CVM intern, Sam Lomas writes about his short term mission trip to Swaziland with Samaritans Purse
You’ll never fully understand overseas mission until you’ve been and done it for yourself.
Nandos. Not the first thing that comes to mind when traveling to a tiny country in Southern Africa. But there I was, sat in Nandos eating a chicken burger less than 10minutes away from the Swaziland border. Pre-trip training complete, malaria tablet swallowed, money exchanged and bags packed. Having never been on a short-term mission trip before I felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
Day one of the trip we travelled to a school, where the local churches had come together to build toilet blocks for the students. Arriving at the school with paintbrushes ready to paint the new toilets we had our first taste of African timing. The toilets hadn’t been built yet! No matter, we left the paintbrushes in the van, picked up shovels and pick axes and got stuck in, mixing the cement and digging foundations. As this was our first contact with local people we were all a bit nervous. We didn’t know how they would respond to us being there. The ice was quickly broken though thanks to our poor technique cement mixing and lack of experience using pick axes – confirming their stereotype of westerners not being very good at physical work!
During our time in Swaziland we were able to visit a number of different water projects. The first we visited, the church had organized a water committee and they had been able to cap a natural water spring about 1 kilometre away. A well had been dug to store the water and fences put up to keep cattle from contaminating the water source. The fresh clean water was then piped down the hill into the village and out of a shared tap. Easy access to clean water was such a game changer for this small rural community. In the past, cattle would drink from the same water source as the locals which contaminated the water, making the children seriously ill and gave all who drank the water sickness and diarrhea. Since the new system was installed they have had no cases of diahorrea.
Visiting a child led home was a stand out part of the trip for myself and most of the team. We had heard the statistics (1 out of 10 homes in Swaziland are led by children under the age of 11) but now we had the chance to see it for real. Up close – in your face. The home we visited had burnt down while the children were at school and so they now had to live out of a tent which had been given to them by aid agency World Vision. The girl aged 18 was head of the family, and was responsible for looking after her two younger brothers aged 16 and 13. After being shown around their somewhat shattered home and seeing what little possessions they had, we congregated inside the tent where she answered our questions. She said she was worried that she might not be able to provide for her brothers, not knowing where their next meal would come from. She also said she was scared of abusive men who live in the area. Before we left she told us that she loved going to church and had a strong faith in Jesus Christ. The team was broken emotionally. Silence echoed on the bus journey back to our accommodation that night.
Never in my life did I think I would get chance to build a mud hut. But by the end of the trip I’d had so many new experiences that I was used to just getting stuck in. An elderly lady’s home had blown down over night. Fortunately her daughter had moved her out of the house and into her home as she had serious concerns for her mother’s house and its stability. When we arrived at the location to build the new house we were greeted with singing and prayers of joy. It was quite something. Feeling very unworthy and unable to grasp just how much it meant to these people for us to come and be with them, we rolled up our sleeves, got alongside each other and began the build. Some mixed dirt and cement; some placed rocks into the wooden frame of the house, and others prepared food for dinner. As the day went by one thing became very apparent. These people were so full of joy and happiness you wouldn’t believe it. Through our eyes they had nothing; the house was tiny and made of mud. Food was hard to come by and money was scarce, and yet they were happier and more at peace in comparison to how we are back home.
How could they have so little and yet be so joyful and full of life, so confident and publicly unashamed to be Christian? It was clear that we could learn a lot from them. Later when I opened my bible, there was a passage that stood out to me.
‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
In other words… Forget about everything you own and possess. It counts for nothing and never will. No wonder they were joyful. They understood that they had no less than us.
The last day before leaving Swaziland was a Sunday. This meant attending a local church. As guests to the church one of our team members was asked to speak on our behalf. He spoke about what we had seen and experienced in Swaziland. He then went on to speak a little about the UK and what life’s like. They struggled to understand how so few Christians there are in the UK, and were seemed surprised when we asked them to pray for us, as we share our faith with those around us. The children would ask, “Don’t your friends want to go to the heavens?” Stunned by such an innocent question, it was just another reminder of how important telling our mates about Jesus really is.
If there is one thing I could say to you now it would be to go and do it for yourself. Reading about mission trips, listening to presentations in church or just watching comic relief it’s all good but you’ll never fully understand until you’ve been and done it for yourself. CVM have partnered with Tearfund and Compassion challenging men around the UK to ‘speak up and stand up’ for those who cannot themselves. Whether it’s sponsoring a child or signing you and your mates up for a short-term mission trip, don’t hesitate to act.
Bless children, who have nothing, this Christmas