I’m not the most enthusiastic flyer.
I love travel, I love airports, I even like airline food… I just do not like flying. Every bump and judder of turbulence makes my stomach drop.
The worst moment I have ever experienced on a plane occurred earlier this year. I was on my way to Cambodia with a group of Baptist World Aid supporters to see some of the work that they had been faithfully supporting. Somewhere over Darwin, my stomach lurched and churned inside of me. The skies were clear, but a question had surfaced in my mind… and it wasn’t one I had expected.
“What if it all falls short?”
You see, I’d been working for Baptist World Aid for about a year. In that time, I’d spoken at dozens of churches, probably to a thousand people, asking them to support work like the projects I was about to visit in Cambodia.
I had already learned all I could about the organisation from my home in Australia… that we are accredited by the Australian Council for International Development… that the Australian Government funded several of our development projects. I had every confidence that the work carried out by the organisation employing me was effective and life-changing, but I had never seen any of that work first hand… and it scared me.
I mean, we’ve all heard the horror stories of bad development, haven’t we? Stories where well-intentioned people, with well-intentioned actions have brought about negative consequences for the very communities they were trying to help! And in a plane, 20,000 feet above Darwin, I was paralysed by the irrational fear that my trip would somehow turn out to be one of those stories.
In all my excitement about getting to see the work I’d been so impressed with for so long, I hadn’t taken the time to think about what would happen if the trip to Cambodia (by some chance) left me unimpressed.
“What would I do if that happened?”
The question went around and around in my head. And I thought long and hard about it before I realised I already knew the answer: if what I saw in Cambodia was not all I expected it to be, I’d have no other option but to quit my job.
With that resolved, my stomach finally settled and I went back to worrying about flying in peace.
Touching down in Cambodia, the old familiar scents and sounds of South East Asia hit me and I easily clicked into traveller mode. But then, that nagging question reared its ugly head again…
“What if it all falls short?”
The lurching feeling in my stomach eased with the very first village we visited.
When we arrived, what I immediately noticed wasn’t the crops, or the healthy kids, or tidy homes, the first thing I noticed were the people waiting to meet us. They were members of the Village Development Association (VDA), a community organisation that our Christian partner had helped to establish and support. The role of the VDA was to lead the process of ending poverty in their community, and it was being run entirely by people from their village!
We were warmly welcomed by the women and men who make up the VDA, then, with their shoulders back and their heads held up, they began to teach us.
They spoke about the improvements in their children’s health and school attendance. They told us that forming groups had encouraged community members to save together and that families had taken loans from the collective savings to improve their lives. They taught us about how they had had increased their rice yield (this particularly impressed the farmers in our little group). Now families have enough rice to eat, but also some to sell and help pay for their children’s school fees.
As I listened, the knot in my stomach was replaced by a swelling in my chest. Their pride in what they had achieved, thanks to your support, was clear. And the more communities we visited, the more stories of transformation I heard.
Gradually, the swelling in my chest took on a name… it was “hope”. A hope which was almost tangible… and infectious too!
Towards the end of my time in Cambodia I realised that we had all come on this trip with questions. And while the questions were all different, they all revolved around a similar theme: what is God doing in the communities that Baptist World Aid works in?
It seemed to me, that over the week, God answered all our questions individually. But collectively, the message we were hearing as a group was one of immense hope.
When it came time to board the return flight home, in my heart and mind I knew I had seen something of the work of God in bringing hope to the communities we serve. And the experience also helped me to answer my own question too.
The work that you so generously support is as life-changing as I’d hoped!
Flying home, hurtling at 800kms an hour through the air, my heart was full… but my stomach was lurching again.
Flying, after all, is still terrible.