Why do we go on mission trips? What is it really all about? When you look up mission in the dictionary it says “an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation” or “a sending or being sent for some duty or purpose”. Both of these are great definitions that scratch the surface of why we go on mission trips, but what does the Bible say about why we go? In Mark 16:15 we see Jesus tell His disciples to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”. So we then, as disciples of Jesus, are instructed to do the same thing.
Now that the ‘why’ has been established, let’s focus on the ‘how’ part of mission trips. HOW do we proclaim the gospel to the whole creation? The first and most basic way is to do it verbally. To go somewhere and tell people that they have a heavenly father who loves them and wants to spend eternity with them, and that all they need to do for that to happen is to declare Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and accept Him into their hearts. This is a message filled with such hope and joy and is the answer to the question in Romans 10:14-15 “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” When the story of who Jesus is gets told, it fulfills Acts 1:8 when Jesus says to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”.
But then the question that follows is, what happens if the people you are serving already know who Jesus is? If they’ve previously heard this amazing news, whether it was through people or culture. Is your job done? And if it is, then why go on a mission trip at all? Because stronger than our words TELLING about who Jesus is, are our actions SHOWING who Jesus is.
So in order to show who Jesus is, some action has to be taken; unfortunately the action that is normally taken stems directly from the definition of “mission”, a goal or a task gets assigned and then that is where the focus lands. Actions most definitely speak louder than words, but what happens when there are actions without any words? When the focal point of a mission trip becomes just building a house or fixing a roof? This is the potential pitfall that gets encountered. Did we show who Jesus is by accomplishing a task? No, the task itself is not what demonstrates to others the love of Christ. In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus encounters two sisters, one of whom is distracted by the task at hand, the other who is sitting by His feet listening to Him. All this to say it wasn’t the job Martha was doing that was causing her to stumble; it was her distraction by that job. The project received on a mission trip is most definitely important, so long as it doesn’t become a distraction.
A good way to avoid this is to keep the attention where it should be, on intentional relationships. There is no better way to display the love of Christ than by being relational. It is exactly what Mary was doing when Jesus rebukes Martha. To be relationally driven is to have conversations, to ask people their stories; it’s showing others that it’s not only their needs and wants that are cared for, but for them personally as a child of God.
We had a leader on a mission trip this last week form a very special relationship with the women her group was serving and spent many an afternoon sitting in her house and talking with her. Then on the last day the leader asked the woman if she could wash her hair. It was such a small thing, and it most definitely wasn’t on the “to do” list, but since they had built this relationship it was something that she saw was needed and was able to bless this woman in this way.
If we are able to build a wheelchair ramp for someone but walk away without having had one conversation with them did we really show them the love of Christ? Let’s be centered on the relationships we build, not the tangible ness of what we were able to accomplish. Not only do we bless others when this happens, but we ourselves get blessed. Over the summer here at Mission Discovery there was intentionality not only between the people being served, but also between those who were doing the serving. To walk up to a couple of youth sitting down one afternoon simply sharing their testimonies with one another, to see students and leaders alike purposefully encouraging one another throughout the day, and to hear one girl say that for as long as she’d been going to her church it finally felt like her family; all of these were ways that they were blessed by being fixated on relationships with one another.
So why do we go on mission trips? Is it so we can take pictures of the house we built to be able to go home and show our friends? Or is it about deliberately pouring into people in order to show them Jesus’ love for them through our love for them?
The challenge then is to go out into the world and to not be distracted like Martha, but to be thoughtful with our relationships like Mary.