I remember my first mission trip. I don’t remember how old I was…only that I was old enough to be curious about shaving my legs. My dad was the youth director and I was too young to go out for projects but was old enough to tag along and stay at camp during the day. We stayed at Camp Christian. It had a neat playground.
My youth groups in middle school and high school went on all kinds of mission trips – home repair based trips, learning about and working with homeless people type trips, singing in front of people type trips.
So of course when I started in ministry with youth, I planned on doing a mission trip. What I didn’t expect was the resistance from some parents. “Why spend all that money to go somewhere to do mission work when we need it so badly in our own community?” I remember responding something like, “well, it’s really more for learning about other cultures, how people live differently than us, etc.” and “it’s really more about the youth getting away and building community and putting our faith in action.” The response: “Well why don’t you call it that, then?” (instead of a “mission trip”)
The traditional understanding of a mission trip is to bring Jesus to people who we assume don’t know him (or something like that). To do some work like painting or home repair, but, really, to spread the gospel while we’re doing it. It’s very much like, we have something to give others that they don’t have. And they will be better off by having what we give them.
Yet, most people who go on a mission trip will tell you: you end up being/feeling more blessed than the person(s) whom you went to serve.
My theology of missions has changed a lot over the years; thanks to Dr. Phil and Dr. Driggers at Pfeiffer and my Americorps Bonner Leader service. It became even more real this past week as we were in Pensacola:
God is already there.
Where? Everywhere! As the song goes:
“I’m already there: Take a look around. I’m the sunshine in your hair. I’m the shadow on the ground. I’m the whisper in the wind. I’m your imaginary friend. …I’m the beat in your heart. I’m the moonlight shining down. I’m the whisper in the wind. And I’ll be there until the end. Can you feel the love that we share? Oh I’m already there.”
We go on these trips thinking we’re taking God with us, but God is already there, where we’re going. On the way down to Pensacola, a person went out of their way to open the door for me. Our first morning there, a stranger helped make what would’ve been a tedious chore much easier and more fun. We were working alongside of people who shared their testimony with us – in such a powerful, inspiring, life-changing way. We met people who had left their families for two years to serve others and share about their faith. Two of the organizations we worked with were started by individuals who were passionate about meeting the needs of that community and changed their whole lives around to organize others to help meet those needs. (WOW!)
I had taken a group to Pensacola before, but this time was different. It wasn’t about changing the world or taking something we had that they didn’t…it was simply about “doing good.”
“Do all the good you can by all the means you can in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” -John Wesley
The goal was to do a variety of projects, to help the youth experience different ways of serving and to see which ones they enjoyed the best. Every project we did had a parallel in our own community (Stephen Ingram calls this “mirror missions” in his book Organic Student Ministry.), and we discussed how we might go back into our local community and serve in those same ways. It was an amazing week of “trying on” different ways of serving by joining up with what God is already doing in that community through the people and organizations that we worked with.
I was inspired by the work that our group did and how our group bonded so beautifully as we served and played together; but more so, my spirit was re-energized and filled with joy as I saw the work that the community was already doing – feeding, clothing, and housing the homeless; helping people through recovery; attending to the elderly and the children; being good stewards of the earth; sharing stories and journeys of starting organizations to meet the needs of people and share the love of God – wow.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity to travel around to see all the amazing things God is doing. It is a humbling experience to know that we are just a small piece of the puzzle.
Praise be to God whose presence is indeed everywhere. May we all shine light in the dark places to help others see and experience that presence; and may we join in with what God is already doing and do all the good we can in all the ways we can…as long as ever we can.