Ending Well

lani.jpgAlmost every time I speak in public, I open up by yelling at the group, “You are all going to die!” It frequently gets a nervous laugh or two and then I go on to explain that we are only on this earth a short time, it is so essential to use our time as the precious commodity that it is. Do not waste a moment. The following is the story of a man who used his last few years well.

Jack was a middle-aged man, raising two young children, who had recently moved to a smallish town in Iowa. He had newly been diagnosed with cancer but had not shared his medical condition with anybody in his new community. He was just focusing on his family and beginning the process of diagnosis and treatment.

One day, his next-door neighbor invited him to go on a short-term mission trip to serve at an orphanage in Mexico. The plan was also to help build a home for a needy family. He was not a member of the church, and his first response was, “Well, I don’t play the guitar or anything, but I am good with a hammer.” He was told he would fit in fine. In spite of everything he was going through, he decided to take a chance and tag along with the group. It was a week that would transform his next few years.

As Jack got on the plane with sixty people that he barely knew, all wearing matching t-shirts, he was not sure what to expect. They traveled about two hours south of San Diego to a small town in Mexico where they would be working. The group set up camp and got started with the construction. The team met the family they were serving, and as the team worked, they experienced the joy and bonding that only comes from serving with others in new and challenging circumstances. Jack spent the first few days quietly working alongside his newfound friends.

Midway through the week, during the evening bonfire, Jack decided to take a chance and share of his recent life struggles and his battle with cancer. The response was powerful. This group of people that he had just recently joined came up around him in every sense of the word. The team spent a great deal of time in prayer, seeking miraculous healing. We’ve all heard the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” There is something about serving alongside others under challenging circumstances that broadens our faith. Serving in missions forges deep relationships that are almost impossible to find unless we are out of our comfort zone.

Over the next few years, while cancer slowly took its toll, Jack continued to return to Baja every time the church came down. Like so many other people, these short-term mission trips became the focal point of his year, a time of joy among struggles, and transformed his life. His social media feed was filled with stories and photos of his time spent serving in Mexico. As Jack’s faith continued to grow stronger, he heard a message from God: “Builder.” This helped Jack understand how his situation was being used for the kingdom.

Above the orphanage in Baja where Jack served is a large, very distinct cross. It rises powerfully above a large hill and can be seen from all over the valley. This cross has been the sight of many marriage proposals, recommitments of faith, and other life-changing moments over the years. Jack ultimately had a drawing of the cross tattooed on his arm using the cross as the letter “T” for the word” triumph.” These trips had marked his life in every way possible.

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As Jack’s life was winding down, one of the leaders came to the hospital in a nearby city to be there for him. As they talked, a nurse walked in that had been on one of these trips before Jack started, and knew all about it. Out of the hundreds of hospital staff who could have walked through the door, this nurse could understand Jack’s experience of faith through missions. They were able to excitedly share of their common experiences in that small town in Mexico.

One of his last requests to the mission leader was, “Make sure when my son is old enough, that he gets to Mexico. I want him to see the place that changed my life.” His other request is that his ashes be spread at the base of the cross overlooking the orphanage and the homes he helped build.

I share this story as an encouragement, an encouragement to end your life well. Jack’s story is one of the thousands of lives that are changed through short term missions and service trips every year. Most people live their lives without thinking too much about the ever approaching end; they make plans to do something “next year” until there are no more years left. Please use the weeks and years you have left in a way that matters. Don’t waste a day.

Jack passed away on May 3rd, 2019, surrounded by family. He is no longer battling cancer or the fights of this earth. He is now dancing in heaven. Close to five hundred people showed up at his memorial on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in Iowa. His ashes will be spread at the orphanage cross, as he requested.

