Mike Upshur lives and works in Detroit, MI. We met him back in August 2014 when he ventured to Cape Town for a missions trip with his church. Mike's light-hearted, humorous, and fun and all the while compassionate and deep. This guy's definitely a critical thinker! He's got a huge heart for missions and basketball, and we feel honored to have served alongside him for 10 days. Check out some amazing photos of Mike and his team serving in Cape Town at the end of this blog.
I don’t get out much. I spend most of my days trapped inside a felt-walled cubicle hammering away at excel spreadsheets and answering as many emails as professionally possible using only memes. This poses a conundrum because I love to travel.
Stir-crazy only begins to describe how I feel about my six-foot by six-foot work cell. I'd rather cram my 6’9” frame into a coach class seat for a 10-hour flight with a 5’6” man in front of me who's repeatedly attempting to recline his seat backwards, expecting that my knees will eventually just crumple so he can have more room during the flight than spend five minutes confined in my cube.
In order to satisfy my urge to travel, my company graciously gifts me with 10 days of vacation time every year. Since I don’t get many days off, I try my darndest to make the most of those 10 days. Mission trips are always a draw for a few reasons:
1. I’m not one for traveling alone because I live alone. I already get to spend enough time by myself.
2. I’m not one to lie around on a beach. It’s hot, I burn easily, and I hate finding sand in every crevice of my body.
3. I like to serve people when I have the opportunity, and missions trips offer a unique way to do that.
Besides the reasons mentioned above, going on a missions trip not only allows me to escape my job for a few days, but it also allows me do it in a unique setting where I can connect with God. Between working, shopping for food, cooking for myself, and taking care of my house, finding completely uninterrupted time in my day can be as hard as finding a dress shirt that fits perfectly. (I haven’t found one yet.) When the daily distractions are removed, it becomes much easier for me to hear from God.
In August of 2014, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in my sixth missions trip — this time in Cape Town, South Africa. As I typed up my out-of-office email response, I began to wonder what God had in store for me in Africa. I was quickly distracted by a typo, and that wonder was disrupted. The next day, my team and I commenced on our journey across the ocean, and after 20 hours of travel, we arrived at our destination. Waiting for us in Cape Town was a packed schedule of children’s programs, soup kitchens, work projects, school programs, and church visits.
A few days into the trip, we learned we were going to have the opportunity to visit Tembaletu School, a home and school for physically disabled children. As we drove to the facility, we were briefed on its purpose why it's needed in this area. We were told that in South Africa, having a disability is often viewed as a curse, and many children with disabilities are abused both in school AND at home.
The thought of them being abused at home because of a disability was heartbreaking to me. You see, I grew up with an aunt who had Friedreich’s ataxia, a disease that causes degeneration of nervous tissue around the spinal cord. It leaves its victims unable to control their muscle movements. She passed away when I was 11, but no part of me ever viewed her condition as a curse. In fact, I viewed it as the opposite. It was a normal part of life. I watched my grandparents and family go out of their way to show her love and provide her with the care she needed. She wasn’t just someone that we cared for. She was family, and she was an important part of all of our lives.
Our time at Tembaletu was filled with dancing, laughs, and love, but as we boarded the bus to leave, I was hit with a wave of anger. I thought about the mistreatment of those kids. They couldn’t help that they were disabled. It was out of their control. Instead of the love and protection received by my aunt, they had been abused by their families... because they were viewed as a curse. A curse. The ones who were supposed to provide love and protection viewed them as a curse and wanted nothing to do with them.
How could someone in need be viewed as cursed?
Then it hit me. If I didn’t view the handicapped kids as cursed, who were the “cursed people" in my life? Who were the people I avoided? Who were the ones that needed love but were ignored because I didn’t think they were worthy of it?
I often find myself questioning whether or not God would want me to help someone because of what they've done or because of how they live their lives. But who am I to question and judge? That's the furthest thing from the example Jesus (who I claim to serve) set.
I serve the Jesus that taught us to love everyone, no matter the circumstance and regardless of what they offer in return. The One who ate with prostitutes and tax-collectors. The One who conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well. The One who approached the demon-possessed, touched the unclean, looked with compassion on the hurting. Yet, I was ignoring His example in my life.
I learned my lesson, and I'm seeking to change that mindset in my daily life. I probably would've eventually learned the lesson, but I think getting away from my mundane daily routine put me in a position to look at things differently. The missions trip helped open my ears and heart to what God was saying. Plus, Cape Town is incredibly beautiful, which was a total bonus!