Saturday, March 18, 2006

Travel with a Purpose

We travel for many reasons :: Work, family visits and holidays, to escape, to emigrate. You get the idea. But there's a segment that travels to volunteer their time and skills for aid projects, using their own funds and precious holiday time serving others.

And while volunteering overseas (or in their own country, as are American students who currently
volunteering for Spring Break in New Orleans) is increasing in popularity, there have always been those who travel for longer periods. Not really for work, as it is also their calling; not really as volunteers, as they are subsidized to some extent; and not really for pleasure, though the personal rewards are incalculable. I am thinking of those who serve in missions.

And unless you are in a community that supports mission work, you most likely have never given them a thought. I'm not talking about those who land plum UN jobs with all their perks, pay and prestige. I'm talking about those whose calling takes them across the world from family and friends. They live, and travel, on a shoestring, making the best of whatever abysmal conditions they encounter, secure their faith will guide them, and the Lord provide.

I have been thinking about this because, on Friday, one of those who most of his life served in mission, Vern Black, passed away quietly, at age 87. The day before, his son, my friend, had flown from Ethiopia, where he and his family are also serving in mission, to be with his father and family in Canada. He arrived in time to spend a few hours with his father.

A life in such service is not the road to material wealth; indeed, it's often the opposite. But like the rewards, the legacy, too, is rich. By his life -- living his faith rather than preaching it -- his children learned well, and continue his work, and reap the rewards of a life well spent.

It's fitting that even at the end, he was thinking of others. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking donations for completing a partly-built church in Bahir Dar, northern Ethiopia, and a multi-purpose building that can be used as a Youth centre, education centre and worship centre for programs to help some of the thousands of unemployed youth, street kids and prostitutes in Bahir Dar.

I know I will never spend what's left of my life in service to others; I am thankful for those who do. If you'd like to help build the Bahir Dar project or to read more about the work of my friends in Ethiopia, go to

Should you wish to donate, specify the Bahir Dar project name to direct it to them. For the story I wrote about their work there, see