Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News Walter Albritton
For August 20, 2000

What is so special about a faraway place like Shell, Ecuador?

Everybody does not agree with the idea of sending "mission work teams" to other countries. Here are some of the responses people have made to me:

"It costs a lot of money to fly to another country, so I believe it would be wiser just to send the money you would spend for travel to help people there."

"Going on a mission work team is simply an excuse for taking a vacation in a foreign land."

"The host missionaries cannot do their normal work because it takes so much of their time to entertain their visitors."

"The people in other lands are happy with their way of life. We have no right to interfere with them and try to make them accept our American way of life."

Well, I disagree. From what I have seen, and experienced personally, participating in a mission work team is usually a life-changing experience. That is the testimony of dozens of people from our church who have traveled with a team to Mexico, Costa Rica, Haiti, Paraguay, and lately, Ecuador.

Today I am with a team of 15 persons who are in Quito, on our way back from working for five days in a remote place called Shell, Ecuador. We are tired but filled with a strange sense of joyous satisfaction about having traveled this far from home. Our plans call for us to arrive back home August 22.

We have a few souvenirs and 15 bags of stinking, dirty clothes. In Shell we worked with our hands in the rain and sunshine of that beautiful country. At night we enjoyed fellowship and meals prepared by our missionary hosts who serve there with MAF, Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Our primary host was Sandy Toomer, a pilot who lives in Shell with his wife Trish and their children Harrison and Sarah.

What did we do to justify the costs of going? (Our round-trip fare was $608.) We helped to complete the construction of a school room which will be used for teaching children. Other work teams were there before us; we simply continued the work they had begun. Still other work teams will follow us until the work is finished. It is truly a cooperative venture.

We encouraged the people who are serving there. Everybody needs encouragement, even the wonderful people we call missionaries. We affirmed them all--men, women, and children-for the good work they are doing, at considerable sacrifice. They have given up many of the daily conveniences we take for granted in order to serve people who are unbelievably deprived.

We assured the missionaries of our continuing support. They can remain there only if people back home support them with money and prayers. Our church family takes great delight in supporting the Toomers, considering it an honor to be on his team.

Why an honor? Listen for five minutes to Sandy and you understand. This summer he and other pilots there have flown over a thousand children out of jungle villages into Shell and other bases to attend Bible schools. Sandy knows that anyone of these children can grow up to become a responsible Christian person. After all, the instructor who taught Sandy flying lessons had once been an impoverished kid in a remote island of the Philippines - until a pilot like Sandy found him and guided him into a new way of life!

But Sandy uses his airplane in many other helpful ways. Routinely he flies sick people out of jungle villages to secure medical aid. Many people would never see a doctor without this help, although Sandy does sometimes fly medical personnel into remote areas to treat the sick. It means a lot to us to know that some of the money we send to the Toomers will be used to keep his plane in the air.

How did it help us to go? Beyond feeling that we had made a difference with the work we did, we came away reminded once again of how blessed we are! It is so easy to enjoy our way of life in Opelika and forget that thousands of people are dying everyday for lack of clean water, food, and medicine. We forget that 40 percent of the people in the world today do not enjoy the use of electricity. If our power is off for 30 minutes, we get upset!

People who go on mission work teams do enjoy some sight-seeing. But what we see while in places like Ecuador usually changes our perspective about a lot of things. We become more grateful for what we have, and we begin to want to do something before we die to help the millions of people who have so little.

The face, the plight, and the need, of one little boy or girl in a remote jungle village can stay implanted in your mind for the rest of your life. That may be the most important result of going on a mission work team to a distant place like Shell. I am sure I will never be the same.