by Jill Lienemann, Kesher International Missions | ©2012
My friends poke fun at me when they see my pictures of toilets from various mission trips. I DO NOT have a twisted fascination of bathroom fixtures. I DO HAVE a burden to help others cope with a cross-cultural shock that I, myself, experienced because no one spoke about this topic prior to trip departure. Let’s break the wall of silence endorsed by western social modesty and publically herald the free speech of toilet etiquette!
My first encounter with a “horse of a different color” came during my mission trip to Russia. There before me was a bowl without a seat – totally perplexing, somewhat unnerving but still manageable. Previously unacquainted with summer camps or woodland activities, my only exposure to “roughing it” was the portable toilets brought in for the annual city celebration. So on the very same trip, my next shock came as I faced a wood platform with cut out holes placed above a deep abyss. Pressing through my inadequacy, I soon learned how to balance and aim quite well while choosing to use my soft 2-ply toilet paper brought from home instead of the provided small circular coffee filter.
Additional mission trips educated me on more water closet diversities. In Latin America, it is mandatory to discard used toilet paper in a basket beside the toilet in lieu of the bowl. Manual flushing is a simple technique of emptying a pail of water into the bowl, not the tank, and letting gravity do the rest. Privacy can be as little as a shower curtain between you and the next person in line. Two toilets in the bathroom, the second one being a bidet, can be intimidating even for the most courageous.
You may encounter the same or other VERY different circumstances on your mission trip. Ask your trip leader what you should expect or do your own research so you can prepare both mentally and physically before departure. One thing that is certain, God does not want you to become sidetracked from fulfilling your purpose on the trip because you are obsessed about your personal hygiene. Jesus was quick to point out a similar misguided focus to his contemporaries, “…you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.” (Matthew 23:25a-26 NLT) Jesus explained it this way to his disciples using a different example, “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body. What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come…” (Mark 7:18b-19; 21a) Yes, it is important to practice sanitary measures so that you do not become ill and be totally removed from participating in your outreach program. However, when you choose to concentrate too much on external conditions, you allow yourself to become vulnerable and your ministry efforts are weakened.
KESHER TIP (connection): An Ounce of Prevention…
Benjamin Franklin didn’t have a mission trip in mind when he completed this thought with the words, “is worth a pound of cure.” But I’m sure he would agree that hand sanitizers are less intrusive than a round of strong antibiotics for unwanted intestinal germs. Purchase bundles of baby wipes (without the plastic containers) along with small zip-lock bags, which is more cost effective than individual packets. Once at your location, you can load/reload your baggies for each day’s use. When using your gel disinfectants after ministering to the nationals, remember to apply it out of their sight so there won’t be a misinterpretation of your actions. Although alcohol-based sanitizers are the best, you may want to check with your destination country to see if they may be confiscated in customs.