My new book, A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm, is out! As a youth worker, I wholeheartedly believe that mission trips have the ability to impact teens in an incredibly transformative way. However, doing so requires a great deal of thought before, during, and after your trip. A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm guides you through the process of preparing for and leading a mission trip. It equips you theologically and practically for everything you'll need to do a mission trip well, while minimizing long-term harm on the community you seek to serve.
Missions are something I've written a lot about on this blog, but over the next several weeks, I've invited several people - all of whom I've had the privilege of being on a mission trip with - to weigh in on various aspects of mission trips.
Today's guest post is by Lindsey Coleman, someone who grew up in my youth ministry and participated in numerous mission trips with us. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Lindsey is currently pursuing a masters of science in international agricultural development at Texas A&M. Her studies - and interest in the developing world - have led her to do work in various places around the globe including Haiti and most recently, Uganda.
Summer 2011: I knew I liked dogs and wanted to be a doctor. So with as much confidence as any junior in high school could have, I traveled to Rwanda with my high school youth group completely sure my future would include going to college and pursuing a career as a veterinarian.
After two weeks of seeing poverty, working with women with AIDS, playing volleyball with kids, and seeing the inner workings of a refugee camp, I starting to think maybe my calling was bigger than dogs and letters in front of my name.
I have a clear memory of reflecting in Rwanda about how our time there would impact our future. Halfway through our trip, I shared with my team how I wanted to be an international veterinarian, someone who helped animals all over the world. Because of my time in Rwanda I could feel my worldview expanding. I was beginning to understand how big and broken the world is and was starting to feel my call to do something about the brokenness.
While in Rwanda, my thinking changed. When I returned home, my actions changed. I started taking shorter showers because I had seen how some people in Rwanda walked miles for water. I strengthened my crusade to not waste food after seeing malnourished kids. I told anyone who would listen that refugees are the most resilient among us and deserve to be treated with grace and respect.
In high school, I had experienced a lot of other poverty simulations that helped me make these small changes in my day to day life. My experience in Rwanda was different, traveling across the ocean, dancing next to women with HIV, breaking bread with street kids, seeing the joy in the eyes of a refugee as they showed me their garden, or their heartbreak as they told me about their home. THAT is what changed my life, like where I would go to school and what career I would pursue.
Having an international experience is what made a difference for me. Leaving my country, crossing the ocean, and sharing space with people who looked, talked, and lived differently than me helped me understand how big the world is. I learned that while I’m just one person, I have a responsibility to my neighbors across the sea. Throughout my short term mission experience, I was given the opportunity to see the faces of people in poverty and develop a relationship with those in need. I felt called to help people out of poverty because I knew them, I broke bread with them, heard their stories, and connected with their community.
In the years since returning from Rwanda, I’ve continued to try and understand my place in the world. After graduating from high school, I continued to think about Rwanda. I found myself constantly referring to my time in Rwanda and using my experience as a foundation for further learning about development. I majored in animal science, abandoned the vet school path and started asking God what I was supposed to do after college.
Every time I thought about my future job, a part of me would ask “How is this position going to help Natalie in the Rwandan refugee camp grow the few crops in her garden?” or “How is this going to help feed people?”. When no careers felt right, I stumbled on a masters program that would help answer the many questions I had about development and prepare me for the career I was dreaming of: A masters of science in international agricultural development at Texas A&M, a very different academic direction from where I thought I would be in high school.
I’m excited about the path I’m on. My program is awesome and the professors I work with have been around the world and back helping people. But I still have the same questions. I still feel small and overwhelmed by the brokenness of the world. Maybe being open to learning and asking questions was the most valuable thing I learned from my time in Rwanda.
There is a lot I don’t know and there are a lot of complex problems in the world. But I’m committed to learning, to recognizing when I need to sit down and be quiet and when I need to be asking questions and holding people accountable. My trip to Rwanda helped me understand the world, meet new people, and further understand the problems faced by so many. My time in Rwanda inspired me to rethink my future. I’m excited to see how that two-week trip continues to impact a lifetime worth of decisions.
To learn more about how to do short-term missions without long-term harm, order your copy of A Mission That Matters here today!