Guest post by Kyle Bristow
Kyle is an advocate for SERVE THE CHILDREN, a missionary organization that serves schools in Liberia and Central India. He travels all over the world, but holds a special place in his heart for trips that fulfill a bigger purpose. To find out more or to donate go to www.servethechildren.com.
I HAVE the honor of kicking off a four-part series on an organization that’s near and dear to my heart called Serve the Children. Serve the Children is an organization that, among other things, helps support three schools in Liberia and a children’s home in central India. I had the privilege of living at the children’s home for four months from 2008-2009. While I was there, I got to teach and play with the 60+ children ranging in age from kindergarten to high school. In the next three articles, we’re going to hear about amazing experiences from some incredible people.
In this article, I’ll be talking about the differences of traveling with a purpose versus traveling for pleasure. While you do get a tremendous amount of pleasure from a purposeful trip like a mission trip, there are differences that when done wholeheartedly, fill your spirit with emotions and special experiences that a vacation won't.
Deciding on a destination to go for a purposeful trip is easier than a vacation. A vacation preparation, much to my wife’s chagrin, involves countless hours comparing flights, which countries I want to check off my list, places I want to see, foods I want to eat, hotels, transportation, and the list goes on. However, when the opportunity to go and stay at the children’s home was presented to me, my only research was Google Earth in order to find out where in the world Yavatmal was.
Depending on where you’re going, it might not be required, but highly encouraged to get a few vaccinations as well as medication. While this is something to take seriously, it shouldn’t discourage anyone from going. I’ve been to India a total of four times; a country where you can’t drink the water, and it’s a good idea to always have a roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you.
In all my trips there, the only time I got ill was during a summer period, and I got a mild case of heat exhaustion. I have also gotten heat exhaustion in Florida. So, don’t let a potential illness, that is mostly preventable by vaccinations and medications, deter you from making a difference in the world.
There are also certain cultural aspects to research such as how to dress in public and what is socially acceptable. It’s important to know cultural dress expectations so that you don’t offend anyone. For instance, in India, women aren’t allowed to have their shoulders or any part of their leg above the foot exposed when out in public. Men must wear pants. I don’t know if this is the sole reason for pants, but a lot of the boys at the children’s home thought it was funny to pluck my leg hairs. There are likely cultural rules wherever you go, and you want to make sure you are respectful of them, especially if you are there representing a cause. I always do a little cultural research before going.
Preparing for a purposeful trip gives you an unrivaled sense of anticipation. When you go on vacation, there is excitement to do all the things you’ve researched; find that hidden beach, go sightseeing, check out that quaint, boutique restaurant and try that signature drink from the local bar. Taking a trip like a mission trip gives you a whole different sensation. From the time I first found out about the opportunity to take a mission trip to the moment I landed, the anticipation of the unknown grew and grew and actually made me giddy with excitement.
Even though I’ve been to the children’s home four times now, I still get this compelling sense of excitement before every trip, and I love it. Each time, as the date drew near, it got tough to make sense of all the thoughts and feelings I had going on inside.
Obviously, the anticipation differs now than it did the first time I went. Now I look forward to the adventure that is driving in India, where one can assume that playing “chicken” is the national game of India. I’ve heard someone say that driving in India requires three things: Good horn, good brakes, and good luck. I look forward to walking outside of the airport and having my senses bombarded with the bright colors, tasty food and car horns honking.
That first time, though, I remember the thoughts and emotions being like a roller coaster; with all the excitement from getting to go on an adventure like this to questioning my ability in teaching the children, hoping I got all the vaccines I needed, to not wanting to ever leave. It’s only natural to feel excited and worried about being unprepared at the same time. I wasn’t able to control my excitement, but I found an easy way to minimize the feelings of vulnerability and unpreparedness before the trip. The trick for me was to simply make a list of the things I needed, check it twice a few days later, and then get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
The greatest differences between vacations and trips with a purpose are in the experience and the lasting impact you will not only have on those you are serving, but the impact they will forever have on you. Vacations often deliver exactly what you expect. Do not misunderstand me, I’m a huge proponent of adventure and experiencing all the world has to offer, but when it comes down to it, a beach is a beach is a beach. There’s just something about investing in the lives of dozens of children that, for me, makes watching the sunset in Seychelles, hiking the Great Wall of China or drinking an espresso in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower pale in comparison.
Engaging in this type of trip opens up your world to a whole new set of emotions that you just can’t get on a vacation; the main one being a sense of community and belonging. One of my favorite quotes is “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” Nothing can describe the sense of joy I got while dozens of children tugged me in every direction, trying to get me to go with them so they could show me something or play a game with them.
I’m not an artist or singer, but I do play games, and I love teaching new games to the kids every time I visit. The highlight of every trip, and the envy of those not able to participate, is the water fight. There’s nothing like spending hours of hard work, filling hundreds of water balloons only to see them destroyed in a sea of color upon the heads of children while they appear to settle old scores with their friends. Before I join in the fun, I like to stand on top of one of the buildings, with a bucket of water balloons of course, and just take it all in. Nothing compares to watching the joy on their faces and listening as their laughter fills the campus. For that moment, you forget about everything else in the world.
When this whole wonderful experience unfortunately comes to an end, it conjures up an array of mixed emotions. The one you will try your hardest to ignore until the very last moment, is sadness. I’ve been to 34 countries, and the only times I’ve ever cried from sadness at the end of a trip was the four times I’ve left the children’s home. I’ve talked with a lot of people who have gone on trips to India and Liberia through our organization, and all of them had the same deep sense of sadness upon leaving that brought the vast majority to tears.
The most meaningful and priceless souvenirs I’ve brought back from India aren’t material; they are the memories. I can honestly say not a day goes by where I don’t think about my trips to India. I remember the English lessons I taught the kids. I remember playing games every afternoon with the kindergartners while all the other kids were away at school. I remember how thankful all the kids were, just to have an American play with them. I remember the first time I arrived at the children’s home, jumping out of the jeep on a warm winter evening in my shorts and short sleeve shirt. I remember being greeted by a dozen Indian boys running towards us looking like bank robbers fleeing the scene of the crime in their sweaters and wool ski masks. I remember sitting with the kids on the ground every night, eating dinner with my hands, no utensils needed. I remember the pranks I played on the kids. I remember the songs. I remember the love. I remember everything. Everyday. And I miss it.
Dozens of people have gone to Liberia or India with Serve the Children throughout the years, and I can count on one hand the number of them that have only gone once. There’s something about being far away from home without cell phone or much internet connection, rather, connecting to a purpose spiritually, emotionally and personally in a way that leaves me wanting more and more. For the rest of my life, I will continue to not only go on vacations, but purposeful, mission-based journeys.
If this type of travel interests you or you would like to be a part of this organization see how you can help.