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What Are Your Motivations?

pexels-photo-1081223I tend to be more of a cynic than I probably should be, but I believe there is no such thing as genuinely pure motives. We are all flawed and imperfect people. These flaws get blended and twisted into any decisions or actions we take. It’s hard to be self-aware when it comes to our motivations, but it’s essential to try and be honest with ourselves about it. I know one gentleman who likes to help needy organizations financially and has the deep pockets to do this. He’s unambiguous that his motivation is all about the photo op, he wants to look good to those around him, and on social media. At least he’s honest about it. (He is not one of our donors.)

If you do a quick google search on motivations, you come up with a wide range of articles with very similar threads. People are listing “The four motivations,” “The ten motivations,” etc. The examples of motivations given are frequently: money, lust, power, fear, popularity, guilt, altruism, generosity, pride, etc.

Almost everyone who participates in short-term missions wants to help, but WHY do they want to help. I once straight up asked a teenage girl who happened to stop by my office why she came on the trip. “My mom forced me to.” I was a little surprised, but I do appreciate honesty. (Fear of mom was the motivation.)

In helping to run a large(ish) non-profit with a range of donors and visiting groups, our team meets a substantial range of individuals. When we meet with group leaders, we hear a lot of the same phrases. “We’re just here to serve.” “What works best for you.” etc. but usually within a few minutes of listening or watching we can begin to see their underlying priorities and motives. Many groups come in with their agenda well before meeting with us or finding out what the real needs are. They have an agenda, and they are NOT going to be moved.

Some group leaders are all about having their team experience a great week. If while having a great week they happen to serve the children in our care, great, but it’s clearly not their priority. They show this by not asking questions, by not thinking about how their activities impact our home, by planning their week around themselves. “I know your kids have homework, but my team REALLY wants to do a craft and VBS with your kids between 2 pm and 4 pm so we can go into town later.” “We know it’s cold outside, and some of your kids are sick, but we really want to push through with the water games we had planned.”

It is very common to have a group, or many individuals in the group, be more focused on the perfect photo op. I’ve seen people pick up a shovel or wheel barrow just to take a photo and then walk away. I’m not exactly saying mission photos get staged all the time but…photos get staged all the time. If you want to see your team’s real motivation, ask them to put their phones away for a few days and don’t take pictures. Rebellion is the usual response. Why do any of us post things online? Is it about encouraging others, or about competing with others to look like we have the perfect life?

Some groups come in assuming they know better than our team how things should be run. They are here to “save us from ourselves.” (pride) I’m aware we have a LOT of room for improvement, and we do learn from others all the time. But when someone comes in less to help, and more to judge or criticize what we do, it gets old fast. We appreciate input or questions but we live with the children in our care, we live in our community, we understand the culture, we have an intimate knowledge of the needs and challenges that go on every day.

We do appreciate the short-term mission teams. Most groups are a huge blessing, and we could use some more! This rambling blog on motivations has the goal of causing self-reflection. Why do we do what we do? This question applies to short-term missions, as well as every other area of our lives. Our motivations have a dramatic impact on every relationship in our lives. It is the lens we use to view and interact with our world.

Motivation can be boiled down to just one question: Who am I serving? Am I serving myself, or am I serving God? If we’re honest with ourselves, this is not an easy question to answer. For almost everyone, it can be a sliding scale. We (I hope) are all trying to serve our Lord more each day, but that gets blended into so many otherworldly motivations. Approval of others, comfort, jealousy, pride, greed, etc. always creep in. I know I question or doubt my true motives all the time.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Phil 3:8

The paradox is, the purer our motivation, the greater blessing we ultimately receive. The more we try to follow in the pure example of service that Jesus gives, the more our emotional needs are met. As we grow closer to Christ, the worldly motivations fade away. Money, pride, power, etc. really do become worthless compared to the things of God. This is a worthy motivation.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

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The Failure of the Individual and Short-Term Missions

pexels-photo-670720At some point, over the last few decades, there has been a subtle yet consistent shift away from the idea of community, to the rise of individual above all else. It’s not working. Addiction and suicide are at an all-time high; in many age groups suicide is the leading cause of death. The church is shrinking at an alarming rate. Depression and loneliness are rampant.

