This month I was blessed to work with a mission team from Redeemer church in TN. This church has partnered with our local church, Casa de Libertad and the orphanage Fundaninos, where we work for several years.
One thing that stands out as unique with this team is the calling God has given them for their mission trips.
Like many mission teams, their initial focus when they first started coming to Guatemala to serve was to build, fix or create something.
However, after spending a long week hanging drywall on one of their first mission trips, while the children watched from outside, they felt they had missed something.
So after evaluating and praying about their trip, they decided that the impact they wanted to have was to spend time with the staff at the orphanage, to minister to the cooks, houseparent’s and drivers, and to make them feel loved and appreciated.
To learn about the lives and get to know the hearts of those people that God had called to serve their own country by caring for its orphans. To build relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of building walls. To have a mission trip where “the mission” was the focus of the trip.
What is it that differentiates a mission trip from any other kind of humanitarian aid or social work? Perhaps the reason lies in what we call it, a “mission trip”, if so, what is that mission?
For us as believers, the mission is defined in Mathew 28:19 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” for the tens of thousands of Christians who go on foreign mission trips, that is supposed to be the reason. Yet all too often the focus of the trip becomes building a wall, painting a house, installing stoves or water filters in the homes of impoverished locals.
All those things are good, and needed. Many local organizations depend on the kindness, generosity and labor mission teams bring when they come to visit. I think the problem lies in what the priority of the trip becomes.
A core part of the Christian faith is that to live it completely, one is required to demonstrate their faith through their actions. A holistic message of the Gospel often requires attending to the very real lacks of those in need, as Jesus did through his miracle of feeding the 5000 people who had come to hear him speak by multiplying 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish so that all might be filled, instead of just sharing the Gospel and sending them on their way.
The mistake we make, often comes when we prioritize the physical help we think we are bringing, over building the relationships that allow us to bring the spiritual help of the Good News, which is the message of hope, salvation, redemption and restoration to God through the life, death and resurrection of his Son.
So why do so many mission teams emphasize the physical service side of “mission trips”? I think it has to do with our human pride. It’s easy to get people to sign up for a trip where they can feel good about building a wall, painting a building or digging a well. It appeals to our pride to think that we can bring something from our great country to the less developed world and make their lives better.
It’s a lot harder to tell someone to come serve on a trip where the biggest benefit will be the changes in their own life through the things that God wants them to see, feel and learn on their trip and where the biggest change accomplished will be in their lives and not in the lives of those they are going to serve.
Perhaps the blessing that comes about where two or three people of different nations, cultures or tongues, are gathered together in God’s name, as brothers and sisters in Christ to talk, share, pray and worship while their Father is in the midst of them is what a mission trip is really all about.
At the end of the trip, hearing the staff tell the mission team how thankful and appreciative they were for the love, time and attention the staff gave to them, confirmed for me that this is so.