Monday, July 23, 2007

The Problematic Nature of Mission

Leaving for final youth trip of the summer on Sunday: a fabulous mission trip to...wait for it...Cincinnati! That's right, we're doing mission in our own backyard. And I say, "why not?" You don't have to go to an exotic, tourist destination to find poor, suffering people. It's even a bit selfish to spend so much money getting somewhere via plane or car, expending the fuel and time, when the world needs help where you live.

More to the point, it's not about us "working amongst" folk, condescending to offer our wisdom and cash to those less fortunate. Obviously, there are millions less fortunate than those of us in the middle class--look around you and see that we don't live in a perfect world. But that phrase, "less fortunate," is a comparative one. They are less fortunate; we are more fortunate. It almost implies that we are somehow favored or more beloved because of what we have. That we are better because we're not hungry, drug-addicted, or brown-skinned. I'm sure most folk don't mean any of that when they use the phrase, but when your intent is to go help a group of people, it is necessary to pay attention to your own motives and how they may be seen by the folk you want to help. Even if the work you're planning is desperately needed in a community, a superior attitude or an unwillingness to understand and participate in the culture will kill it dead.

So what is it about? Mission, it seems to me, is about developing relationship and opening our eyes to the world around us. We all live in a bubble of some kind or another. We can talk about "the plight of the poor" as long as we like, but won't understand it until we talk to someone who's struggling with feeding their children. We have to experience it ourselves before we'll truly get it. Jesus said to Thomas "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe". They may be blessed but few of us can believe like that. We need something to cling to, something to relate to. We need to be in relationship, knowing the other as a person, as one with thoughts and feelings and concerns and not just a statistic. We take teenagers on mission trips partly because they are a good source of labor for projects that need doing but mostly for them to discover just how big and complex this world is. They don't always see it, but when they do, you can see God on their faces as plain as day.

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

As I have progressed through life learning things the hard way, it has occurred to me that mission shares a lot with friendship. While mission experiences and friendships forged in far away places are informative and eye-opening, they are, in the end, a short-term affair. While memories will last, contact (in all but the rarest of cases) is doomed to cease very quickly after you go back home. Plus there's always the tendancy to isolate your experiences to the far-off locale you visited - for example: "That happens in Africa, but not where I live". And while true - the poverty Africa is VERY different from poverty in Cincinnati - it just points up the limitation: The lessons learned are inevitably hard to apply to daily life at home. Friendships and mission experiences from far off lands inevitably end up as memories - not an integral part of your life.

That's why, I was very excited about the Cincinnati mission trip! I wish I could have conquered my fear of 'baptism by fire' when it comes to working with teens - I definately want to do something like that again in my lifetime (I did something similar when I was 15). That's also why I really like the OTR trip Bob leads and IHN - it's about where I live. I'll admit I have miles to go when it comes to trying to find a way to integrate that type of work into my life, but what's the point of living if you've got it all figured out? It should be easier to do that if I look for mission where I live than if I look elsewhere. (c:

Have fun doing mission in Cincy!