I dropped 4M off at the airport this morning. He's off on a two-week mission trip to one of the island-nations of the Caribbean. Not to complain overmuch, but for Molly and me, it was nice to finally get him on the plane. Because that means we're finally done with all the procuring of passports, and jungle-fever immunizations, and plane reservations, and wrangling over luggage (Isn't it amazing how hard it is, for even an honor student to understand that, if you have to pay extra for a bag over 50 pounds, that you should rather put 5 pounds into your carry-on bag, than have your checked bag come in at 52 pounds? When the only counter-argument is that five pounds of carry-on looks all bulky and dorky as one styles one's way through the airport? But, I digress. . .)
Our older girls went on a few different mission trips during their high-school years - They both went to Mexico at least once, and 2F spent several summers in Detroit (which, for all that it's close to home, is almost like a third-world country in its own right), and 1F spent one of her mission trips working with underprivileged kids in Canada, of all places. 3M never went on a 'formal' mission trip, but he's been to Canada a couple times, as well.
But 4M, since he played football, spent all his high-school summers doing conditioning, and couldn't (or didn't want to) free up the time to go on a mission trip, until now. So it'll be an interesting experience for him.
It's always a bit of a culture shock for nice American kids like ours to go to a 'third-world' country for the first time, and to see real, honest-to-goodness poverty up close and personal. We live close enough to what passes for poverty in OurTown, that poverty itself is not an exotic concept for our kids. But (not in the least to make light of the poor people in OurTown) poverty in OurTown is one thing; poverty in Latin America, or the Caribbean, is a whole 'nother order of magnitude. And somewhere in there, they make a friend or two, and they come to understand the humanity of the folks they encounter; they stop being 'The Poor' in-the-abstract, and become people, made in God's Image, with human dignity and personhood uniquely their own. And they come to understand something of God's love for human persons, and their fundamental human solidarity with other human beings, regardless of the staggering socio-economic disparity between themselves, and the people they serve.
And even at that, it's only for two weeks; after that, they get back on an airplane, and go back home to their life of American prosperity. It's possible for a kid to do his two weeks in the third world, and say, "That was nice," and go on like before, as if nothing had happened. But it's also possible for the kid to see a little deeper, and come to understand life, and humanity, a bit more clearly. It isn't guaranteed that they'll come home changed, but it's possible. Maybe even likely. And that's what I hope for my son.
I'm proud of 4M, in all kinds of ways. One of the things I'm proudest of in him, is that, for all the 'gifts' he's received from the Universe (so to speak) - good looks, popularity, athletic skill - he's not pretentious, or vain. Maybe that comes from his having played sports with some kids who come from very different, and less-blessed environments than what he has; but he really does accord the same human dignity to his less-blessed friends, as he does to the wealthy and talented ones. And that's not such a common thing.
So I think he'll do well with his mission trip. Certainly, we'll miss him while he's gone; and we'll pray for him every day. But regardless, we're proud of him for taking this on, and hopeful that it can be an occasion for him to see a bit more deeply into the heart of God. . .