We currently live in a culture that has a 24-hour news cycle that seems to be filled with nothing but negative elements and danger around the world. You and your students carry phones with constant push notifications in their pockets that bring either joys, laughs or fear regarding the world around them. These images and elements alone often keep people from going and making disciples around the world. We convince ourselves that it is too dangerous, or we simply decide that we don’t have the resources or time and will go “someday.”
While those concerns have some validity, I contend that going on a mission trip with the wrong mindset can be dangerous in other, maybe even more damaging, ways. I encourage you to consider each of these pitfalls that you or your students could find yourself in.
Going on a trip with the mindset of a tourist rather than as a disciple going to fulfill the Great Commission.
At times I hear conversations, both in person and in social media, of people talking a lot more about packing their bags, getting their passport stamped or what they are going to do on their “off” day compared to having a laser focus on the “mission” of their trip. Those details aren’t bad, but it is imperative for short-term missionaries to remember that the time they have is limited and in order to maximize it, the mind must be kept on the mission.
Coming home with pictures of things you built.
Building things is not wrong, but we must remember that the Great Commission is about people. A successful mission is one that keeps that focus. . When we are all gone from this life and enter into the next, buildings will still be here. They are great resources, but they need to be a resource that leads to changed lives. So if you are involved in building projects, take great pictures…just include the people that it helped in your pictures.
Returning talking about what “we” did.
When we answer the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations, we go in His authority and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is imperative for us to invite the Spirit to work in us and through us. As we return and share stories and testimonies, our words should focus much more on what He did than what we did. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Checking your good deeds off your list.
Years ago, I was returning from some work in Honduras. On the plane I was sitting by a young man who was returning from his two-year Mormon mission trip. I enjoyed talking with him about his time in the country and all that entailed. I asked him a question about his return and what he would now do going forward related to his faith and missions. He laughed and said, “I have done my duty. I am now done and get to live my life.” He said his church would see that he did his work and then he will be free. I found it an interesting response, but while it might not be said in those exact words, we often say the same with our lives. We go on mission trips and feel we did something valuable, maybe even something we were “called” to do, but that was the end of it. We have done our duty, our good turn and our mission, and now we can go back to our lives and our control. This is a trap. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4
Not being able to re-engage in a healthy way.
When you see God move it should affect you. It should cause a stirring of the soul that desires to see that change on a regular basis. Sometimes returning from a mission trip can be frustrating because you want everyone else to “get it” and the realization that they have not seen or experienced what you did becomes very clear. They continue to focus on their day-to-day lives and while your body is present, your mind is still back with some kids in an African village or with your new friends in Asia or wherever you served. Your mind plays a continuous album of photos in your head. You dream of just going back or think of plans to sell everything you have and move. The deep thinker Dr. Seuss said it well, “Don’t be sad it is over. Be glad it happened.” While we should always live a missional life, sometimes that has us serving in a different context and other times it has us right where God has planted us within our home culture. Don’t just dream about going on a mission trip again; step into the reality that as Christ-followers, you and I were called to live a life on mission regardless of where we are.
I encourage you to be careful not to let yourself fall into these dangers. More importantly, don’t let these potential dangers keep you and/or your students from going on a mission trip altogether. In Luke 9:23, Jesus gives the charge: “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” As a Christ-follower you are commanded to die to yourself and the desires of your flesh. I am convinced that there is no greater reward than following Jesus. With your heart and mind constantly set on Jesus, the dangers of coming home from a mission trip won’t even be an issue. Take him at His Word. Follow Him to the ends of the earth and keep your eyes on Him. And as we go through that journey, bring your students along with you!