While watching the High School youth tell about their mission trip experience, I took some time to reminisce about one of the trips I took as a youth. There are certain words which come to mind when I recall my 7th-grade mission trip.
Hot is definitely one of them. See, we traveled to North Carolina in the middle of the Summer. I can’t remember if it was June or July, it doesn’t really matter. We worked outside in 90+ degree heat with 90%+ humidity. This was a time before a “heat index,” but I remember it feeling as if it was somewhere between “Death Valley” hot and “Surface of the Sun” hot.
Tiring is another. I was tired in the conventional way what with the aforementioned heat, but also in different way. In my mind, I must have spent something like 3 days scraping and painting a picket fence for an elderly woman whose entire house had fallen in disrepair. Three days of bending, squatting, scraping, covering myself with white paint (I wasn’t very good). I’m still tired of picket fences. I made a vow then, never will I have a white picket fence!
The final word which comes to mind is compassion. Sure, I like to pump myself every once in awhile and remind myself the compassion I showed on the trip, but that’s not what I remember. I remember the compassionate high schoolers putting up with a whining 7th-grader (me). I remember the compassionate church members who helped pay for us to go by buying our flowers and our junk (we had a rummage sale). I remember the compassionate North Carolinians who housed us and allowed us to work with them. I remember the compassionate sponsors taking vacation from their jobs to help instill a sense of service to people as the hands and feet of Christ’s body, that is the Church.
Lots of things happen on mission trips. Youth groups are able to bond with one another because they are forced into close proximity. Youth themselves grow because they are exposed to situations outside fo their comfort zones. Mentor/mentee relationships are formed through impromptu conversations and heartfelt discussions. But maybe the most important thing mission trips can do is help lay the foundation for a life lived in compassion, a life of following Christ.
“Following Christ is not just about being nice; it is about living heroically, compassionately…Compassion is rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the self-giving of God’s own son. It is a life lived on behalf of the other, life risked on behalf of the neighbor, love incarnated in sacrificial self-giving.” (The Godbearing Life by Dean and Foster, 154)
If nothing else happens on a mission trip, it is successful if that foundation for following Christ is laid. It was for me.
Thanks be to God.