Once upon a time, going on a mission trip wasn’t about taking a selfie. If you were alive back then, you may remember how boring this was. One or two people on the trip might have been snapping photos through a now-archaic rectangular device that used film. Everyone else was all-in to share the gospel of Jesus on the trip. Or they signed up because someone incredibly hot they knew had signed up too.
But it was all about Jesus. Although some practical needs had to be met in the foreign lands, there was a definitive emphasis on helping the lost become found.
And yes, this was boring…at least in the sense we’d define it today. It wasn’t possible to set up a time-lapse shot of how spiritually lost a person was and then, in a matter of a day’s work, how spiritually found they were. But it was holy, so we did it to honor God.
“Let the people get their practical needs met another way,” we reasoned. “Isn’t that what humanitarian aid is all about? The Red Cross or someone will probably be here soon.”
As you can see, there were gaps.
Flash-forward to what many trips have become these days. We’ve embraced “voluntouring” as a new substitute.
It sounds like a mission trip, in that you see a need somewhere else. You find sponsors to help get you there. You then use a week of vacation and show up to “do some work.” It’s more exciting now because you can take photos and upload them right away (because your mission hosts make sure to provide WiFi). This helps you connect with the incredibly hot person who signed up because you can tag them in your photos as subtle flirting.
You have every right to complain if you can’t do what you signed up to do…or if the sleeping/shower conditions aren’t what you assumed. You’ll be spending a week away from home, but you’ve already wasted a day on travel. And you had to make sure the locals knew how tough it was to fly in. Subtract another travel day home, and you’re left with a few days to get a selfie of actual work because you need to use the other two days to sample local food, buy something cultural, or visit the beach. Maybe at some point (and only if you’re up for it), you’ll engage in a “spiritual” conversation with your group. But any praying is done silently; after all, praying out loud is something else you didn’t sign up for.
As you can see, there are gaps.
What if it were possible to take the best of both worlds and ditch the blind spots?
To be honest, I’ve seen it done well only by organizations that understand the whole purpose of any type of trip or ministry is to be Jesus-centered and to cause transformation. By transformation, we’re talking about guiding participants and recipients into defining moments with Jesus while doing important work that practically transforms a home, city, or region.
- People need Jesus. They have to make a very real decision about eternity. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14)
- People need care. They’re facing a very real hurdle in their corner of the world.
This is tough to balance, so let me be blunt: Out of all the organizations I’ve worked with throughout the years, Group Missions nails this. No organization is perfect, including this one. But Group makes an amazing spiritual investment in the lives of young people and adults on the trip. It also has a solid infrastructure in place for spiritual and tangible transformation to occur.
And yes, some appropriate downtime is scheduled, too. Participants need this to bond as a team or to let God soften their heart for the people they’re serving.
What if the holy and the human overlap on your next trip? I’m confident that God’s Kingdom will be healthier for it.