If you’ve just returned back from a trip where you’ve worked with the poor, chances are you may get home and feel stuck. Possibly discouraged. Maybe even angry. Most likely a bit confused.
Nobody knows why your heart is broken
Nobody cries while your prayers are going up
But Love does.
What do you do next?
My quick story. Almost exactly three years ago, I left the United States for the first time. I had an empty passport and a plane ticket to Calcutta. That trip really and truly changed my life. Not like Taco-Bell-Doritos-Locos-Tacos changed my life but significantly changed the trajectory of my path. I changed from mostly being AGAINST world travel to helping start a non-profit that does work in Calcutta. But it didn’t happen overnight and it hasn’t happened without struggle. So I wanted to give a few suggestions from my experience on how to stay engaged with the people you met.
Think critically about wealth. When people return to the US, many get disillusioned because of our wealth and waste. It’s understandable. Don’t get bogged down in it, though. Look at your position in the US as something positive. When God first talked to Abraham, he said…
I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
What we have in the US is a platform to do great good around the world. We’re surrounded by wealth and influence. And we can use that wealth and influence for good. When we return to the US, the problem isn’t that we’re wealthy. It’s that the wealth is often unfocused or inwardly focused. To turn that wealth outward to the poor – to take God’s blessing and bless other people – is to enter into the divine actions of love and provision and it’s awesome!
Tip 1. Money is amoral – neither good nor bad. What we do with money determines its goodness. Don’t get drained by lamenting the excesses of the United States. God has given us a platform from which we can bless people!
Fight for feet, not miles. What I mean is this… Sometimes I can barely change my clothes in a day. You’re not going to change a whole country overnight. The first step is just that… a step. And it’s first. So there’s one of them.
Tip 2. When you get back, do at least one small thing every day that keeps you connected to the place you’ve returned from. Some suggestions…
- Go back through your pictures and look at all of them
- Go back through your pictures a second time and start writing down stories about what you remember of the people and the place. Examine the pictures and come up with ideas about what could be different in that place.
- Consolidate all your ideas into a list and then email or call someone who you think would enjoy talking about the trip with you.
- Email or call someone at the organization you went with and see if they’ll talk with you about what you saw.
- Read news articles about the place you visited.
- Read Wikipedia articles about the place you visited.
- Watch films or documentaries about the place you visited.
- Give money to the organization you traveled with. If you believe in the work they do, I can promise you one thing – they need more cash to execute their vision. Love the place you visited by giving money to help build an environment where the people’s lives can rise.
Just do something every day to keep the people you visited at the front of your mind. Even though most of us swear we won’t forget these experiences, many of us do. You only stay physically fit by working out regularly. You’ll only make a change in that place you visited if you regularly engage your mind. Do not let your normal life consume all your time. The poor and hurting need a few minutes of your day!
Don’t be mad at people. You can come back home and be angry at people because they don’t get it. But don’t. It’ll eat up all your energy. Remember that, up until recently, you may have acted and thought just like your friends/family/acquaintances. Show them some grace.
Tip 3. Not everyone will really care. Don’t be mad at them. At one point, you didn’t care either.
Don’t be silent. When asked by others how a trip went, the common refrain of so many who visit the poor is, “I’m still processing it.” In too many cases, that basically means, “I haven’t processed it.” And the trip often goes unprocessed.
Tip 4. Find something to say. Preferably, find three deep and insightful things to say about the trip. “It was good,” isn’t good enough. Use the plane ride home or the first day of return to sort through your high-level thoughts. Say something compelling to people about what you saw and experienced. If you have these starter thoughts, every conversation you have will hone those insights until they become pretty profound.
Have hope. When we get overwhelmed with a situation, many of us kind of stop thinking. We’re like a sad kid, slowly walking along with hands in pockets, and kicking a can down the street. We focus on the bad-ness. But the truth is that poverty and hurt are problems. And problems have solutions. Sometimes the solutions aren’t easy and sometimes they require great effort. To envision an alternate, positive future reality is exciting. It’s hopeful.
Tip 5. Feel deeply with your heart. But think critically with your mind. All is not lost. There’s hope. You’re not Atlas. The world isn’t on your shoulders! But you can do SOME type of lifting to be a solution to the problems facing the place you just left.
Be patient. Truth be told, my best friend and I didn’t even want to go to India the first time. But after visiting, we felt like we should go back later in the year. So we did. That trip was when it clicked that we should start a non-profit. It was months of waiting and not knowing what to do.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…
If you follow tip 2, you’ll be doing a little work every day. And, eventually, it’s like the scale tips and God shows you what to do. Like all waiting, it can feel frustrating at times, but it’s one more way he lets us know that he’s the one in control.
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.
Tip 6. Don’t you dare give up. Be patient. The cry of the poor goes up to God every day! The work of the wealthy should go up each day, too.
Ask God one simple thing. Most of us are lost little puppies when we come back from a trip. We don’t know what to do. We need to ask God to guide us.
Show me the way I should go…
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He knows where to go and what to do. We just need to ask that he helps us tangibly love the people we just left!
…lead me in the way everlasting.
Tip 7. Ask God to be God and light the path you should walk on. He will!
You don’t need to get everything right. You just need to get on the right road.
This world needs more love! Let’s get to it!