From Eliecer Barrantes, Youth Director
When Abby and I worked together leading mission trips in Fresno and in Easton, CA we were often asked the question, “Why mission trips?” After much reflection and many conversations, the article below was the response that Abby formulated and shared with the congregations. As part of our current church community, I encourage you to read this article and begin to think about your perspective on missions, and how our congregation can move forward in such endeavors. As an individual, I encourage you to read this, and pray about God’s possible call to you for mission work. If you feel such a calling, or just want to be part of the conversation, please join us for an informational meeting about the up-coming Costa Rica mission trip, projected for summer 2013. The meeting will take place on Sunday September 16th, immediately following the church service, in the youth room. Please note that due to the fact this will be our first international mission trip we are requesting participants be 18 years of age and above.
A Call to Missions; A Call to Community
By Abby Barrantes
Mission trips are a common occurrence among churches in the United States. In fact, throughout history Christians have sent missionaries into other countries and lands to spread the name of Christ. The Presbyterian denomination has an impressive history of such work. But as I have explored and experienced missions over the past 18 years I have seen a change in the definition, a change in the vision, and a change in the focus.
As Americans it is our nature to want to step in and help, to bring our resources to those less fortunate. We feel good about helping, building, assisting and doing. As a country we have vast amounts of money and resources compared to those in other countries. Mission trips of the past have been approached, all be it with good intentions, with the mindset that we have more so let’s go give what we have to “those poor people”. Though it is true that we have much to share, and also true that it is important that we share it, when we approach it with the mindset of “those people” we are distancing ourselves from those we are helping, keeping ourselves “above” them, so to speak, and denying ourselves the opportunity to experience true mission work. We also foster, in some cases, an unhealthy dependency where those we go to are always looking for a hand-out.
Christ was the first missionary, and he was all about relationships, not hand-outs. Did he provide for the needs of those he encountered? Absolutely! But more importantly, he listened to them, spoke with them, lived among them, celebrated with them, mourned with them, became a part of their lives. I believe that if we are to truly follow Christ’s example, our mission work, including short-term mission trips, needs to follow such an example.
Short term mission trips, such as the ones to Mexico and Costa Rica, provide our young people and adults with the opportunity to share their gifts and talents, sometimes in ways they were not even aware of. It gives them a chance to step outside of their comfort zone of everyday life and lifestyle and really reflect on their situation compared to that of the people around the world. These trips provide an opportunity for relationships to be built and for us to begin to break down the walls of “us” and “them”, the “rich Americans” and the “poor People”. When you can begin to connect on a basic human level to someone who speaks another language, lives in another country and has a whole different culture, we no long are “us” and “them”, we are “we”. We are brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and dear, dear friends. And instead of fostering an unhealthy dependency, it fosters a healthy community where we all come to the table with our gifts and talents and work together for the glory of God. A call to missions is not a call to go do something for somebody else; it is a call to go be in community with that person, learn their needs and their gifts and see where God can use your gifts together to further his kingdom.
Many ask the question “Why go to another country when there is so much need here in our own?” I completely agree that there is a tremendous need in the United States. I applaud local missions and outreach; they get it. They understand the importance of reaching out to your own community. That is the ultimate goal of short term mission trips, that our young people would return with a desire to reach back out to their own communities. But sometimes we have to step out of our own comfort zones to gain the perspective we need to come back and do missions in our own community.
My life was changed forever when I first crossed that border into Mexico 18 years ago. It sparked in me a vision and desire to serve God I previously did not possess. Mission trips change our lives, provide us with the chance to explore our gifts, and create hearts of service willing to be used by God whether they are in another country or here in the United States.