I recently had an interesting conversation with a visitor to our orphanage. She was on a mission trip to spend some time with our kids, learn about our ministry, and just see what missions was all about. She shared that several people from her church were disappointed that she wasn’t working on a “project.” She wasn’t building a house for a family; she wasn’t drilling a well, she was just being “present”, seeking God, and seeking how she could bless those she encountered. I told her she had the right idea. Jesus never built a house, never painted a wall, never passed out clothing. Jesus did encourage people, occasionally broke bread with people, He asked people a lot of questions. He was (and is) present in their lives. It’s a good model.
Most people, when planning a missions trip focus on a “project.” “We’re going to build a school.” “We’re going to organize an outreach/concert.” “We’re painting a local church.” There is nothing wrong with projects. Missions projects change communities, impact families, and help on the ground ministries, and missionaries do the long term work. But, when it’s all said and done, it’s just bricks, wood, and paint. What matters is the people, the growth, and the understanding that should flow from ministry.
One ministry that operates from our orphanage is a home building program. We coordinate homes built and funded by visiting mission teams for underprivileged families in our area. The groups receive a picture and information on the families well in advance of their trip so they can see who they’re serving and be praying for the family. We’ve already screened the families to make sure the need is real, and it will be a positive impact. Once the team arrives, they meet the family, and they work alongside them to build the home. The critical point of this is, the family is what matters, the house is irrelevant.
You just read that last line and might have thought, “The house is irrelevant? The house is the whole point!” The problem is the house isn’t the whole point. The house is good, it’s a huge blessing for the receiving family, but the project needs to be about the people and the relationships built between them.
We had one home building group who came for years, and they were VERY focused. They planned and coordinated the construction like a military invasion: organized, timed perfectly, well funded, and high quality. The problem was, it was ALL about the house. The family receiving the house was irrelevant. The team was kind of stressed the whole time under their own self-imposed pressure. The house was completed, there were some great photos for social media, but in the end, it felt empty. The house was built FOR the family, and not WITH the family.
Our best home builds are rarely the “nicest” house. The best home builds are the ones where long-term reciprocal relationships are formed; where the family and team spend real time together eating, working, and sharing together. We have teams that stay in touch with the families and come back months and years later for quinceañeras, weddings, and other family events. Most families receiving homes will prepare meals, help out, and bring what they can to the relationship. It’s people growing together; it’s not one group just giving shelter to another.
Missions and ministry need to be about the relationships. This seems like an obvious statement, but it’s so easy to go off track and focus on something important, and not what is MOST important. How many worship leaders make sure the performance is perfect but worshiping God is kind of an add-on? How many weddings focus on the party and details, but the actual commitment becomes just another detail after the cake, dress, and decorations are organized? It’s so easy, and way too common, to be distracted by details and miss the bigger, most important picture.
Do we actively listen and seek to understand others? Do we attempt to have a positive influence on other’s lives? Do we respect those around us and seek to not only share our perceived wisdom but actively look for what we can learn from those around us? Are we seeking to understand other people, cultures, and beliefs? It’s not about what we can do for others; it’s about what we can do together.
When on a mission trip, or in any ministry really, it’s so important to remain focused on what’s important. Jesus was, and is, about relationships, spending time with people, and seeking to grow closer to the people He met. The next time someone asks you what you did on your mission trip, tell them, “Not much, I just followed Jesus’ example.”
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