by: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Team Leader, Trip Coordinator, & Missionary Kid
Disclaimer: This blog is extremely honest, maybe a little raw, but also very real. Stick with me. I think you will be glad if you read until the end.
The biggest question I get, is, “Why do you do this? I mean it’s great that you take doctors and medicine and treat people who wouldn’t otherwise have care, but you are only there for a week. What good are you able to do in just a week? What is the point? What is the big deal?”
And then my TOP favorite question/statement from people, the one that Jesus has to help me remember that my purpose is to love people like He does, and to be kind, above all else; and to remember what my mama said, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is when people say this: “You realize there is no real value to a short-term mission trip. It’s really just a glorified vacation.”
Times like that make me understand why Jesus flipped tables on the temple steps. For real y’all. Controlling my tongue is getting somewhat easier as I get older. It’s just my face forgets to fall in line and keep it cool. There is nothing that gets my blood boiling and my heart racing like someone telling me that short-term missions is a waste of time and money. I want to know what mission trip they’ve been on that was a vacation! Every single one I have been on has been hard! So very hard. But also, so…..very…..worth…..it.
I have seen the articles that are written and take a stance against short-term missions. The ones that say there is no lasting value. And that, that makes me weep. It breaks my heart! Because it is the furthest thing from the truth. John 8:32 says: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So, let me share a little bit (or maybe a lot) of truth with you.
First of all, God doesn’t waste anything. Period. We as humans waste things. We get off track and sometimes we make a great big mess! What I know, is that God takes all of our messes and He weaves them beautifully together into a tapestry with purpose, if we will only let Him. My life is a perfect example of a broken mess made beautiful.
Let me tell you, from my perspective and my personal experience, about the value of the short-term mission trips I lead. First of all, the value on this side of heaven is incalculable. We won’t know, until we get to heaven and see the lines of people stretched before us, and they call out to us, “Thank you! Thank you! I am here because you gave….or went…..or helped send.” While that thought gives us all warm fuzzies, it is sort of hard to comprehend and assign value to, so let’s calculate the value of tangible things. Although, I am fairly certain, when I am finished, you will agree with me, that these all of these things are priceless.
Allow me to lay out for you the purpose of the Ecuador Medical Mission Trips. Our ultimate purpose is church planting. Medical Missions opens a door like no other. Bringing doctors and medicines into an area that doesn’t have access to medical care is amazing on many different levels, but that is just the beginning. Over and over again, the physicians that go with me say the same thing. People want hope. People want hope and compassion. And that, that is exactly what we take to Ecuador.
Our trips are planned out 1 to 2 years in advance. We carefully select areas that don’t have evangelical churches and that haven’t had the opportunity to hear the good news of the Gospel. We then find a pastor, usually one right out of seminary that is willing to go into this area to live. CEMAD (Centro Evangelistico Metropolitano de las Asambleas de Dios) is the “mother” church that I work through. It is a church that my parents started over 40 years ago, in the heart of downtown Colonial Quito. Over the last 5 years, we have planted 28 new churches that are still thriving today. All 28 churches were planted because we ran a one day medical clinic in that area. This year, we will plant 5 new churches. 5 new churches in one week. Let that sink in.
Allow me to further explain: Once we pick an area in which to hold a medical clinic, there is a lot that happens before my medical team hits the ground. The mother church, CEMAD, and the willing seminary student/new pastor, hit the ground in the area, telling them that a team of doctors from the United States is coming and will provide free medical care, complete with prescriptions. They visit homes, the town square, the corner store…..and they tell them that help is coming. Just knowing that they have the opportunity to see a doctor is life-changing for many, and offers HOPE to all. All of this ground work is going on sometimes for a full year before we arrive. Usually by the time we arrive to hold our clinic, the pastor and volunteers have visited individual families 4-5 times and have formed relationships with them.
When our team arrives at the location for the clinic, we will usually have about 200 people waiting in line. The stream doesn’t stop. We typically see about 500 people in one day. You can see videos of a few of our past clinics here and here and here. Every single person receives at the very minimum, vitamins and anti-parasitic medications. The anti-parasitic medications are life-changing, and we give them enough for two years. After the patients are seen by our doctors and go through the pharmacy, then they are given the opportunity to go speak with our evangelism team. This is where the statistics are staggering.
It is extremely rare for someone to choose not to visit with the evangelism team. What is amazing, is that roughly 87% of the people, after hearing the gospel message, give their hearts to Jesus. 87%.
Here are the statistics from our 2018 trip:
Patients treated – 2,852
Reading glasses fitted – 1,936
Prescriptions filled – 11,408
Churches planted – 3
Hearts given to Jesus – 2,481
I know. I know. Your next question is, “That is wonderful, but how do you follow-up with these people?” I am so very glad you asked. You see, every person that came through the clinic was invited back later that afternoon for a Bible Study. As we are packing up the clinic, the people are coming back in and the Pastor is prepared to give out Bibles and hold their very first “church” service. At the end, the Pastor tells everyone that there will be a church service that very Sunday and that everyone is welcome to come back. The vast majority, come back. Sunday after Sunday. And a church is born.
Heart for Ecuador’s involvement doesn’t end there. See, once a church is begun, there is still a lot of work to be done! We work to help find a permanent location to house a church. Then we help pay rent until the church is financially stable. If a church is really thriving, then we help find a piece of property and we take a team down to build a simple church building. Usually out of each new church plant, we also begin a feeding program for the street children. At some of the church plants, we feed over 1,000 children a week. For many, the meal they receive from the church is the only one they get all day.
So, you see, when someone asks me what the big deal about a short term medical mission trip is, or what value it has, you can understand why I have a hard time putting into words. The big deal is that the very souls of human beings are at stake. The value is eternity and you can’t put a price tag on that.
If you feel a tug on your heartstrings, and you want to know how you can be involved by going or helping to send, just let me know! I will be glad to share opportunities with you. It really is as simple as John Piper says it. Go, Send, or Disobey.
Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him, who bring good news.
Lord, help my feet to never grow weary of bringing good news. Until the whole world hears.