We in the church often spend a lot of time debating (or even fighting) one another over a variety of different issues. Among them?
Whether or not short-term mission trips are worth it.
Trust me, I know short-term trips are expensive. I just spent the better part of a year raising money for the two trips my ministry took this summer: A domestic trip to Milwaukee, which is located less than two hours away from where I live, and a two-week trip to Rwanda, Africa.
Despite their cost, I wholeheartedly believe that mission trips - when done well - are worthwhile.
To be clear, I don't think the “work” that's accomplished while on a mission trip is what makes it worthwhile. To the contrary, oftentimes, I think the “work” done on mission trips can actually be harmful. After all, when we “work” - building a school, church, or even a bathroom – we take away jobs from skilled laborers who need them.
Instead, the reason why I believe so strongly in mission trips is because of the ways in which they shape people's worldviews. By exposing teens to issues of injustice as well as ways in which people are creatively fighting those injustices, we shape how people think. When we shape how people think, the impact of a short-term mission trip continues long after we return home.
I was reminded of this earlier this week, when my Rwanda team met to debrief our trip. As part of this debrief, students participated in an activity called Then and Now from Deep Justice Journeys , a book that's an absolute treasure trove of resources for anyone involved in short-term mission work. In this activity, students shared their attitudes about a variety of things before their justice experience. They then contrasted them with their attitude about the same thing after their justice experience.
In response to a question about her family, one student said, “I used to see my family as well-off and busy. Now I view my family as people who can help.”
Another said, “I used to think of my friends as people to hang out with. Now I realize my friends are people who can change the world.”
Sure, there's a lot of teenage optimism embedded in those answers. But such statements also reflect a dramatic shift in attitude, a shift that never would have occurred without our recent mission trip.
Maybe such attitude shifts seem minor to you.
Take it from me, they're not.
They represent a shift from deficit thinking, to asset-based thinking.
When teens start to view the world not in terms of it's problems, but rather in terms of the assets they have to overcome those problems, real change can and will happen.