In some ways I would say they're more grateful and happy than many of us in the US. It's an 'ignorance is bliss' thing, too. They don't know a life of comfort and convenience like we have here, and so they don't miss it or crave it. For me, the perspective change was how little it really takes to be happy. Their biggest source of happiness is not the stuff they have, but the relationships they have with each other.
Sadly, the hardest part is that it's difficult for the hard-working staff at the orphanage and the school for the deaf to give each of the many kids enough attention. The children crave interaction and a feeling of being loved. It's moving to walk into a room full of toddlers at the orphanage and immediately and almost in unison see their arms go up in the air as they reach out for you to pick them up and spend time with them and love on them. It's difficult to walk away at the end of the day knowing these children are starved for attention, especially when I think of how much love & attention my own daughter gets each day.
Finally, to Team Butler, thanks to each of you for making my first mission trip an experience I'll treasure for a lifetime. Each one of you is unique in the gifts you shared, and I'm proud to have served with such a passionate, fun, inspiring group of people. Sometimes it's difficult to gel with a 15 person group, but I didn't sense that at all with our team. Some of my favorite memories from the trip will be the late night "hot seat" interviews where people were willing to open up and be transparent in sharing their stories with the rest of the group. Powerful stuff.
And finally, here's a quick slideshow from our time in Jamaica. Unfortunately the day we spent at the orphanage went photographically undocumented as a recent policy change was made to protect the kids there where cameras were no longer permitted. There were so many powerful moments that happened that day, and I was really bummed not to be able to share that part of the story with people back home, but I completely understand the safety of the children comes first.
Hope you enjoy the images, and I can't encourage you enough to find an opportunity to serve wherever you feel led, whether that's half way around the world or in your own neighborhood.