By Jeff Bachman / Mariner’s Church / Mission Viejo, California
I am not a missionary, but I do go on mission trips. Since I spend as much time traveling to and from the mission field than actually being on the mission field, I thought I would share some lessons that I’ve learned from crossing borders.
- Everything is negotiable. When we were coming home from a ministry trip to Mexico, we were all on a mission trip high. The students were proud of the work they had done. Our final task was to wait in line to get back into the United States. While we were in our vehicle and waiting, many Mexican vendors were trying to sell us their wares. (Did you know you could get a goat taco brought right to your car?) Whether the item for sale was food, velvet paintings, or ceramic statues of Spiderman, the original asking price was not what we paid. This may not change your life, but I often ask more questions in those situations. Don’t be cantankerous, but what you see is not always what you get. There is always an option “B” – or at least a better price on option “A.”
- Lesson 1B is: Goat tacos cause VIOLENT vomiting.
- The mission field is wherever you are. Nothing takes longer than getting out of a country that you had to fill out paperwork to get into. The authorities want to make sure that everything that was in their country when you started your trip is still there (minus a goat taco or two.) Some of the best conversations with teenagers can happen while waiting in line of cars to declare that you have nothing to declare. You have a captive audience! If your students don’t sit quietly, they may end up singing a new national anthem as their own. Engage them in conversation. What excites them about the upcoming adventures? Why are they going? What did they learn? One of the richest reasons for these trips is the fellowship dynamics that come from time in a car together. The border provides that for you.
- Are you going on the trip to serve, or to shock? Sadly, many of my early trips were for the shock and awe of going to a third world country; not for the love and compassion of seeing others introduced to Christ. I often found myself taking a sick delight, as we waited to enter Mexico, of looking in my rearview mirror at the faces of the first-timers. There has to be a balance. In the process of this being a life-changing experience for your own group, make sure you never loose sight of the people you are ministering to.
- Is this the best use of your time? The last trip that I went on had a profound impact on my view of mission trips. We were doing the typical line crawl where we rolled a car length every five-to-eighty minutes. We were enjoying the local food and sights, and we were interacting with each other and the people in the country as we left from a great mission trip. As I sat there, fighting the temptation to order another goat taco, I realized that I had just spent more time traveling in a van to minister to people that I have very little contact with for another 51 weeks of the year. My neighbor doesn’t know Christ, and yet I have just spent the last four months preparing for this trip. I would never discount the value of mission trips, but each one should be approached with care and caution. Ask yourself why you are doing this trip. Are you empowering the locals, including long-term missionaries, to not count on your traveling once-a-year show? This is not the “Don’t Go” part, but it is a begging from youth pastor to youth pastor to make sure you are using what God has given you to the best of your ability.
There is much to be learned during the actual trips, but don’t sell short the time spent coming and going from the mission field. There is wisdom in this time that could change your life.
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