Mission Trips

In two weeks, I’ll be taking a group of church members on a mission trip. Have I already mentioned the waves of nostalgia this offers? If so, I’m sorry. I’m going to repeat myself. In planning and leading this trip, I can’t stop thinking about my time serving as short-term missionary with the United Church of Christ program Faithful Advocates Serving Together. For 10 weeks, I hosted the incoming groups that came to paint, demolish, rebuild and wonder. Part of the commitment to that week-long trip was to learn about economic justice. This wasn’t something that all of the groups had truly absorbed when they had made the commitment to come to Appalachia. But that didn’t matter. It was my job to remind them that this was part of the covenant. Through prayer and study, we would try to understand how we truly could change the world with God’s love.

The problem was that this meant we had to talk about money. Church people are nice people. We talk about nice things like love and kindness. We don’t like to talk about dirty things like money. Moreover, church people don’t always grasp that the gospel is supposed to make us uncomfortable. We’re supposed to squirm with Jesus’ teachings. We’re supposed to wrestle with our own place in the world. And we’re especially meant to meet that struggle when we swoop in for one week to help the poor people that can’t help themselves. (Sarcasm intended.) 

I was brainwashed through this program that I lead so many years ago. I was immersed into the teachings of  my Christ who actually talked more about the dirty things than the nice things. Jesus talks more about money than anything else and forces us to wrestle with how that money should be distributed. I’m talking to you Congress but I openly admit that I’m struggling with this polite talk about money as I prepare to lead these faithful stewards on a mission trip in a mere two weeks. Personally, I find myself examining my spending more carefully. I’m aware of where my own finances are uplifting my hope for justice and where I am spending in ways that are not helping my poorer neighbors. I further admit that I like to shop. It’s an issue — and a little embarrassing. I know that the ways I spend my money are more powerful than the ways that I vote. In fact, the ways that I spend my money reflect my own prayers. I’m not saying I have it all figured out. I’d be lying. I don’t.

This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two MinistersI’ve just finished Lillian Daniel’s chapter entitled Money Off the Shelf in This Odd and Wondrous Calling which points out some of my own issues. It makes me squirm to read these words. I am after all a church person. It is not entirely comfortable for me to talk about money — but when I do, I usually talk about the injustices of money. I worry about the distribution of wealth and how we can ever right that wrong. The problem is that that’s still outward. I’m not giving myself the much-needed space to realize that the way I choose to engage that injustice is actually in my spending. I want to figure out how to share my total discomfort with this fact. 

When I think of going on a mission trip, I’m going away to try to recommit myself to justice. I’m taking the time to retreat from the daily injustices that are so banal that I don’t see them clearly so that I can come back with new eyes. I don’t think that mission trips are about the work that we do while we’re away. As a short term missionary, I watched the supervisors fix the hard work that well-meaning groups have just completed. I even rolled up my own unskilled sleeves a couple of times to help out. (I know. I’m sorry if you didn’t want to hear that.) For me, mission trips aren’t about that work we do while we’re away. It’s not about the rooms we painted or the porch we built or the floor we replaced. They are about the people we meet and how we rediscover ourselves. For me, I know that one of the things I’m discerning is how to talk about my own faith struggles with the people I serve. I’m going on this trip to have intentional time to admit I am overwhelmed by the needs in our community. I want to do more than offer my time in the soup kitchen. I truly want to believe that we can change the world because this Christ figure I know and love says it can happen that way. I want to remember that truth. I want to feel it in my bones.

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