Discovering my "what for?"

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to travel to various places around the globe for the sake of mission-related work. From building a school for tomato can boys in Mauritania and Senegal to providing an educational, loving environment for orphans in Cambodia, I’ve been blessed to be a positive impact on disadvantaged children around the world.

While there are mixed views on so-called “missions” work, my goal in these trips was always to leave the people that I interacted with better off than when I arrived. But I’m not their Savior. I’m not their only means to a better life. I am one human, one vessel, one person willing to raise her hand and be used as an instrument of change. It’s this “change” that I want to focus on.

To use Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle theory, what’s the whathow and why of my trips? For the sake of this conversation, let’s focus on my time spent in Cambodia. These children are in the orphanage, because they were orphaned, abandoned, uncared for by their parents or on the verge of being sold into the sex trafficking industry. They’re brought in and given care for both their physical and spiritual needs.

In the context of Cambodia, the what was taking a two-week trip to host a summer camp for the kids. The how was to fundraise money for a plane ticket, lodging and transportation during the trip. The why was to have a positive impact on the lives of these orphans that I would meet (and grow to love over 2 trips).

From an American mindset, we often try to “improve” people’s lives who do not reflect the luxurious comfort and ease of our own. No, not everyone eats organic food. But in many instances having food at all is the priority.

So, when I set foot onto a myriad of airplanes to make treks around the globe, who and what was I trying to change?

My worldview on all of these trips was that I have something of value to share by coming alongside a group for a mutually beneficial experience and outcome. For the kids in Cambodia, I had the time, energy and resources to spend two weeks pouring out my love, attention and affection to make them feel valued.

I always saw the “who it’s for” aspect as someone in need of something. For the orphans, I wanted to give them love and attention that I felt they had been deprived of thus far in their lives. But often times I would leave these trips feeling as though I had gained much more than I had ever given.

My “what’s it for” has always been to make a difference in the lives of others by sharing my faith through loving actions – feeding them, playing with them, teaching them, nurturing them. While these are all great actions, what was I seeking as the outcome?

Since I was a foreigner on a short-term trip, my time and impact with them was also short lived. Was the attachment created during that two-week period worth the agony that was wrought when it was time for us to pack up and leave? Was my desire to pour out love and meet their physical needs a good fit? Or was my brief time spent in their lives a mismatch in light of the abandonment, change and uncertainty that had already been embedded in their minds from a very young age?

These are not questions I have the answers to. It’s something that I continually struggle to balance as I find ways to care for those in need in a way that best benefits them, regardless of what my framework may dictate that they need.

So, in the context of missions – what denotes a success versus a failure? Is the investment of my time a bigger benefit for myself or the children? Could the thousands of dollars spent on airfare for my team be more beneficial if it funded the orphanage’s college fund? Or did time spent face to face and heart to heart leave an indelible impact that material goods could never make?

As I set out to accomplish my goals articulated through the altMBA, I want to force myself to assess “what is it for?” If I want to prompt people to take action as a mechanism for greater change, what change am I moving them towards? And are we choosing the path most impactful or the feel-good path?

My time spent in the field in missions-related work has made me see that I need to ask “why” on behalf of the person I seek to help. I must build a culture, a movement, a reason for people to take action – all based on what will satisfy the needs of those in need.

I must not define their needs through my framework. I must do as George Lakoff says, “Make truths matter. Wed truths to values.” What is their true need? What are my truths and values? How do I wed these two things together to bring about meaningful change for everyone involved? Ultimately, what change will my humanitarian content make?

The successes and failures of my past humanitarian endeavors have made my goals for the future ever more crystallized. As I set out to continue my heart’s desire to help those in need, I can clearly see how I need to continually assess “what’s it’s for” in a context specific to the change I intend to make.

So, this I know to be true:

[My worldview] I can empower others and myself to use our time, energy and resources to impact positive change [who it is for] for those in need [what is it for] to improve lives as a tangible demonstration of our faith in Christ.


Throughout this process I’ve learned that digging into the hard stuff and finding the truth that lies therein is well worth the potentially painful process. Staying surface and shallow doesn’t benefit me, my peers or anyone else. By continually reassessing my “what for” I can keep my life aligned to my goals and beliefs, and it’s this continual realignment that’s key to leading an impactful life.