- I went on my first "mission trip" with my mom and sisters when I was 11, which would be 20 years ago. We spent 3 weeks with some friends of ours, a young couple with a brand new baby, in a very small house in Guatemala. Since then, I have done short term missions at least once or twice a year, until I started having kids. Then it stopped completely! I hope and pray that each of those trips, both local, national, and international, furthered the work of the missionary/local church in a meaningful way. But if we are to be honest, it is oftentimes as much about us being changed as it is about changing the world. And I am completely ok with that. There is alot of talk about the purpose and effectiveness of short term mission trips (not $130 to go to Omaha for the weekend, but tens of thousands of $$ to send a group overseas). That is a conversation for another day. But I appreciated how clearly the focus of this weekend was communicated. We knew we were going to visit many different types of inner city ministries, tour them, hear the testimonies of how they began and what God is doing through them, and get outside our comfort zones. Then to pray and meditate, both privately and corporately, about where our passions, gifts, and callings lie. Everybody knew that what we wanted to accomplish was not to save all of inner city Omaha in one weekend, but to humbly watch and learn from those amazing ministers of the Gospel who live and breathe inner city ministry, not to get in their way, and then to go home and do something ourselves and/or organize a long term partnership.
- As you see, I have no pictures to share. This was a camera free trip. I thought this was a great idea. We weren't going to the zoo. The places we visited and the people we had the honor of meeting and serving were not exhibits 1, 2, and 3 of our great missionary service. They may not have wanted to be plastered up in front of a church as the generic homeless alcoholic. Also, it saved an awful lot of time! And nobody was relieved of their I Phone (aka mugged) throughout our travels. Always a plus.
- We had 20 in our group, from a 4 yr old up to a few among the older crowd. 3 kids, 3 youth, 3 college students, and a mish mash of adults. Some got connected with our church because of Celebrate Recovery, and have testimonies of overcoming alcohol and other addictions. Many were on their first mission trip. Then you had people like me and the pastor's wife, with significant ministry and cross cultural experience. It was really interesting! I was nervous, to be honest; but really, shouldn't the serving/evangelism/outreach arm of the body be representative of the entire body? It was a good experience. (I do think it is important to have clear communication and expectations regarding young children on mission trips. Will there be a child-free van, for those who don't want a roadtrip with little kids? If space is an issue and the parent is also sharing a room with another adult, does everybody know ahead of time? Are there any activities which would not be appropriate for them to participate in? I am all for family mission trips. But it does change the dynamics, and everybody needs to know that up front.)
- There are many different stripes of evangelicals out there, we all know. And I believe we only have to agree on the most basic of basics to call others our brothers and sisters in Christ. But that does not, however, mean we all go about ministry the same way. Unless you are participating in something through your denomination, be prepared for many different styles of leadership, worship, and even theology. I remember being on a mission trip when the whole group was questioning my salvation, and my calling into missions, because I did not practice praying in tongues and I had never seen firsthand or personally experienced a faith healing. (Not Southern Baptists, obviously ;-). This can get tricky, because we feel very strongly about the way we live out our faith. If we are proselytizing, it becomes even trickier. Just because I agree you and I are both true believers, doesn't mean I need to support the way you do ministry. So, if I come up against, say, an organization that 1. is huge, and centered around one single man, and every church plant has to listen to him, as they have for the past 50 odd years 2. asks for your money because it will cause God to bless you financially in return 3. promises physical healings as a mark of your salvation and God's blessing on you, I don't feel like I have to jump on the bandwagon to support you. Even if we are thrown together on a mission trip. Keep your antenna up. Just sayin.
- We ALL have comfort zones. And we ALL need to get out of them occasionally. Please don't ask me why I hold this opinion. Honestly, I'm not sure why. I just think so. That being said, they are all different. (Thank God! It would be bad if we were all nervous about the same things.) Some people in our group didn't want to pray out loud. Others didn't want to talk in front of people. Others were uncomfortable being the only white face in an all black church service. Others didn't really know how to approach a street person, or were unsure about going through the heavy security into a detention center, and hearing the door click behind them. And then there's me. Being the odd duck that I am, not of that bothered me, because none of it was new to me. You know what I didn't like? The van ride! Having a roommate! (Which actually was fine, because I had a friend go, and we stayed together.) Staying in dormitories and walking down the hall to the bathroom. And all that kumbaya circle time that is so popular on mission trips. (I know, I know. I should be ashamed of myself.) And doing all this living in community with people I barely know, instead of my tall dark and handsome trusty sidekick, with whom I regularly exchange inside jokes. Like I said, we all have our things. I survived, and now I can get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom and drag myself to the coffee maker in the morning, in a grumpy blur with my pyjamas on, and only have my family for an audience.
