Whether you are going to somewhere overseas, staying in your hometown or volunteering at your community cafeteria, God has called us to innumerable places where he shapes both our lives and the many lives around us. Mission trips are beautiful depictions of God’s love for those who are in physical, emotional or spiritual need.
Two years ago, I went on a mission trip to a poverty relief ministry called Shepherd Community Center. Only 30 minutes away from my own front door, it was devastating to see so much brokenness. I worked with first graders and it was so fulfilling and yet so terrible to know that poverty was in my hometown and you didn’t have to travel across the ocean to find it. I close my eyes again and see myself running on the playground, swinging on the monkey bars and playing freeze tag with those beautiful, giggly children. The love of Jesus shone in their eyes. His beauty and goodness radiated from their thankful hearts. And yet some of the stories I heard these first graders shattered my heart and made me ache with sadness for them.
From that single 5 day period, God taught me so many things.
“Have a Teachable Spirit.”
I remember walking into the room of first graders. I was ready to be the one who got them excited who high-fived them and exclaimed “You ready for some serious fun?!?” I was ready to be the courageous super hero that made them feel loved and accepted.
But when I walked in there I had never been more afraid in my life. I was shaking as I stood there; petrified and unable to speak. A little girl with two little braids in her hair walked up to me and said in a timid voice “Hi! Are you my new teacher? I’m Maia and I’m almost seven!” My heart melted as she took my hand and led me to the crayon-strewn table where she was working on a picture.
I thought I was going to be the one to give. I was supposed to be the one who taught them all about God, not the other way around! But that little Maia and so many other first graders taught me immeasurably more about God’s love than what I could ever teach them.
Let the Father teach you through the people you work with, whether it be children or adults. You aren’t there just to give. You are also there to receive.
“You are not the Savior of the World.”
I felt angry and somewhat befuddled at a shirt that I saw a girl wearing. It had a proud “SAVE AFRICA” emblazoned across it with bright colors. Sadly, mission trips these days can make us feel like courageous, unstoppable superhumans with a big red “S” plastered across our chest. It doesn’t take us long to realize that we are incapable of stopping the poverty. I know that I felt that way when I knew that I wasn’t enough to save the world. It broke me. “I’m not enough for those hurting children.” That single line played over in my head for the next several weeks.
But He showed me that I was right: I can’t be enough. I can’t be enough because I’m an imperfect human being that thinks I can do things on my own. But here’s the beautiful part. He is enough; for those children at Shepherd Community Center. For the homeless families in Indiana. And even, for the entire world. As Katie Davis, a missionary in Uganda says:
“I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred schoolchildren and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year old. And if one persons sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.”
“Listen. Listen well.”
Hear their stories and love them the way Christ would. As a person. Not as a wounded animal. They may be hurting, but it doesn’t give anyone the right to act as if they are beneath you. I know that I was guilty of doing that and I didn’t even mean to act to them in such a demeaning way! Be careful. We can fall into that trap without even knowing it.
I remember hearing eight-year-old Valentin’s story. I sat with him during lunch one day where we began to talk about his family. “I live with my Aunt now,” he remarked “My mommy and daddy died last year, but they believed in Jesus. Will they go to heaven, Miss Katie?”
I remember the bite of my sandwich that stuck soggily in my throat as I heard this absurd question that no eight year old child has to ask. I should have been able to answer his question with the prepared, clichéd Sunday school answer. But I wasn’t prepared.
And that’s ok, sometimes what people really want is just a good hug and a whispered “I am here for you.” Let the Holy Spirit lead you and be willing to be vulnerable with people.
“Leading from a Mission Trip to Life on a Mission.”
This was the hardest command that God gave me to swallow. It’s easy to come back from your mission trip and forget that He has called you for more.
Don’t take the word “mission” out of mission trip. Don’t make it a poverty tourist trip. Make it an opportunity that God has presented to you to love people the way He has loved us.
And that doesn’t require a plane ticket to another 3rd world country. It could be right where you are. Find people in your hometown who are hurting. How can we advocate for justice and protest against poverty in another country when we ignore a homeless person on the street, a hurting classmate in your grade or even a family member that we need to reconcile with? He has called us to innumerable places both within and out of our comfort zones.
The phrase “short term mission trip” does not exist. Don’t get passionate for God on a mission trip and then return to live a lukewarm, comfortable life. A mission trip is a small snapshot. A glimpse of the “Shalom” that God has promised.
So what do we do with that? We take it and let it lead our lives. Be living proof of our loving God. To your family. To your community. To the world.
When God is calling into the night: “Whom shall I send?”
Answer. Answer Him with this.
“Here I am. Send me.”