As society shifts from focusing on the community as a whole to focusing on each individual’s desires and achievements, we are losing the very thing that gives us meaning. At almost every turn, technology and shifting attitudes are slowly driving society apart and leading people into their own little cocoons. We need to be connected; we are created to interact with a wide range of people; we are called to sacrifice for others. It’s time to look at how to foster a sense of community again.

Years ago, there was “appointment TV viewing,” the whole family would sit together and watch the same show along with millions of others across the country at the same time. This sounds quaint or primitive now that we can each have our own on-demand screen in front of us and watch exactly what we want when we want it. The downside of on-demand is that, with a few exceptions, that bonding through community viewing doesn’t happen. Outside of the Superbowl or a major news event, there is no common discussion the next day about the latest show that we all watched.

The idea of each of us having our own screens is a small example of how the priority of community is shifting. Few people would argue the fact that America has never been so divided. People have always had opinions, but now that we can watch the news on TV or online catered and designed to reinforce our already deeply held beliefs, we don’t need to listen to any opinion that might call into question where we stand. If we never listen to the other side, they become a bigger and more dangerous enemy in our minds — not a great way to build community.

Subtle changes are taking place all around us. If we want to “eat out” we don’t have to sit with people we don’t know; we can just open the app and have the food brought to our home. We don’t need to go to the mall anymore and interact with real people to buy things; Amazon is just a click away. When was the last time any of us hung out in a book store and browsed around with others with the same interest? When we go to buy groceries, we can self-check to avoid the two minutes of contact with the cashier.

More people are living alone than at any time in the history of America. Fewer people are getting married than at any time in history. Half of all children in America are now born into un-wed situations. Examples of the collapse of community are all around us. Too many people are living in their own little world, and missing out on the interactions and messiness that makes us human.

Even within the ever-shrinking church, many people who are “members” choose to sit at home on Sunday and watch the service online. Interacting with real people is just too much trouble. For the people who are present, as the collection plate is passed in church, many people miss out on the ritual of offering tithes as one body because they’ve already given online automatically.

Although we need a personal relationship with Christ, and God desires that, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of the Church body as a whole and what that means. As we read the Gospels, Jesus spoke to many individuals, but He often spoke about the collective body of believers. The bride of Christ is one, not millions of individual brides. When the apostles asked Jesus how to pray, He gave the Lord’s Prayer as an example. There is not one personal pronoun in the Lord’s prayer. Not one petition for an individual. OUR Father…OUR daily bread…forgive US OUR sins…lead US.  You get the idea. The body of Christ needs each other; we need each other.

So what does this little rant have to do with short-term missions? One of the many benefits of short-term missions is the building of community. You can sit in the same church with the same people for years and never really get to know them. Spend a week traveling in Uganda, or Mexico, or Kenya, and you will get to know them, whether you want to or not. You will see them without makeup and before coffee. You will be forced to sleep in the same room and hear who snores. You will see how each person reacts to difficulties and joys. You will be forced to become a little more transparent. You will learn more about the people in your church, and they will learn more about you, than in ten years of Sundays.

Short-term missions also bring into focus what the Bible teaches about the body of Christ. By traveling out with a team to visit other churches and communities, we have the privilege of living and working with people from wildly different cultures, but with the same Heavenly Father. We get to spend time with our brothers and sisters. We get to experience worship in ways that are beyond what we could ever imagine. We get to bump up against people who are living and walking in faith that sets the bar higher than we might be used to. We have the profound and life-altering experience of living in community with the Church.

Experience community again, make it a point to spend time with people who stretch you. If you can, go on a short-term mission trip. It will change you for the better, your faith will be deeper, your connection to the church will strengthen, and you can help other believers around the world.

