As we approach a season of short-term summer mission trips, it’s always good to know where you are headed, have all of your funds raised, and create an itinerary of activities that will make this the most epic trip yet. But at their core, mission trips are truly modeled after pilgrimages.
A pilgrimage is an expedition to meet God in a faraway place, where people hope to return a different person from the one who left.
With this in mind, it is vital that we focus on the fact that God is not only with us, but also in the places we are going, and amongst the people we are going to. In order to allow this all-important fact to drive our motives and actions, here are a handful of aids to make our pilgrimage, by definition, most effective.
Educate yourself about the culture. Whether it be a trip outside or even within your country, it is a good idea to be aware of how people think and do things differently than where you are from. Learning more about who you are going to will also help you connect more with the people and give you a better perspective to what the struggles and mindsets are that you are working with. Even better than this, it allows you to see how God is already doing great things and what it means to celebrate those moments.
Do things “with” and not “for” others. There is a term that gets used to describe people that believe they have all the means necessary to “save” others, called the “Messiah Complex”. While it’s noble to want to help other people and meet their needs, we are not capable of being God, so it’s necessary that we temper our expectations there first. Secondly, to be unified with the long-term missionaries means that we are coming alongside them as a teammate and not coming in to fix what isn’t broke and push our own agenda.
Clothe yourself in humility. Wherever you are going, you are on someone else’s turf. That means you are stepping inside of their everyday environment and whether you are staying in their home or not, you are still a guest in their community. A humble attitude to remember the privilege of the place and people you are with can help you see God’s presence there. As a matter of fact, most people who travel in humility are often the ones that say they are more blessed by the people there at the end of the trip.
Be sensitive to other’s privacy. As we step into another person’s life, possibly uninvited, it is also crucial to be aware of how we are coming across. Many people desire for human relational connection, but just because we are present, it does not entitle us to relationship with people. All we can do is offer our sincere words and actions, and if they are received, then we can build from there. This also means that taking pictures or videos of people should never happen until there is consent from the organization you are with and most importantly, the people.
Remember you are not on vacation. This goes without saying, but short-term pilgrimages are not times for us to travel with our friends and family to indulge in loose-minded behavior and self-serving expectations. If we take this approach in any way, it is easy to lose focus of the purposes you went in the first place. In addition, the chance for us returning home with positive, God-initiated changes within us, will be significantly hindered. This does not imply that we aren’t supposed to have fun and enjoy ourselves with the things that are planned, but we should do them with the focus being put on the people we are there with.
So, as you prepare to take this short-term pilgrimage to whatever place God is calling you to, whether near or far, please consider these tips to keep your mind focused, your heart humbled, and your spirit moved in the direction that God is already present. In doing so, you are setting yourself up to fulfill the calling that has sent you on such a journey to begin with.