"Missions tourism" is a term going around these days. It expresses the idea that Christians are going overseas to enjoy the warm climate, gawk at people living in poverty, snap photos, and mostly, to feel good about themselves.
I don’t know what mission trips people are talking about when they refer to “missions tourism.” In my experience, short-term mission trips are neither easy nor fun. They are difficult —really, really difficult. Working to raise the funds, leaving the comfort of your own home, spending long days communicating through translators, working outdoors in the heat of the day, learning things that don’t fit with the worldview you arrived with—almost everything about mission trips can make us uncomfortable.
I have gotten to know some of the most amazing people that I have ever encountered while on short-term mission trips. I have seen God at work like never before. I have learned some of life’s most important lessons about humility, listening, and grace. There is something to be said for being uncomfortable and it’s potential to help us see God. That is what missions offer us.
But missions aren’t, for the most part, about us.
Two years ago, I went on a mission trip to Mexico. It was late in the evening, and we had just spent a long day driving, working, and listening. Our team was tired, and we showed it.
A family from the church that was hosting us opened their home to our team and went to stay with relatives. But their home was small, too small for sixteen North Americans in my view. It was humid. It was hot. Like the Israelites before us, we started grumbling amongst ourselves.
That is when one of our leaders stepped in. He was kind and pastoral, but essentially, he told us, “Get over it. This isn’t about you. This is about them.”
I think we frequently need that reminder, and not just when on a mission trip.
Short-term mission trips are rich, rewarding, and ripe with the potential to have a long-term impact on those who engage in them. But more importantly, missions are about seeing God at work in other places, and joining God in this work by learning from and serving with others. That is why it is critical that short-term mission trips be designed well.
Changed for Life is a new, free, downloadable online resource from the CRC and RCA that equips short-term mission teams, the hosts who receive them, and the congregations who send them, to craft a well-organized mission experience with the potential to catalyze lifelong change.
Through videos, activities, and reflections, established voices in cultural intelligence and missions Kurt Ver Beek, Jo Ann Van Engen, and David Livermore, along with writer Lisa Van Engen, have created Changed for Life to provide short-term mission teams with quality materials that engage all participants and keep long-term goals in mind. They are materials designed specifically for the purpose of doing missions well, and doing life well after the mission trip.
I am not ready to give up on mission trips. I hope that you are not, either. God still has great things to do through us.