I used to think that short term mission trips benefited mostly the person who went, not the people in the country she goes to. Last year, after seeing 22 Chinese teachers realize for the first time that learning could be fun, I knew that I had not only changed these teachers, but also the lives of their countless students. Hours after I arrived in China, my interpreter introduced me to her friend Joy, and said “Marsh, tell Joy about Jesus.” Joy was intensely curious about my faith. She had heard a lot, but perhaps I answered her questions from a different perspective than her Chinese friends. When Joy came to know Jesus as her savior only four hours after I arrived in China, it was an amazing experience for me, but the person most profoundly changed was Joy. Her life will never be the same. I found the same phenomenon when I was in Japan, and in Albania. People seemed so eager to hear anything I had to share because I had traveled so far to tell them. People shared with me deeply because I was a “safe” person to whom they could share the intimate details of their lives. I believe that one person really can make a difference when she goes to another country, even if it is for a few short weeks.
This year I turned fifty, my 56 year-old brother died suddenly of a heart attack, and my mom also passed away. It has made me realize that my intense desire to make a difference in the world is not something to be put off to a “convenient” point. I want to use whatever gifts and talents I have to further the gospel and to see God work in people’s lives. I see that much of my experience with international travel, cross cultural training, teaching, administration, and Perspectives training at Wheaton over 30 years ago have all led to my ability to lead a team. In response to this I said “yes” to leading an IMPACT team to Turkey from June 23 to July 18. IMPACT is the Presbyterian organization that arranges short-term journeys, working around the world with people who are already in these countries. IMPACT returns to the same places year after year, so it has a “long term” feel to it.
In the mornings we will be working near Antalya at a center where women come for help. We will be cooking with them, teaching them crafts like cross stitch, giving them clothing, and counseling with them. In the afternoons we will work with disabled young people at a camp or rehab center. While I can’t promise not to have fun, it is not a vacation! I am heading a team of 5 women and one teenage young man, so there is the element of reaching out to the Turkish people, and also being a servant to my team members.
Before I left, I had no idea how significantly China would affect my life and my thinking. The China journey led to the Albania journey, which led to the Turkey journey. I have no idea what will happen in Turkey, but I get a sense of remarkable changes to come because of how drawn I feel to go.