This June, I spent five days working with a small group of young adults on a mission trip doing flood recovery outside Lyons, Colorado.
We pried off branches, logs, and parts of cars that had wrapped themselves around trees; hauled out debris that had washed downriver – everything from kitchen sinks to elk antlers; we ate our lunch in the shade and watched twenty or more hummingbirds sip nectar from their feeders; we climbed up ladders to get to the bridges that folks used to drive over; we began the process of putting in insulation for a new floor in a hundred-year-old cabin that the flood waters had washed right through.
We laughed, we prayed, we showered in a rec center, cooked in a church kitchen, and slept on the floor. We talked with home owners who had lost everything but were still gracious in welcoming us in to their lives. We were blessed, our lives enriched, our legs scratched, and our hearts touched.
As I think about this trip and others, I think I am the luckiest person around. Mission trips help me keep this sense of perspective in my life. As a youth, I never went on a mission trip, but as an adult I’ve gone on over twenty trips with youth and young adults. Not many adults get to say that – as adults, we don’t usually have time for mission trips. Maybe that needs to change.
We know that mission trips are about service to others, but most of us find that we receive much more than we give when serving. So, here are five reasons why everyone of any age should find time for a mission trip:
1. Become a part of a new community. When we move outside our everyday lives we are blessed with the opportunity to meet new people, develop new relationships and sometimes walk just a little way on someone else’s path. Whether it’s the people on our work team or the community that we are serving, we experience God through new friendships and relationships.
2. Live off the grid. Often mission trips take us to remote areas with limited or no cell service or internet. This chance to disconnect from technology may be uncomfortable at first, but as the days go by we learn to enjoy the moment a little more. With fewer distractions, we can practice listening for God with more intention.
3. Learn to look at time in a different way. Most of us live by the clock, checking our calendar throughout the day to see what’s next, worrying about being on time and getting everything done. When we move into mission trip mode we often find we must learn to look at time in a different way. Whether we are serving overseas, on an Indian reservation, or even in an urban area, we may find not everyone views time like we do. The schedule that says we’ll be starting at 9:00 a.m. may turn out to be more like 9:45 or 10:00. The Vacation Bible School which has been planned for each morning may have to be moved to the afternoon if the culture’s schedule doesn’t begin each day at 6:00 a.m. sharp. It can be a blessing to be forced to slow down for a few days and experience a different way of looking at time. It can also be quite frustrating – but if we relax and adapt, the blessing usually outweighs the frustration.
4. Embrace being uncomfortable. Often we move away from our comfort zones on a mission trip. We sleep on the floor, wait in line for showers, cook our own meals and clean up our own mess, work in the heat, and eat peanut butter sandwiches every day for a week. Our water bottles are often filled with lukewarm water – we’d kill for a few ice cubes. We eat, sleep, bathe, and dress in community, surrounded all day every day by other people. We learn to adjust to one another’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, from early morning growled hellos to snores that keep us awake at night. And somehow through this, we learn to love one another in spite of or because of these things that make us all human.
5. Draw closer to God. Living without the luxuries of home often makes us take notice of the blessings in our lives, from ice water on a hot afternoon to hot coffee in the morning to wake us up. Moving out of our everyday routines allows God to get our attention more easily. The sun rising from behind a mountain butte on a cool morning shakes us awake, while a black sky full of more stars than we thought possible fills us with awe for a universe that seems unending. Before we know it, we are seeing God everywhere we look, and signs of God’s grace are abundant.
So if you haven’t been on a mission trip before, or haven’t done one in a while, maybe next summer is the time! It may only be September, but it’s not too early to start thinking about the difference a “volunteer vacation” might make in your life. I’m planning mine – want to come?
Rev. Debra is planning two mission trips to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming for summer of 2015: a trip in June will be specifically for young adults (18-30s), and one in August is mainly for clergy and those in the ordination process. The focus of both trips will be on listening, learning, and building bridges of understanding with Native residents. Check out our Events & Opportunities page for details!