I work at a small-town newspaper; I have taken nine foreign mission trips since 2003; and I have written first-person stories (usually a series of stories) about each of them. So in the greater Bedford County community, I am That Guy Who Goes On Mission Trips And Writes About Them. At least once a week, I will be out and about and someone — sometimes a good friend from church, sometimes a near-stranger — will ask about my trip plans.
My last trip was to Sierra Leone, in 2016. And here’s the thing; the small, interdenominational missions group with which I took all nine of my trips had, by that point, gotten away from that kind of short-term mission trip. The only reason the Sierra Leone trip happened was that it had been in the planning stages for several years. (There were multiple delays, including one for the West African Ebola crisis.)
That meant that I really have had no idea what I would do for my next foreign mission trip. I got onto the mailing list for the United Methodist missions agency, but most of the trips for which I’d get notifications were either too soon (not leaving me enough time to fundraise) or were looking for people with different skill sets.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Kenya. It’s the only mission destination I’ve been to multiple times — five in all — and I have a lot of fond memories. Heck, I even wrote a Bad Self-Published Novel about the place.
On all of our mission trips to Kenya, we worked through the same host pastor in Nairobi. Sometimes we worked directly with him, at his church in the Kibera slums; sometimes, he arranged for us to work with pastors in more rural settings in other parts of Kenya. On those cross-country trips, sometimes he traveled with us, and sometimes he didn’t.
I’m Facebook friends with this pastor, and when I liked a post of his the other day, it led to one of us making a remark about me returning there one day. As I said, I had already been thinking a lot about Kenya.
Is this God’s call, or is it John’s nostalgia and wanderlust? That’s what I’m trying to determine. But I am thinking, seriously, about going back to Kenya, on my own — meaning not through any agency — and working for a week with my pastor friend.
The pastor will be here in the U.S. in November — he has some individuals and churches here in Tennessee which support his work, and he comes to see them from time to time. I have reached out to him, and hopefully while he’s here we can have a conversation about what I might do and when would be a good time for me to visit. It certainly wouldn’t be any earlier than next summer, and might be later than that.
As I say, I’m still trying to see if this is God’s call or just something I would enjoy doing. The few people I’ve said something about it to so far have been supportive, and that’s good, because — as with all my other trips — I’d have to raise support. The biggest cost would be air fare; traveling on my own, I might very well be able to stay with my pastor friend in Nairobi, unless he wants to use me at one of his affiliated churches somewhere else.
I don’t want to wear out my welcome with friends and family, which is one reason I took a break from my mission trips after going to Kenya in 2010. But even if I go next summer, that will have been almost three years from the Sierra Leone trip. And some of my Sierra Leone supporters actually made their contributions in 2014 or 2015, when we were in the hurry-up-and-wait phase. So hopefully that’s enough time that people won’t feel like I’m taking advantage.
Since I won’t be going through the not-for-profit that organized my previous trips, donations would not be tax-deductible. I don’t know whether that would put people off. I may look into setting up a special account for the trip so that I could make sure and keep everything separate and accountable. I also have toyed with the idea of using a crowdfunding site. Would people consider that a convenience, or a turnoff? I don’t know.
So at this point, I have a lot of questions. I’ll know more in November when I have a chance to talk things out with my (potential) host pastor. It may turn out that this isn’t what I am supposed to do at all. In the meantime, prayers, and feedback, would be appreciated.