Written by Steve Colby, Director of Missions for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.
I can’t say I was an overwhelming blessing on my first mission trip. In fact, I can say with some certainty that I was hopeless in Spanish, susceptible to stomach problems, but completely enamored with Mexico. My habit in communicating was to nod and smile and be affirming, even if I didn’t know what was being said, or being asked. One night I discovered I had unwittingly agreed to speak to the Presbyterian women’s society on the subject of sex! We enthusiastically led children’s programs and vacation Bible schools, but carrying out simple tasks – like laundry – was beyond us. The ladies would watch us lamely try and then insist on washing clothes for us. Coming to serve, we got out served. Royally out served. What is a short term mission really? What if we stripped away our need to get something done, and focused instead on how God is discipling us through the process? What if short-term missions were really pilgrimages, the beginning of a life lived in mission?
Discipleship as a Camino
Thousands of pilgrims each year walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostelle. The walkers say the crucial thing is to pay attention to God and how He is shaping you through the experience. Many take with them a question they are wrestling with or a challenge they are facing in their day to day life. Walking with God, doing His Camino, provides a spaciousness and focus to stay present to God.
Short-term missions have been a Camino for me of my discipleship. I have walked along the Camino in the Yucatan and grown taller – literally – as I found the heavy mud added layer upon layer to the bottom of my shoes. As I’ve walked with friends in unfamiliar places and enjoyed the hospitality of new friends, God has grown my sense of gratitude and perspective to be a global Christian. Through these experiences God has also challenged me. My pride and selfishness emerge in those dissonant moments, and I find, like I do on so many hikes, that I need to repent, make a U-turn, and get on the right path again.
Keep your feet moving
The short-term mission experience should be a journey in our discipleship. If we are going only for what we can do, or what we can add or say, then we are susceptible to believing ourselves too important, too integral, as If God cannot do anything without us. Short-term mission opens our eyes to God’s work in another context: it is not about the four weeks in which we change the world. It is about the four weeks in which God’s work in the world changes us. Getting a taste of God’s global work not only changes us, it makes us long for this food always. Walking along this Camino is the beginning of our life as a mission pilgrim. The aim of the pilgrim is to keep moving towards God’s kingdom, not to put up one’s feet and pack away the memories like old photos.
My Camino in missions has led me back to Mexico many times, as well as to many other places. I became conversant in Spanish and my stomach adjusted to the food quite well, (even now my mouth waters at the thought of my host’s cooking – que sabroso!). And yet, I still find I can’t avoid confusing situations and misunderstandings (although I’m happy to say I have not been invited back to speak on sex). I still find I need to keep learning, growing, and making U-turns to get back on His right path.
(Reposted from Mission Pilgrims blog from 5/23/2015)
Interested in exploring mission opportunities for your life? Join 16,000 other curious pilgrims at Urbana 15.