Do We Need to Rethink How We do Mission Trips?
Here I am, the week after Thanksgiving with only 2 weeks left before Christmas break... and then my year here at Link is half over. Looking back it is crazy how far I have come already in past few months. My understanding of the Bible, the Gospel, and my faith is so much greater than it was in September. However, there is still so much to learn and I am looking forward not only to the remainder of Link Year but also the years to come because my learning will not stop when I leave.
One of the things that has challenged me a lot while being at Link Year was Urban Entry, which took place the week before Thanksgiving break. For one week we went into a poor community in Kansas City and did mission work at a place called the Hope Center. What really challenged me was actually not seeing a poor community because I have gone on multiple mission trips to poor areas, including one to Africa. It was how the trip was set up that really made me think of my heart behind going. In every mission trip I had been on up to this point, it seemed as though the organization we went to serve ended up serving us in many ways. Now that sounds crazy, but the more I think about it the more I am convinced that is how it was. For example, I've been on three mission trips to Peoria, Illinois where we worked at an inner city mission and also out at a summer camp. Every year I went our hosts at the camp made sure we had a comfortable place to sleep, plenty of snacks to eat and Gatorade to drink, and big meals to eat. The result of this is each year I would go back, I was looking forward to those things often times more than actually serving. I went thinking about how much fun I would have and how I would enjoy all the things provided for me. In essence, the trip became about me and the experience that I would have. Not that it is bad to have fun on a mission trip or to enjoy the things provided for us, but if that is the sole reason why we enjoy going, there is a problem. And maybe the mission trips you have been on were not like the experiences that I had, and that is great because you probably figured this out a lot sooner than I did.
It was not until a little over a week ago that the way I approached mission trips was revolutionized for a couple reasons. First of all, we slept (all 30 guys) in a small basement on a cement floor. So it was crowded, uncomfortable, and did not smell all that great. Secondly, at the beginning of the week we were given tickets with which we would "buy" our meals and showers. As I'm sure you can imagine, we were not given enough tickets that we could spend them on everything we wanted. We had to budget them well all week or the last couple days we would have been broke. Because of this system I never felt full all week. Now don't get me wrong, I had plenty to eat by the standards of most of the world, it just wasn't what I was used to, especially since one of the meals I ate was a bowl of rice and beans. So what do all these things have to do with changing how I think about mission trips? It's simply this: I would honestly never say if I went back that I would be looking forward to the hard floors to sleep on or the smaller portions of food to eat than I was used to. Be careful not to misunderstand me here. I definitely would still look forward to going. I just would not look forward to the conditions. That is how I wish more missions trips were set up. Why? Because every time I was tempted to complain or think negative thoughts about sleeping on a cement floor or being hungry, I had to check my heart about why I was there. Was I there just so I could be comfortable and have a fun experience or so I could serve others? It also made me rely on God's power to have a good attitude and be able to serve others with all my energy. You see, in all the mission trips I had been on earlier, it was so easy to make them about me. I did not need God's power to have a good time because I was always comfortable. If I had made Urban Entry about me and not about serving, it honestly would have been one of the worst weeks of my life. I would have been tired, hungry, and pretty grumpy. Thankfully, I was able to get over having it be about me and loved serving.
Please don't think that I have this all figured out. It will always be a struggle to take the focus off myself in whatever I do. I simply now have a goal for how I want to approach every mission trip I participate in from now on.
Hope that challenges your heart behind mission trips as much as it did mine.
Thanks for reading!