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“Isn’t that Dangerous?”

pexels-photo-1895146I recently met with someone who is running a unique and inspiring ministry in the heart of the red-light district of Tijuana. Four years ago, this petite single woman moved into an area of ministry that most people would never consider. She opened up a little store-front location to host times of worship and prayer in the midst of a spiritually dark area. Several days a week they hold prayer and worship services that are open to anybody (I’m not using her name for her protection). She now leads teams out into the streets to give the sex workers flowers and tell them they are beautiful. She has been threatened, yelled at, and attacked for her work. I’m sure she’s been told that she is crazy. Does this sound like someone else you might know or read about? Many people claim to be followers of Jesus; few people put His example into action like this amazing woman.

Is the woman you just read about doing some astounding work? Yes. Is she hanging out and befriending people most people would never spend time with? Absolutely. She is many things, but the one adjective that is never used to describe her is “afraid.” She is oddly and sadly unique in much of the church today.

This month, my wife and I will have completed twenty-five years living in “dangerous” Mexico. We get asked a lot of questions about our work in orphan care and short-term missions. The one question we get asked far more than anything else is, “Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” The vast majority of people’s first question is about safety, not about the work, not about what God is doing, not about abandoned children. The first question is almost always about the risk involved. We’ve never gotten sick from the food or water. We’ve never been robbed or shot at while in Mexico (Ironically, I was robbed while in San Diego last year). Are some parts of Mexico dangerous? Absolutely. Does it matter? No. Life is dangerous; get over it.

As you read through the Bible, note that being concerned, first and foremost, about our safety was not what Jesus instructed us to do. When the apostles woke Him in the boat to calm the storm, He rebuked them for lack of faith, calmed the storm, and went back to sleep. How many of us lose way too much sleep worrying about things that never (or rarely) happen. “Fear not” comes up a lot in the Bible. “Cover your butt,” “Watch out for scary people,” “Don’t do anything risky,” doesn’t come up so much.

Fear can have an incredible influence on people. A great deal of marketing is in some way based on fear. “Buy this insurance to protect yourself from any disaster.” “Buy this clothing, or you might not be cool.” “Try this diet, or you might stay fat.” Politics is almost all based on fear. “Vote for me; the other guy wants to raise taxes.” “The other party wants to take your guns, your rights, your money, etc.” “We can’t let THOSE people into our country; they are different than us and scary.” Watch any cable news, and you will hear versions of these statements every few minutes. Fear can have a corrosive and powerful influence. Fear can rob us of joy and prevent us from experiencing everything this life has to offer.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fear, way too many churches are indistinguishable from the world. A few years ago I was staying with a worship leader of a mid-sized church in a friendly, middle-class suburb in the US. As we were leaving for the church, he loaded his gun and holstered up. When I asked about it, he said that at any service there are two or three people armed for security reasons. I have no problem with basic security, but I found it deeply ironic that the person who is leading worship, the one singing about trusting God with all, that He is our rock and fortress, would be packing heat. (Write to me and yell if you like, I’m actually pro second amendment, I’m just using this to make a point). “Yes God, we trust you with all, but I feel better when I can shoot at someone.”

The point of this rant on fear in the church is to bring up what it does to short-term missions or any area of service. Fear can rob us of incredible opportunities, and prevent us from experiencing all that God has planned for us. When we’re held in place, and prevented from taking a risk for God due to fear, what is that saying? “I trust you God, but I’d rather just show up on Sundays and watch from my pew, wouldn’t want to take a risk now would I.” The Christian faith is an active faith. Go. Serve, Give, Sacrifice. Not because we’re called to, it’s because we can’t help but act when we realize what God has done for us, and how grateful we are to Him.

There are some things you should definitely be afraid of. Be afraid of being out of God’s will. Be afraid of reaching the end of your life and having regrets. Be afraid of wasting the precious few years you have left.

You will die. The US will collapse eventually. Some of the things you fear will come to pass, just know that ultimately it just doesn’t matter. Our God is bigger than anything we will encounter in this life; it’s a good thing this life is only a temporary situation. Ultimately, we’ve already won. The world says we should be afraid. We are not of this world. Live accordingly.

