Why Building Relationships Matters More Than Building Houses [117 Trip Chronicles]
A few years ago, a very good friend of mine invited me to go on a mission trip to Ethiopia, “Charlie, I want you to come to Ethiopia! We are going to be spending time with some of my favorite women. I can’t wait for you to meet them!” I was really unsure about where I fit on this trip.
We were going to spend time with some women?
What would we really be doing?
Were we going to build them a house?
Would we be completing a construction project?
Or putting on a Vacation Bible School?
The more I learned about this trip to Ethiopia, I learned that we were going to be spending time at an organization whose main focus was empowering women in the community of Korah, Ethiopia. During the trip, we would be spending a lot of time getting to know the women who worked for this organization.
Before the trip, I didn't really know what that meant. To be honest, I didn’t see how I fit in to that goal. It’s not that I didn’t believe in empowering women…because I do. Being a man, I just didn’t understand how I could really help the women. I mean, what was I going to fix?
Since this trip was primarily focused on building relationships instead of completing a task, this meant there wouldn’t be a construction project to complete. We would not be building a house. We would not be putting on a Vacation Bible School. This was completely out of my comfort zone. And if I am being honest, I felt so vulnerable knowing I would not be able to hide behind a project, task, or concrete purpose.
It felt like a huge risk saying yes to go. On previous mission trips I had been on, I had met people on the ground. I had worked alongside them while pouring concrete or teaching English. The goal of those trips were projects: pouring the concrete, building the house, or teaching English. But the first trip to Ethiopia that I went on, the goal of empowering the women at the organization was exclusively relational. The goal of the trip wasn’t the project, the goal was the people. More specifically, it was to build relationships with these people.
It was on this trip I realized that my role in empowering women was much bigger than I ever anticipated. I began to see something. The relationships that I had built with people on the ground in previous trips was an afterthought. I hadn’t focused on them, but this time I had to. As I spent more time with the women and children I met, they became more than acquaintances, they became my friends. Because I chose to spend my time with the women, I was able to show them, with the Ethiopian men I served alongside, that they mattered.
By simply going and being me, God was using my presence as a male to build relationships bigger than any construction project I had been a part of.
I have walked into an orphanage and become a human jungle gym in an instant because the kids so rarely spend time with an adult male (and also because I am tall and I look like a lot of fun to climb and swing on).
I have had a young girl find me, crawl into my arms, and then fall asleep because she knew that she was safe there.
I have had so many incredible conversations with both women and men my age because I was in the right place and I wasn't busy or consumed with a project.
I have made friendships with the translators and drivers across the world who work for Carry 117 that I stay in touch with on a regular basis.
And because I chose to keep going back and continued to build these relationships, I was immediately trusted more by the people I had come to know. I trusted them too. We could pick up right where we had left off the last time.
To all of the men reading this, remember: our presence is needed, because our presence is powerful. Fellas, guys, bros, dudes, boys, men: We are needed.
Yes, trips that fix problems are important when executed strategically and intentionally. But I have come to learn that trips that build relationships are even more important. I would love for you to go on a 117 Trip to Ethiopia, but men are needed everywhere.
Go to Mexico.
Go to Haiti.
Go to Uganda.
Go next door.
Wherever you may be called to go, go.
Start investing not just into projects, but into people.
Men, in a world where we are often absent, our presence has power. Don’t waste it.
And women? If you are still reading this, keep inviting the men in your life on relationship-focused trips. I know I wouldn’t have changed the focus of my mission trips if I wasn’t first invited by a woman I trusted and was willing to follow.