Among Christian circles, especially ones focused on missions, you often hear people say that the person going on the mission trip has a much more life changing experience than the people they’re going to visit. In other words, even though the “missionary” is going for the purpose of eternally impacting lives for Christ, it is believed that in actuality, the missionary is the only one whose life is greatly impacted. The thought behind this theory is that when you go on a mission trip, you’re leaving your home, job, family, friends and normal schedule and are thrown into a new, foreign and interesting place. Meeting new people and seeing how different their lives are from your own is impactful and stays in your memory for decades to come. For the people being visited though, in this case the people of Japan, they are staying in their home, job and normal schedule for the most part, and we will just barely interrupt their status quo.
While we will remember the people, places, events and conversations from our trip for years to come, the people we meet will quickly revert back to their routine and maybe one day they’ll say something like, “Remember those people from that country that did that thing? The guy was really handsome and the girl was always eating oatmeal? Remember them? Yeah, me neither.” Maybe this will happen. Hopefully not.
While I appreciate the humility in admitting the missionary is benefited more than those they’re attempting to minister to, this mindset has always rubbed me the wrong way. If this were totally true, then what the heck are we doing out there and why are we even bothering? Don’t get me wrong, I’m stoked to visit Japan, but I would never take my only two weeks of vacation to go there if I didn’t believe that God can do great things through me during my stay — things that make a real difference in the everyday lives of people, things that change the eternal destiny of people. I believe God can do these great things through me not because of me, but because of Him. The only thing I bring to the table is my availability, and luckily that is often enough for God to work.
Though I agree the missionary often has life changing experiences on mission trips, I can’t agree that they are the only ones whose lives are changed. When I think about my mission trip to Australia in 2008, I vividly remember how over-the-moon the Aussies were to see the Crews family. Various members of the Crews family have been going on mission trips to Australia annually for several years, and there’s no doubt they’ve made an impact. A big impact. People cry when they arrive, they cry when they leave, they exchange emails between trips. Why? Because the Crews family has changed their lives. Many Aussies became Christians because of the Crews family, changing their course not only in this life but in the next. There’s no arguing that leading people into a relationship with the God of love and grace is life changing.
Another person in our church that has changed lives through a mission trip is Pam Adams. When she was in Africa, her team pulled bad teeth out of people’s mouths. I have no doubt that made a forever impact on Pam, but I’m even more confident that it impacted the people she helped. You know those people aren’t ever going to forget the day they got an infected tooth or two pulled. Pam changed their lives for the better by being available for God to use her.
Or how about another woman from our church, Diane Williams. She has traveled to Kenya several times, helping with Tumaini Ministries, an organization that provides a home environment for orphans who’ve lost one or more parents from AIDS. As if the hands-on work Diane has done while physically in Kenya wasn’t enough, Diane has been a major advocate for getting orphans financially sponsored by other members of our church. She has lead the way in getting money to pay for these orphans’ food, clothes and education. Can you really tell me that her actions haven’t changed these kids’ lives just as much as they’ve changed hers?
As I physically and spiritually prepare to leave for Japan in a couple days, I release the negativity that comes with believing the trip will be more life changing for me than for anyone I meet there. I pray God will begin to open the hearts and minds of the people I will come in contact with, that He will give me the timely words of truth to share with them, and that He will work miracles that dramatically change their lives. I pray that God will show His love and grace through me, that people would want what I’ve been so blessed to have, a relationship with Him.
I couldn’t care less if people remember our names or how cute my ballet flats are, as long as God moves in their lives and positive eternal decisions are made or at least planted and start to grow.
I know this trip will change my life. I pray that the generally accepted Christian theory about mission trips is wrong, and this trip also changes the lives of others. Again, not because I’m awesome, but because I’m available.
Thanks for reading! My next entry will probably be the evening we arrive in Japan! Your prayers are so needed and appreciated!
“…I will make you a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” -Isaiah 49:6