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The Prosperity Gospel and Short-term Missions

cash2The Prosperity Gospel is the belief among some Christians that teaches financial blessing, and physical well-being are always the will of God for them. That enough faith, positive attitude, and donations to the right organizations will increase one’s material wealth. The prosperity Gospel reduces God to a cosmic Santa Claus: “If I’m a good boy or girl God will give me what I ask for.” The Gospel isn’t that simple; it is profoundly deeper, richer, and more important than to be just about material wealth. Our faith is not a transaction, “If I give this, I should get this.” Our salvation is a free gift from God, our giving to others and representing Him well is our act of worship. If our personal financial prosperity is our goal, we’ve missed the whole point.

When Jesus was in the desert, Satan offered Jesus material wealth and power if He would only bow down, Jesus was bright enough to pass on the offer. How many of us take the bait and swallow it whole.

Money is always a thorny issue for people. If you want to create an uncomfortable church service, talk about tithing. Jesus spent a great deal of time talking about worldly goods and our reaction to them. It’s a BIG deal, and people understand at a gut level that money is important. Money is the great scorecard the world uses to see who is winning. If we are a follower of Christ, we are not of this world. Our scorecard needs to be very different; we need to work towards different goals. We also need to expect different blessings from God. God does want to bless us, material blessings or physical health are not always in that mix of blessings.

Several years ago, after we had been in Mexico for quite a while, my wife was dealing with some long-term, severe, medical issues. We had been to a LOT of doctors and done countless tests with no solution in sight. Every couple of weeks, a small group from a ministry in our town would come by and pray for her. Prayer is always a good thing; we’ll take all we can get. After a few weeks, as they were finishing praying, one of the leaders indicated that is was my wife’s “lack of faith” that was keeping her from being healed. I was polite and held my tongue, in hindsight I wish I had thrown them out of our house (they were not invited back).

The church has a long history of godly, wonderful people living in poverty or suffering through great physical illness and challenges. No one would question the apostle Paul’s faith or the incredible works of his ministry. God used Paul to build the foundation of the church. Paul suffered greatly both physically and financially through his entire ministry. Maybe he didn’t have enough faith? Probably not. Paul still found immense joy and peace, not only in the midst of trials; Paul found joy because of the trials he was going through. Strong faith does not mean financial blessings; strong faith means joy in whatever situation we find ourselves. Our physical or financial state has no determination in eternal things. Everything here passes away, get used to it.

So how does this apply to short-term missions? Spending time with people of great faith in other countries, giving their all, who are still living in poverty, will kill your belief that doing the right things will automatically mean a big bank account.

If we go into missions with the idea that we know more, or we are more blessed because we have more money than the people we’re visiting, we are wrong, and we will fail. Most people, even if they believe that having more money indicates better people, have never thought it through or even realize they believe that. A person who is racist, never thinks they are racist; it’s just an underlying attitude that others see. Coming from the US culture that passes judgment by financial wherewithal, it’s easy to fall into the trap of judging others by their resources, even more so if we’re not aware that we are judging in this way.

By going on short-term mission trips and spending time with rock-solid pastors, missionaries, and other believers living on poverty, our false outlook when it comes to money is stripped away. It’s a cliche response from many people on a missions trip to say, “They’re so poor but so happy.” when talking about the people they are visiting. This is really saying, “I thought to have more money was always better, why are they happy?” At the same time, they will say, “I now realize how blessed I am” indicating they think the other people are not as “blessed” because they don’t have hot water, a solid house, the latest I-phone, or any of the things we equate with “blessed.”

We need to go into missions realizing we are all poor, we are all wounded, we are all deficient in many areas, but that is irrelevant to the Gospel. By working alongside pillars of faith in other countries, it strips bare our misguided beliefs about what money is, what it means, and what our attitude about it should be.

