We don’t normally recognize the moments that will forever change our lives, realtime. We didn’t know that the children we met would never leave our hearts, or that their faces would always compel us to live differently.
Looking back over the course of our lives, we see specific crossroads where we chose a certain path, or had an experience that changed our entire trajectory. But in the moment, we don’t think to ourselves, “I will never live my life the same because…” Or we don’t sign up for an opportunity thinking “if I do this, I will be forever changed”. However, for many of us, that is the result of our short term missions experiences. Each of us can probably recount the five specific faces that are burned in our brains, the faces that have radically changed our thinking; or the times of prayer and worship in a foreign language; or that smile of connection across cultural barriers that have changed our entire worldview. For me, all of this is true exponentially to the amount of trips I’ve been on with Global Encounters. Each trip has been unique and different, but each encounter has built upon the one before it, continuing to work in and sculpt my heart and change the way that I live daily life.
“Missions” is a widely stereotyped term that has led us to believe that unless we are called to a foreign field and “new culture”, that we’re off the hook. Easing our consciences with a few small contributions to non-profits, we continue on in our moderately comfortable lives. However, I would love to argue or challenge that line of thought, and say that we are ALL called to a foreign land and different culture because this world is not our home, this culture is not our culture, and everything about this “world” should be foreign to the way that we are called to think and live.
Before traveling with GE (Global Encounters), I had a very limited view of God, the world, and the people outside of my tight knit circles. I was involved in some normal church ministries, a few “feeding the homeless” nights, and just general Children’s ministry to the neighborhood kids; but nothing that really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Traveling internationally will very quickly strip you of any “comfort zone” at all, as you don’t know the people, don’t know the language, don’t know the food, the public transit system, and you are relying completely and 100% on people that you’ve never met before to guide you throughout the city. Suddenly, you begin to understand the bond of Christ that makes you family with people of entirely different lifestyles and dialects, and as you worship and labor alongside of them; you begin to have your heart and mind opened to how big our God really is. Since your normal techniques or methods for connecting with people become extinct because they are rooted in culture and language, you learn to get creative, become more dependent, get humbled really fast; but in the process learn to engage and connect with people you never would’ve encountered in your own city.
One of the most memorable and thought-provoking things that I’ve observed internationally is how the Church carries the burden for the fatherless and oppressed in their community, and how they carry the load for one another. Many of the orphanages that I taught in were run and supported by the church, for all of the orphans and vulnerable children in their region. Believers weren’t turning a blind eye to the problems of the impoverished and rallying at government conventions for the state to “fix it”; rather they were carrying the burden, making a plan, and putting into action the truth of the Gospel. While I always hope that there is some mutual exchange to what I can teach them and what they can teach me, I always leave feeling like I learned more from the local believers young and old in these countries than anything I brought or imparted to them.
After one such orphanage encounter in particular, I began to think about the problem in my own community with children in vulnerable places. These children, having nowhere to go, are put into state shelters or state approved foster homes; and the believers are continuing on in their comfortable lives. I began to pray earnestly for the church to step up to the plate and to begin to shoulder the responsibility for the OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) in our area. The Lord’s answer was clear and direct “it must start with you”. That very same day, I began the process of becoming a licensed foster parent in my state.
There are many many challenges in our communities here in the States. We long for reform and fight for the government to hear our pleas for change. But rarely do we step up as believers to shoulder the cause of the “problems” in our community. It seems at times as if we would rather give money than really get our hands dirty or give of our time or our gifts. But each and everyone of us is called to take the Gospel to those who are without, to live the Kingdom in such a way that those around us are compelled and drawn to the message of the Gospel. And not only if and when we’re traveling on a “missions trip”, but just living our day to day lives right where God has put us.
Another valuable lesson that i’ve learned in my travels with GE is how to do life with people, to find meaningful connections, and to be engaged with those who normally I would’ve run from encountering. I’m on the introverted side and making conversation with strangers is stressful. I would rather be in the kitchen making soup, or standing behind a table serving dinner, than sitting with someone I don’t know and talking with them. But this “behind the table” approach is not the way of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t condescendingly stand behind a barrier while serving fish to the multitudes – in the gospels we find that He sat with the sinners at their tables, that He was living and doing life with the people.
Since fostering, I have developed a new passion and interest for the homeless and impoverished in my community. I no longer view them as a threat because it is unknown, but rather I feel compassion for them because these are the “parents” of “my children”. With the skills I have learned through connecting internationally, I feel equipped and able to engage with people from all walks of life here in my own town; without having a mini anxiety attack when someone walks up to me asking for money or I have an opportunity to talk with someone that is homeless. These are people, just like we are. They are broken and needy, just like I am.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And so can you. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 describes us as ambassadors, entrusted with the message of reconciliation, and says that God is making His appeal to the world through us. That is a heavy weight of responsibility, and it is not a selective call towards only those “missionaries” in far off lands. It has been entrusted to each of us who have already been (and continue to be) reconciled to God.
In the Gospel, Jesus says – “I see you where you are, in all of your brokenness; and I’m coming after you; I am your Rescue.” In what ways are our lives reflecting that same message? For me, its foster care. It’s international missions. It’s equipping families in our community with resources and support to keep their kids out of foster care. It’s praying for life change and restoration in the midst of brokenness. And traveling internationally with GE has not only opened my eyes to these needs, but it has also equipped me with the tools that I need to love these people well; so that His Kingdom can come and His Gospel will be put on display through His Church, right here – in Greenville, SC.
Ashlyn Ours sees life through lenses – be it her camera, compassion, or vision. She’s an outdoor enthusiast and avid traveller. Ashlyn is living out Christ’s mandate to serve the “least of these” by opening up her arms to foster children. She is also the manager of operations for a pediatrics clinic in Greenville, and serves as Global Encounters photography team leader.