Let me preface this post by saying there are many ways and places to serve people whether international or not. Community service and helping others has always been a passion of mine, however it wasn’t until I started going to the church I currently attend that I developed my passion for international mission work. I 100% believe that it is the support of my church that makes it much easier to decide to go.
Recently I not only had the opportunity to go but also lead a trip to Greece for my church, something that honestly scared and pushed me beyond my comfort zone. I‘m an extroverted introvert which means for me that I enjoy people just as much as I desperately need and enjoy my alone time. In the end I am glad that I stepped up to the challenged because my team was amazing and it was a complete blessing serving.
Honestly one reason why I was slightly uncomfortable was that I’ve gone on six international missions trips so far and I’ve had my husband with me for about half of them but the times that I didn’t have him with me I was always the only black person on the trip. This is to be expected since I attend a predominately white church, but being the only black person on the trips can sometimes be exhausting! Trust I get that there just isn’t enough of us there to go on each trip.
However, this past trip for the 1st time, I had the pleasure of having another black female from the church go as well, who happens to be a friend of mine. I have to be honest it made all the difference. This was her first international mission trip and I was excited from the moment she signed up. It can be extremely lonely going on a mission trip where you are the only black person. Even though I don’t believe anyone means any harm there are ALWAYS moments where something is said or done that can be awkward for a person of color. Let me give you a few examples over the years:
I can go on but you get the point. I'm usually always all alone thinking that when I speak up to challenge an idea or comment they just wont get it. They might become offended and/or defensive due to fragility on racial differences, tell me about their one black friend from middle school that has nothing to do with what was said but makes them and not me feel better, and/or probably think I’m just an “Angry black woman” in the group. It usually just backfires so sometimes I just avoid the drama and exhausting conversation altogether for my sanity.
On the flip side, however, I have ALWAYS felt incredibly supported by my white brothers and sisters from my church. They have encouraged, loved, prayed for me, sent me letters of support, and given out of the blue financial blessings towards my trips. I’ve had amazing and much needed conversations about family, race, church and politics with some which breaks down barriers. The amount of love and support they have shown me over the years along with the work to be done has ALWAYS outweighed all moments of awkwardness by a bunch which is why I continue to go. However, to not mention my frustrating moments would eliminate some valid and personal experiences with being black on mission trips though.
This particular trip- I felt that I always had someone who knew exactly how I felt without me saying anything at all and there is a level of comfort in that. Don’t get me wrong I had an amazing time with an amazing group of people that I adore, however I am constantly reminded that we as black people constantly assimilate to navigate a world that truly doesn’t understand us as a mean of survival. This is not something white people have to constantly think about.
One of the conversations my friend and I had was about black people going on international mission trips. She and I both grew up and spent most of our lives in black churches. We both agreed that although there were opportunities for service and support of mission work, the mention of members actually attending international mission trips was rarely if not ever discussed. I honestly didn’t know anyone black who had gone on an international mission trip before age 30, who wasn’t in upper management at the church. To this day I only know about less than maybe ten friends of color who have gone. My friend and I discussed the desire to see more black and white churches partner on this.
In Greece we worked with a large group of people from various African countries (among other countries) and was told by them that they had never had anyone come from America that looked like them outside of us. There was a level of banter, teasing, and looks that we all innately understood no matter the language and economic differences. I remember my sorority line had a service project in Jamaica at a school years ago and we felt completely at home with the students and staff dancing non-stop, laughing, and loving! In Greece, it always felt for my friend and I, that these were OUR people and we wanted to pour into them all we had for that very reason. We might be the only black Americans they get to be with when the teams come so it was time to put in the work with them that we came to do. This was also my exact experience in Haiti as well.
My current church lives and breathes mission work. They currently have over thirty-five trips planned just for 2019. Serving God’s people and bringing Him around the world to people who may never get the chance to hear of Him is important. You are inspired at my church and pushed out of your comfort zone. They also provide amazing ways to support and help you finance your trip so that money is never the reason you dont go. Maybe this makes all the difference because essentially all you need to do is make the decision to go and they support you the rest of the way.
I just want to start a dialogue about why it seems like it is rarely people who look like me who go on international mission trips. Trust me I know it’s not everyone’s desire or calling (it can be scary and stretch you), among many other reasons, but REPRESENTATION MATTERS. If there is anything I can personally say to inspire more black people to just start the conversation around this, then this blog post was worth it.