I wasn't thinking of mission trips during Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn't until this morning that the idea of missions – specifically Christian missions - came to mind, when I was packing leftovers to take home. We had a lot more leftover food than normal. And as someone who grew up in the 1980s, I immediately thought of the “starving kids in Africa” line that parents of my generation used until it was almost meaningless. That's what made me think of missions, and then I started wondering about our motivation for taking part in Thanksgiving and in Christian missions.
The motivation behind Thanksgiving is that most of us have pretty rich lives, and that we should show appreciation for that by sharing with others. The funny thing about Thanksgiving is that it seems a little selfish. Aren't we using the pretense of saying “thanks” in order to reward ourselves with a feast? The same applies to mission work: The idea is that God has blessed us with material and spiritual gifts, and we give our thanks by sharing our time and resources. But when we go to an impoverished community in the Bahamas to help build a church, aren't we also enjoying a trip to an exotic destination?
I tend to fear thoughts like this because I'm terrified of being hedonistic. John Piper discusses the idea in his book Desiring God. Piper suggests that it's simply not in human nature to have truly pure motives for serving God. But that doesn't mean that we can't take pleasure in the blessings that result from that service. So Piper would probably argue that it's okay for us to sit down with our Christian brothers and sisters, say a genuine prayer of thanks, and enjoy food and Godly fellowship. And I think he would argue that it's just as okay to enjoy a Caribbean sunset at the end of a long day working on a new church building.
The truth is that mission work should be enjoyable. God created us to serve Him and to share His love, and consequently, that kind of service isn't usually unpleasant. Nervousness about serving unfamiliar people on a domestic missions trip to rural Mississippi can turn into an incredibly rich experience when we realize how much we can learn from each other. Likewise, laboring alongside locals on a hot Honduran rooftop, we're likely to find ourselves getting true enjoyment out of our shared experience.
Next Thanksgiving, consider bringing something else to the dinner table: Maybe you can bring stories of how you've grown from your decision to volunteer abroad. Or maybe you'll bring fresh perspective from serving Christ in the United States. Either way, you'll be able to share the enjoyment that such service brought to you. And we will bet you find that spiritual fulfillment more lasting than turkey and dressing.
It’s never too early to start praying about your next missions trip. Whether you choose to do work in the US, or to volunteer abroad, you’ve got plenty of options with Mission Discovery. Please don’t hesitate to visit our website to see the variety of mission trips we have available for all ages, genders, and lengths of time. Now is the time to start planning for a mission trip with Mission Discovery.