Do you really think what you are doing matters?
This is a well-meaning question that I often get from friends when I tell them that I am going on another short-term mission trip.
I am not angry when I am asked this question because I get it. When you look at Mexico City, Uganda, or El Salvador, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the need. For example, according to UNICEF, more than half of Uganda's children live in poverty. This doesn't just mean that they live in a household with low income but it includes being deprived of basic necessities such as food, shelter, clean water and education.
When I recently took a trip to Uganda with Fields of Dreams Uganda, I was overwhelmed by the need that I observed. For every child that we assisted by paying school fees, many others still could not afford an education. Even if we could help the children stay in school, many of the children are starving and go the entire day without food. If the children are in school and have some food, they may be abused at home, or they may not even have a home and live at the school.
At times, when I only saw what was right in front of me, I felt overwhelmed and wanted to give up. However, serving on short term mission trips and serving on the Board of Directors of Fields of Dreams Uganda have taught me that progress is slow and takes time and dedication, but much progress is being made.
If we go into an environment and try to "fix" every issue, we will quickly burn out and lose hope, but if we focus on the individuals that are impacted by our work, that is where true progress is observed.
When I was in Gulu, Uganda, I briefly met a young man and we connected. We chatted for a few minutes, and I gave him a picture of my family that had my contact information on the back. This was in late February.
Just this week, I received a message from this young man through Facebook. Somehow, despite having no electricity or running water, he was able to gain internet access. He had kept the picture that I gave him, and he messaged me. He told me he is studying hard to reach his dreams. Then he asked how his brothers and sister in the USA are doing. He specifically mentioned each of my children by name.
In that moment, I knew the answer to the question, "Do you really think what you are doing matters?" My trip to Uganda may not matter to the country of Uganda, or even the town of Gulu. But when I just showed up at one school and met one boy, I mattered so much to him that he cherished a picture of my family for months. He held onto my contact information until he could find a way to contact me.
If my trip meant nothing to anyone else, it mattered to this boy. This boy who has dreams and hope. I matter to him.
Isn't that all that really matters? When you read about Jesus and his ministry, most of Jesus' miracles focused on the individual. Sure, he preached to the masses, but when he healed, he healed the individual. He didn't ride into town and end hunger. He didn't eradicate leprosy and disease. Jesus met the need of the individual that he was with at that moment. If someone needed food, he fed the individual. If someone needed healing, he healed the individual.
We are not called to save the world or solve the world's problems. We are called to just show up. And when we just show up, our job is to be present in the moment and love the people that stand before us.
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