Editor Brian Jewell
I remember it like it was yesterday — huddled in a small thatched-roof church in the mountains of central Mexico, my friends and I struggled to choke down greasy chicken stew and a less-than-appetizing drink made of cocoa powder and frothy water. The stew I managed; the drink, a “delicacy” called chilate in the local Indian dialect, was more than I could bear.
I was 13 years old, traveling with the youth group from my church. It was a journey full of firsts: my first mission trip, my first time outside the United States, my first experience with strange foods, my first sight of a whole butchered hog. But perhaps more than anything else, it was my first interaction with real poverty.
I’ve thought a lot about poverty in the years since then, and I’ve seen a lot more of it firsthand. For a while during college, I was blessed to live in Mexico, where I came face to face with Third-World poverty almost daily. In my professional travels, I have encountered the world’s poor in places such as Kenya, Poland, Turkey and Peru.
I would like to tell you that seeing poverty becomes easier, but it never really does. As travelers, we endure the contradictions: We must often drive through very poor areas to visit some of the most exciting places on earth, from the rain forests of Costa Rica to the Roman ruins at Petra in Jordan. Along the way, we stay in four-star hotels, and some of the people that serve us there go home to live in squalor. The money we spend on a single luxury tour is more than many people will earn in a year.
But this story is not meant to be a sad one. Although Third-World poverty is staggering, our travel can make a huge difference in the places we visit. Tourism is one of the world’s leading engines of economic development, and church groups with a heart for service can make an even greater impact by volunteering in the places they visit.
Opportunities abound at home and abroad. There are communities in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee that have pockets of the kind of poverty usually found in the Third World. That’s why I’ve chosen the Christian Appalachian Project as our Mission’s Spotlight organization for this issue. You can read more about its work building homes in eastern Kentucky by clicking on this link.
As we travel the world, we will undoubtedly find scenes that break our hearts. Yet everywhere there is despair there is also opportunity for hope. As travelers, we find so many chances to give back, pitch in and make a difference. As ambassadors of Jesus, it is our privilege to do so.
So as you and your church group travel, please don’t shy away from poor areas. Instead, let them make a difference in your heart; then go and be difference-makers yourselves.