Kendall Langrell | Staff Writer
Missions trips: they affect people differently, teach various lessons and take you to unexpected places. Yet one thing seems to be the same—they can continuously mold you into who you are meant to be for years to come.
Two years ago, I embarked on my first missions trip to South Africa; six months later, I served in Ireland. I went from working in an environment where people lived under cardboard walls and tin roofs, to serving in a church that shared its back with a pub. The circumstances were vastly different, and I wasn’t sure how to process such opposite experiences. I also didn’t expect that my journey would continue six months after I had come home.
According to the leading online financial education source Investopedia, a “first world country” is defined by several factors, including “political stability, democracy, rule of law, a capitalist economy, economic stability and a high standard of living.” This includes the countries of Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
A “third world country” or “developing” country does not have as precise of a definition.
Again, Investopedia says most developing countries have “…low levels of education, poor infrastructure, improper sanitation and poor access to health care.” Many view the label “third world” as politically incorrect because it is often equated with poverty, so the term “developing” country has been used instead. The main (but not exclusive) geographical areas containing developing countries are Africa, Asia and Latin America.
I consider my journey to South Africa to have been a developing world missions trip. We built a nursery, spent time with HIV positive residents and developed relationships with the children of the township. Since I had never been on a missions trip before, this particular one changed my outlook on what it really means to work in God’s kingdom.
Ireland, on the other hand, was a first world missions trip. I spent most of the time helping a local church in any way they needed, whether that be painting someone’s bedroom, doing yard work, planning Friday night youth group or working in a youth camp.
But it was not the missions trip to the developing country of South Africa nor the first world missions trip to Ireland that was my main journey; it was the months I spent after I had come back to America when there was time to compare the two, the time I had to really dive deep into what it meant to do work in God’s kingdom around the world. But, in order to do this, I had to radically change my view of what a missions trip was.
My biggest challenge during these months was trying to figure out how to meld my experiences of South Africa and Ireland together. There is no either/or in this case, as the countries are radically different. I had to learn which interpersonal skills I used in South Africa were also applicable in Ireland.
In South Africa, I began at square one because I did not know the language the children spoke nor was I fully aware of their customs. There were times when we would be praying, knowing that most in the group did not understand what we were saying. We had to trust that God and our actions would convey our meaning. However in Ireland, we all spoke English. We skipped the awkward “I’m not exactly sure what they are saying” stage and went right into deeper conversation.
Another challenge between these two trips was comparing the success of each trip to the other. During our time in South Africa, we were able to measure our work in the township. We could tangibly see the structures we were building as well as our relationships with the children becoming stronger and deeper.
In Ireland, we struggled to have meaningful conversations with the church members and the youth, walking back to the apartment afterward, never really knowing if what we were doing was making an impact or not.
Karen Rouggly, the director for mobilization at the Center for Student Action, frequently sees students’ struggles of transitioning between first and developing world trips.
“My advice is to keep an open mind because you’ve only seen ministry happen one way,” Rouggly said. “There’s a distinct way ministry happens in [a first world country], and there’s a distinct way ministry happens in a third world country.”
It’s a common misconception that first world countries aren’t places for missionary work. Some believe there’s no point, as the countries are already developed and therefore don’t need the help.
But part of the journey is to recognize that no matter if you are going into a first world country or a developing world country, there will always be people yearning for Christ. No matter the amount of money a people group has, everyone around the world is poor in Jesus at some point in their lives.
There should not be any expectations when serving on missions trips. We should use ministry as a form of building relationships regardless of the economic class we are serving. You are not responsible for bringing God anywhere; God is already in the country you are traveling to. You will merely be taking part in what God is already doing.
A senior communication studies major, who has asked not to be named, will be doing two years of missionary work for APU’s Hearing. Investing. Serving. (H.I.S.) Years program. The student has also participated in missions trips in the U.S. as well as abroad in Uganda and South Africa. The student believes that everyone has a role in service trips, and therefore no work is minimal.
“We have brothers and sisters in Christ, not for the sole purpose of reminding us that we have people beside us, but to remind us that there are people hurting and we need to advocate for them,” said the student. “That definitely happens in third world countries and that definitely happens in first world countries.”
The reality is that the true journey happens through the relationships. We are all in need of Christ, whether in a first or a developing world country. Therefore, no preference must be assigned, no task is better than the other—we all have the opportunity to build relationships with the people we are serving.