I have participated in a number of mission trips in my life. My first major mission trip was when I was in the 8th grade and my youth group spent a week in Mexicali, Mexico. We painted, put on a roof, built a school, and spent time building relationships with each other and with the people that we were serving. I remember seeing really large spiders, the clothes that were stuffed in the walls for insulation, and somehow being able to play volleyball with kids who didn’t speak English (and we spoke very little Spanish). It was the first of many trips to follow—trips that would teach me a lot about people who were different than me, would teach me the value of some hard work, would teach me about myself (and how to put on a roof).
I’ve also had the pleasure of leading a handful of mission trips as a youth leader, and beyond the stress of planning and preparing and being the one ‘in charge’ of getting a group of people from one place to another, what I value most often about being a leader on one of these groups is seeing and hearing how our youth are impacted by their experiences. For me, it is this impact that is so important to our faith development—how we learn to see the world differently, how we are able to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes, how we are able to see the ways that we are interconnected to others and how we have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life, even in a really small way. Mission trips were one of the things that impacted my faith growing up and helped to form me as the type of person who is always looking for the ways that I can make a greater impact in the community and the world.
This year’s mission trip was a little bit different than others I had been on, and I chose this mission trip because I knew it would be different. A lot of mission trips focus more on the mercy side of mission—helping others, building a house, doing some hard work that benefits people, learning a little bit about the culture, and then returning home, often feeling good about what you have done over the week. But this trip was more of an urban ‘immersion’—a chance to do a little bit of work, yes, but to also get more under the surface in order to ask questions about justice—the ‘why’ and ‘what’ questions: Why is there poverty in the city? Why are so many people struggling? Why is there little access to food? Why is unemployment such an issue? Why are people homeless? Why have communities been segregated? What has caused these issues? What can be done to change them? Etc. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone in order to learn about the ways that other people live. It’s about making connections with other people—to learn from them, to build relationships, to see Christ in them, and not to ‘save’ them. It’s the kind of experience that makes you feel uncomfortable, frustrated, and at times angry at the way that our society is, and to inspire to find ways to change it—not just in Chicago, but here at home too.
And I was inspired—not just by the many organizations that we connected with, but also by our students and the questions they asked, the work that they did, and their willingness to put themselves out there and experience all that this trip had to offer. Our students get it, and have a strong desire to make a difference, to improve the lives of those around them, and to find the ways that they can work for God’s justice here on earth. As Micah 6:8 says ‘And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’, may we all see the ways that God is calling us to acts of justice and kindness in our world.