- Be prepared for a difficult mixture of guilt and conviction. (This kind of thing often brings more questions than answers. Or is that just for me?) Sitting in church, my stomach started grumbling. Not all that uncommon. But I was not surrounded by my lovely clean, presentable regular church family, who were going home to old fashioned Sunday dinners, out to enjoy pizza buffets or brunch at Perkins, or even just to clean out the leftovers in the fridge. I was surrounded by homeless people, prostitutes, addicts, and other societal fringe people. And I bet they were all hungry. (Many of them were probably only there because of the hot lunch served after, and the grocery bags available to take home.) The kind of hungry that I have never and will never experience. What to do in this situation? I don't do hungry. Or cold. I thought all weekend long, I would make a terrible homeless person. I can't stand being hungry. I eat every 2 hours. Our whole group jumped in the van and pulled out our granola bars and such that we had packed earlier, after being notified that we wouldn't be eating lunch till 2. So ate our snacks, then we ate lunch after the second church service, then we stopped at the gas station for snacks on our 4 hr ride home, then we ate supper when we got home. And who knows, we may have had snacks before we went to bed. And since I was cold, I cranked the heat up before falling into my soft bed with my clean pillow. How do we, as imitators of Christ, live with ourselves? I am not here to drag us on a guilt trip. But really? My Friday nights are basically defined by eating myself sick on pizza and Ben and Jerry's. Why is this necessary? And my definition of sacrificing is when we get the giant pail of store brand ice cream, because the other is about 5x as expensive. Please, nobody give me the sarcastic, what do you want, then, do you think we should move into a one bedroom apartment and eat beans and rice for every meal? That's just stupid. There is a world of sacrifice in between. Is it enough that I actually have sold (nearly) all my earth possessions to go serve the poor? Yay me! Or maybe there is something more about somehow identifying with the millions upon millions of people who are hungry, every day of their lives. here's just one idea
- Just because I have been, at times, discouraged by the lack of long term change when I have dabbled in various ministries such as homeless shelters, at-risk youth, getting out of poverty, teen pregnancies, prison bible study, or other things, does not mean that people are not changing and turning their lives completely around every day. Yes, I know the statistics can be depressing; and people have huge obstacles to overcome to get to a place of health, wholeness, peace, and financial stability, but it happens. These obstacles are not insurmountable. Horribly abusive home situations. Countless felonies. Relapse upon relapse. The vicious cycle of poverty. God's heart is for those people! He is reaching down into the garbage dumps of our country, picking people up, washing them clean, and setting their feet on a new path! And then He is using those exact same people to be His ambassadors of reconciliation in these vile places. Where sin abounds, grace and love abound more. Just because you and I may have never stuck around long enough to see it, it doesn't mean it isn't happening!
- Don't be hatin'. Yes, people take advantage of welfare and other helps all the time. It is a broken system. (I would like to point out that it probably was never the government's job in the first place, but the church's. anyways. . . ) But the common causes of homeless and other things are very strong forces in people's lives. Addictions, mental health, and veterans, I think those are the most common reasons. Often a combination. Be involved in helping someone towards a long term solution if you can. At the very least, show compassion on them in a temporary way, when your path's cross. But please don't ever brush somebody off because you think there is no hope for them. You have no idea what brought them to that place. I'm glad you are such a strong person, that you would never allow yourself to get into the place that they're in. More power to you. But is that really the point? You may think, my $5 is not going to change his life, so why do it? You're right. It won't. But neither is it going to ruin his life. So why don't we just go ahead and do it, instead of holding back in all our righteous indignation?
I have rambled much too long, I know. I would just encourage you to be on the front lines somewhere. And even if it isn't your thing, if you are involved somewhere else, take the time to learn about and pray for and fellowship with those involved in another fight, on another battle ground, in this war. The enemy wants to keep people in slavery, both literal and figurative. he wants to keep them hurting, lost, trapped in sin and addiction. hungry and cold, with no hope of a different life. he glories when child abuse happens. when a young person commits a crime that lands him in prison and alters his entire future. when an addict relapses into another months-long binge that destroys his family. he laughs when gang violence kills innocent people. This makes me so angry! We need to get mad. Spitting mad. Those people dont' belong to him. They belong to Jesus. I know he has already lost the overall war. But I want him to lose more battles along the way. battles for real people. People Christ loves. Let's battle for those people.