During my high school and college age years, I was privileged to be a part of six different mission trips as both a student, and a chaperone. If you’re not familiar with the phrase “mission trip”, it’s generally a faith-based volunteerism trip where young people tackle projects that need extra manpower. For example, in Mexico, we helped build a structure (though to this day I can’t quite tell you what it was supposed to be). In South Dakota, we scraped and painted houses. In Kentucky, Louisiana, Arizona, and Brazil, we staffed various types of children’s camps.
Side note – I used to be impossibly cool. Pink pajama pants girl, I’m looking at you.
A lot of people are on the fence about the role of short term mission trips. They wonder how much “help” can really come from a group of inexperienced students. Do the gifts and supplies volunteers bring actually do much good? What happens when the volunteers leave?
These aren’t easy questions.
As a young mission team member, I didn’t realize these questions existed. I only knew that I wanted to help people, because I had begun to learn the quiet joy that crept in after doing something kind for someone else. And if I’m honest, I think most students today are in the same boat. They aren’t worrying about the efficacy of their time away. They aren’t doing cost/value analyses, or measuring outcomes.
But they know that as the next generation, they are called, and they are capable.
For me, being called and capable meant I put hundreds of *mostly* crooked nails into wall frame studs. I ran around a soccer field with a happy, screaming group of kids who were more interested in the free snacks than the lesson time. I let someone smash a pie in my face. I journaled during our designated “quiet time” and read my bible, waiting for God to speak.
I did not come back from any of my trips with a specific vision, or a giant life lesson. I did not see any heavenly signs or miracles or crazy shows of healing. What I did gain was this: I lived in a broad and beautiful world full of people who all needed something.
Some of them needed a house. Some needed a hot meal. Some of them needed my sad attempts at hair braids. Some needed a buddy to play with. Some of them needed a friend to listen to their stories. All of them needed a reason to hope.
One night, the Cross of Glory (shout out!) youth group and I were winding down from a service day in Arizona. The students and I were lounging in an outdoor amphitheater connected to where we were staying when our youth pastor Dan joined us, carrying a bucket of warm water and a towel. A few other groups were with us at the time, and their leaders also came out with water and towels. With only a brief explanation of what was happening, they started washing our feet.
The space grew impossibly quiet as the leaders went from student to student, washing and drying their hot, tired feet.
Afterward, someone gave a brief message, explaining how in John 13, Jesus gets up in the middle of supper with his friends and starts washing their feet. This practice, normally reserved for the lowest of servants, shocked his friends, who were confused by his actions.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
My bare feet tingled in the cool air of sunset, and something about that story sunk deep. Jesus’ life and years of ministry were not marked by fanfare and success and solving the world’s problems. Instead, he impacted the world by servitude, by grace, and by love.
Somehow, it’s been seventeen years since that trip.
Six of those years have been spent relearning the importance of everyday service as I wipe not just the feet, but the noses, hands, and bottoms of my children. Almost fourteen of those years have given me ample time to practice grace in my marriage. And during each of those seventeen years, we’ve been a part of three churches, loving the small groups, students, worship teams, boards, and other opportunities we’ve said yes to as we grew in community.
While none of these are major, world-altering acts, they have changed me, and how I connect with those around me. But I wouldn’t have understood that if I hadn’t learned what it meant to serve and care for others.
This summer, I’ve been asked to pick up where I left off fourteen (*gulp*) years ago, and chaperone another student mission trip – this time to Paris, France.
After I stopped squealing OUIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!! in my head, Jason and I had a couple of long conversations about safety, responsibility, and my leaving for ten days in July. After securing the assistance of a small army of family members, we decided I should say yes. (OUIIIIII again!!!!! Thanks Grandmas and Grandpas!)
Envision Paris, the group we’ll be working with, is an ongoing effort with the Christian and Missionary Alliance to bring a fresh understanding of the transformational love of Jesus to their city. The traditional church in France, for all its ornate beauty and history, is struggling to meet the deep, connective needs of its people. Envision Paris wants to change that.
Our goal for the time we’re in Paris is to come alongside and encourage a newly formed church community. Our six students, a few of whom actually speak French (huge bonus!) will be participating in English conversation classes and evening student gatherings. We are hoping to use art projects, music talents, and kitchen skills to create friendships, build community, and share our stories of faith.
Spoiler alert: We will not change the world with this trip. But what I do see is the opportunity for each of these students (and myself) to grow in their understanding of what Jesus taught about service, grace, and love. I also see the places where they might experience confusion, rejection, and hurt as they step outside their places of safety and rely on their faith for the first time.
For the record, I value both. I value both because I have seen the different character qualities that beauty and hardship alike can develop in my life.
In the process, I see cross-cultural friendships being built. I see students encouraging one another on in love and good deeds. I see laughter, and big questions, and marginal airport food.
We may not change the world in July, but we ourselves will be changed, and that’s a start.
As with many youth endeavors, the cost of our students’ trip will be covered by fundraising and financial gifts of support. Please consider giving! I’d love for you to partner with our team and stay tuned for prayer requests, updates, pictures, and posts from the field while we’re there. Click here to visit our team website, where you’ll find easy and secure online giving options for any amount. Your prayers and support will be incredibly meaningful to our team as we prepare to go.