Mission trips that aren’t just trips

Growing up in evangelical culture of the southern part of the United States, I learned a key component of strong Christian faith was the annual practice of going on mission trips.

Based on the Great Commission of Acts 1:8, we’d be challenged by youth pastors to make a service trip each summer, a priority in our schedules. While few would be excited about local mission projects in the inner city of our own city, for example, everyone would consider going somewhere, especially if it was a cool locale with a pool.

The farther away the holier, of course, but usually we could not afford more than an 7-8 hours drive away in one of those rented Greyhound buses. And the more poverty or the greater the population of the “heathen” (like Buddhists, atheists, etc) the more worthwhile too.

Many of my peers at church loved these trips, like I did. They formed the the young adults we were becoming without us truly understanding it at the time. We began to get a glimpse of the world outside the one created for us by our parents and surroundings. We grew in the depth of our relationship with Jesus. All of this is good. So I don’t want sound overly judgmental as I continue . . .

But here is the thing: the results were typical and short lived.

We felt moved by whatever “have nots” we encountered, feeling sorry for our blessings waiting for us back at home. But secretly craving (or not so secretly) our own beds and a hot shower pronto.

We cried on the last day of the trip, sad to leave our new friends, vowing to keep in touch. But losing the contact info page before we got off the bus.

We promised to come home and give away our clothes or shoes that we really didn’t need, only to go shopping at the mall the next weekend.

And so mission trips became just that, a trip — something fun to do with our peers in the summer that left our parents feeling good about the children they’d raised. We weren’t as selfish as the rest. And we had the pictures to prove it.

So here I am in my early 30s having gone on two of these major “missions” trips as a part of my real life the past two months, not some summer jolly ride out of town. And the funny thing is, I find myself expressing some of the same emotions I might have uttered in the 9th or 10th grade when we lodged in inner city Philadelphia.

“The spirit of the Filipino people moved me to tears.”

“The poverty was overwhelming to my eyes.”

“I want to find a way to make my life simpler, to give more.”

But this time, as a grown up, with a long term commitment to an organization that deeply cares about making changes in communities of need, I want things to be different. I want my life to reflect the stories of great need that I have been blessed to see personally. I want this week to not merely be “another” mission trip but just a part of a lifestyle.

How this happens, I still am not sure. But at least for today, I acknowledge the great arrogance and temptation of just another mission trip kind of faith. And hope this season of life will be about learning a new path.

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