I have so many thoughts about what we are learning here that it’s hard to know how to write them all down. That’s why it has taken me so long to blog! So the other night we were hanging out at the Perrys’ and enjoying their fellowship. I was overhearing Jeff and Elizabeth’s conversation with TJ (Caleb wasn’t interested in what they were saying so he and I were playing on the floor) and was so intrigued by the wisdom and experience they have as senior staff here and long term missionaries. Jeff was describing three types of short term mission trips. Feel good trips, do good trips, and real good trips. We all laughed at this and he elaborated with multiple examples.
Feel good trips are when teams or individuals come mostly wanting to feel good about what they get to do or their interactions with the people here. They want a quick fix for all the hurting they see because it makes them feel better. Instead of following the advice or even instructions of the long term staff, they make their own decisions about what seems best and very unintentionally make things harder for the missionaries who live here and have to deal with the consequences after they leave. An example is when people freely give handouts or gifts, unintentionally creating expectations. A do good mission is one that provides a service or offers some good but makes a lot more work for the long termers. An example would be a specialty surgeon coming to the hospital. They offer a needed service, but also use up all the OR time (so all the normal c-sections have to be done late at night), all the supplies from the OR, and because of so much extra work and long hours, leave the staff feeling burnt out. A real good mission is when that same surgeon returns but this time, brings all his own scrub techs, assistants, and supplies and is able to provide follow up. How interesting is that? I really appreciated hearing that perspective. Especially as Jeff and Elisabeth went on to say that although short termers can be more work, when it is viewed as part of their ministry, it is a blessing they are thankful for!
During orientation Jeff had mentioned that the orphans stay on their half of the compound and aren’t supposed to come around the mission housing. He said not to give any one on one special attention or any handouts. I love kids and hearing that made me wonder why there were such boundaries. I have learned a little more since then. Establishing real relationships with the orphans, learning their names, staying the course with them, and giving them firm authority is the best, what they really need from adults. A month long short termer can’t really offer that. Fun games, ‘football’ and good laughs is a great level of interaction. Reaching beyond that and then leaving makes it harder for these kids to trust and build lasting relationships. They are also pretty street wise (precious little sinners like the rest of us) and tough survivors so they like to take advantage of unsuspecting westerners (phones have been stolen, or if allowed to play with a phone, passcodes have been changed as a trick). Several short term teams have come and passed out candy and toys and had no boundaries. It feels good to the team to love on the kids and give them special treatment. But then they leave and their actions aren’t sustainable. Do you see what I’m saying? All these kids are WORTH it and so adorable and loved by the Lord. AND we need to see them as individuals who need authority, structure and consistency. I understood a little better after Aubrey and Caleb and I hung out with a few of the kids one afternoon.
I had been talking to Aubrey about being brave and showing love to the kids here, so when we walked to the swing after nap and collected a following of giggling children, I was so proud of Aubrey for smiling and waving and even shaking their hands (greetings are a BIG deal here). But after a little while she got tired of being touched and patted and having her hair stroked. Caleb was in the swing at this point; I honestly wanted to get him up and out of the way because the orphans are a little rough. Aubrey was standing as close to my legs as possible and wasn’t smiling any more. Lots of sweet black faces were crowding around and giggling at everything we said. Then I saw one little girl pinch Aubrey. Just a little quick pinch on the arm, but I switched into parent mode and suddenly saw these kids through the eyes of a mother. This might have been fueled by the shocked look on Aubrey’s face. I firmly told the girl no and shot her a stern look. She returned the look with an impish gleam in her eyes and I will admit I was a little surprised. I caught them pinching Aubrey or tugging her hair several times over the next few minutes and had decided we would just retreat since I couldn’t always tell who was doing it and me saying NO wasn’t doing any good. I got Caleb out of the swing and started back for the house. Aubrey lagged behind and started playing with one of the girls on the bridge so I hesitated. Should I see what happens? Nope, there were just too many kids playing too rough. Maybe I was being too protective. After all, I had hoped we could spend time making friends with these kids. But I called Aubrey and when she tried to come to me the biggest girl blocked her way. TWICE. Momma bear came out and I stormed back towards that adorable bully fully intending to…well I don’t know what I would have done, but all the orphans shrieked and fled. Hum. Not the interaction I had imagined. I ended up talking to some long term people (ones that work with the orphanage) over lunch at the Pyatt about our interaction. They know the kids by name and addressed the issue. They also offered me advice on having a loud voice, engaging with the children in THEIR space instead of interacting with them on the missionary housing side, and taking any discipline issues straight to the head master so he can keep the expectations for their behavior consistent. Consistency is SO needed for these kids and short termers can often get in the way of that!
After lots of conflicting thoughts and a few prayers for wisdom, we walked to the orphanage one afternoon. Maggie and I had our boys on our backs in carriers and our girls by the hand. And we brought Alex with us because he is great fun and an extra set of eyes. And we had a marvelous time. We watched the founder, Pastor Denis, working on a new cooking area for the orphanage, then we played on the jungle gym with the kids and had a crazy game of duck duck goose (though their rules are different and we were very confused at first). It was a wonderful afternoon and Maggie and I talked a lot on the walk back about figuring out healthy boundaries around the orphans (for the sake of the orphanage, our own children, and our sanity); mostly for her since she actually lives here.
I had a conversation with Aubrey after our first interaction with the orphans about loving people even when they aren’t kind to us. She hasn’t ever really had to practice that and my first impulse as a parent is to protect her from having to! But that shouldn’t really be my priority, should it? I discussed this with Elisabeth and it led to a deep conversation about how missionaries respond when the people they are pouring their lives into steal from them, lie to them and betray them. Tough love takes a new form in my mind now as I hear about the struggle to balance forgiveness and turning the other cheek with teaching consequences and earning respect by not being taken advantage of. Jesus was mistreated and betrayed and promised us the same when we follow him. It’s funny how I forget that and get surprised when missionaries face difficulties. Being on the field long term is starting to sound and look very different from what TJ and I had always imagined. Our prayer is that God will grow us and prepare our hearts to deal with the struggles we will surely encounter!