Prosperity is not a bad thing, but if our faith is based on prosperity, we are building our lives on a false Gospel.

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When Short-Term Missions Go Wrong

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There is a CEO of a major banking firm who has a unique way to interview people. He asks all the typical questions about goals, most significant strengths, etc., but then he does something little more creative. He takes the potential employee out to breakfast. This by itself is not a big deal; the difference is the restaurant has been instructed to get the order wrong. The CEO learns a great deal about the candidate by just watching their reaction to this small issue. Do they get angry? Do they lash out and blame the waiter? Do they ignore it? Or do they calmly ask for the correct order, realizing mistakes happen? When everything is going well it’s easy to come across as mature or grounded. Our reaction to adversity tells the world who we are.

For any number of reasons, things can go sideways on a missions trip. Flights get missed, passports are forgotten, materials aren’t ready when you arrive, the examples are endless of what can go wrong. A lot has been written about the need for extreme flexibility when in the missions field and most of it is valid. The best-organized plans can go wrong at any moment, not just in missions, but in life. The logistics going wrong are common, but sometimes it’s more significant issues. Very often, we go on a trip with concrete expectations, and the trip turns out very different than we had imagined. How we respond to adversity, our reaction to the unexpected, is a tremendous testimony to our spiritual maturity and shows all those around us who we are. We need to see the bigger picture; we need to understand who is really in charge and who’s agenda we need to be following.

As a ministry, on our end, a lot of preparation goes into any missions project, especially when a home is built for a family in our area. We spend months working with the local family to make sure they are genuinely in need of a house, are willing to work alongside the visiting group, and that they are connected in the community. We want to be good stewards of the houses the groups are building, and we want the groups to know the homes will have a long-term positive impact on the families they’re serving. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, a home build can go sidewise.

Years ago, we had a group come down to build a house for a family in our town. At first, everything seemed fine. The family worked alongside the group for the week; the keys were handed over as the group prayed a blessing over the house and the family, everyone left feeling pretty good. Within a few months, everything went a little weird. The couple wound up separating and going through a fairly ugly divorce. The couple came to me asking, “Who gets the house?” I responded honestly that, “We gave it to you both, we have no say in the matter, it’s not our house.” Ultimately they couldn’t agree, and the house was kind of parted out and eventually abandoned. Not the way anyone thinks a missions project should end.

When the group came back a year later to build another house, they asked about visiting the couple. This lead to an awkward conversation as the situation was explained to the group. You could see how crestfallen and disappointed the group was. But, it also opened up a great discussion about expectations in ministry.

The home build that went “wrong” had blessings that rippled out that we can only begin to guess at. The home builds are some of the best outreach our ministry does. It brings up so many great questions in our town, mainly: “What kind of faith is it that draws people to give away houses to strangers knowing they will never be paid back?” Home builds are a phenomenal tool to reach many people in our community, way beyond just the families receiving the home.

Showing selfless acts of service and representing the Gospel well, never comes back empty. We might not see or know the results of our actions in this life, but the act of service itself is all that matters. That we are faithful to the call of visiting widows and orphans is what is important. We are called to give, to serve, to do what we can. The outcome is never guaranteed. The perceived result doesn’t matter, what matters is our obedience. Did we hear the call and follow through? Were we faithful to the one we serve?

Not everyone Jesus fed or healed became a follower; the important thing was Jesus was doing the will of His Father. If the person being healed by Jesus did not respond in a way that is expected or makes sense, that does not change the fact that everyone around Jesus seeing the miracle was being changed and affected. God knows what He is doing, even if we don’t.

If a mission trip, or any ministry project, goes differently than we expected, react in a way that shows everyone who is really in charge. God sees a bigger picture, take comfort, and even joy, when things turn out differently than expected. Show everyone that you trust in the One who called you.

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But What Did You DO on Your Missions Trip?

housebuild1.jpgI 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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