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.