A few years ago my wife Lisa and I decided that when each of our four daughters turn 13, I would take them on a mission trip - kind of have some one-on-one, dad/daughter time. Then, when they turn 18, Lisa would go on a trip with them. The whole pupose of my mission trip with them is to show them a different part of the world, to show them how fortunate we are, and to try to instill in them a spirit of service to others.
My oldest daughter Catherine and I went to Reynosa, Mexico, in 2005 on a medical mission trip with a team from Pharr Chapel United Methodist Church in Morgan City. This trip was awesome - we were only there for 5 days, but worked intensely, seeing hundreds of patients while we were there. The places that we visited were shanty towns amongst piles and piles of trash. Even the most basic of healthcare needs are not met there - a medical team may not visit there but every 6-12 months. Essentially everyone was placed on vitamins, treated for worms, and given a few basics like Tylenol or Advil (for the next time they needed it). They were hesitant to have me, a physician, examine them because they felt they were dirty.
While the medical personnel saw patients, one of our missionaries was a hair dresser - she spent the entire days cutting/styling hair, and treating lice. It was funny to see these little Mexican children flipping through Vogue and People magazine to pick out their hair style before their cut. We had a few teenagers on our team, and they would clean and polish fingernails on little girls waiting in line to see the doctors. My 13 year old daughter spent the days holding babies, painting fingernails, checking blood pressures with automated cuffs, helping in the makeshift "pharmacy," loading and unloading supplies, and whatever else the team needed her to do at that moment - what an eye opening experience for her.
Last month, my second daughter Anne Lee and I went on a mission trip to Honduras. This trip was through two Episcopal churches - St. Luke's in Baton Rouge, and Trinity in Morgan City, which is my home parish. This trip was more of a construction mission trip, where our job was to begin construction on 2 new churches. Now don't picture any grand cathedrals - these churches are more of cinderblock rectangles with a roof in the most remote parts of Honduras.
During our visit, we stayed in La Entrada in Copan, which is western Honduras. We took day trips out to El Zarzal and El Carmen. Part of the team worked on construction with the men of the village, digging footings, working on rebar fenceposts, and clearing brush. The other part of the team worked with the women and children of the village, doing arts and crafts, Sunday school activities, and teaching health issues. My 13 year old daughter spent her days working in a puppet show, playing soccer with children, helping haul cut banana trees, holding babies, and moving rocks - what an eye opening experience for her.
Our last two days in Honduras were spent sightseeing. We visited Copan Ruinas, which is a Mayan ruin, and did some shopping. We also ziplined through the canopy in the hills near the border with Guatemala - quite a thrill! Volun-tourism at its best!
Despite having nothing, the people of Mexico and Honduras who we met were genuinely happy and so appreciative of our efforts. They were so amazed that we would travel so far to come and help them in their little corner of the world. They said because of us, they knew they were not alone.
Missionaries go out into the world to help other people, support what they're doing, and let them know that they care, expecting nothing in return. I don't see much difference between missionaries and triathletes. I have seen and felt the care and support of other triathletes in my endeavors, very similar to the care and support of missionaries. You help because someone needs it.
I have another daughter, Signe, turning 13 this fall, and Claire a year and a half behind her. I'm really looking forward to their trips!