I just returned from a two-week mission trip to Rwanda with my high school youth ministry. Twice now we've been privileged to partner with International Teams Rwanda for the international leg of our three-year mission trip cycle.
The trip was, in every way, incredible. It stretched our team and made each of us confront a plethora of injustices found in the world around us. Among our high school students, it also raised important questions of faith and vocation.
As a trip leader, throughout our time in Rwanda, one of the things I continued to appreciate about International Teams is their philosophy of short-term missions and their stewardship of our funds. Three times during our two-weeks in Rwanda, we heard the phrase, “The money you raised will...”
The first time was when we sat in Kiziba Refugee Camp in the camp's library – which was built in partnership between International Teams and JCM, a Christian youth group in the camp. There, Serge, one of our hosts, shared that our “ministry money” would be used to build toilets for the library. Cheers erupted.
A few days later, we visited with several HIV+ women. During our time with them, someone asked how they received medical care. That, in turn, prompted a conversation about health insurance in Rwanda, followed by the news that our team's ministry money had purchased these women and their families (more than 160 people) health insurance for the next year.
The next day, after an exhausting water walk in a local village, we stopped by the local pastor's church. There, a crew of Rwandans was hard at work installing windows. Once again, we heard the now familiar phrase, “Your ministry money purchased these windows.”
Here's what I love about this.
1. One of the biggest criticisms of international mission trips is the cost of sending a team abroad. This cost is so high that many people suggest we'd be far better stewards if we were to simply send a check rather than go abroad ourselves. Though I very much believe in the value of short-term mission trips, I must admit this criticism bothers me. Thus, I love the fact that International Teams budgets money not just for a team's lodging, transportation, insurance, and food, but also for “ministry expenses”, to be used as the host-missionaries see fit.
2. “Ministry money” supports and blesses host missionaries. Missionaries have huge hearts; They wouldn't be in ministry if they didn't. Yet, the reality is that raising support is a fickle business, subject to the economy and whims of individual donors. As a result, sometimes missionaries cannot afford to do all they'd like to. “Ministry money” allows host missionaries to fund things they'd otherwise have no means of supporting.
3. “Ministry money” enables our team to continue impacting people long after we return home. Though our teams visit with the HIV+ women lasted for only a few hours, our ministry money will allow us to tangibly partner with these women for the next year. It will allow us to meet a very real physical need that's now rooted in a relational reality.
To be sure, money isn't everything. Yet, let's be honest. Money matters. It can make a very real difference in people's lives.
Having seen the impact our “ministry money” had on three very different communities, my hope is that among other things, our mission trip to Rwanda will have taught our team the joy of giving – a practice I pray they will continue for years to come.