Lessons From the Field: A New Type of Missions

I have lead many trips for churches over the years.

The largest trip I led, for a large and well funded church, had about 65 students and 20 adults. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to take this hoard of people to sleep in tents, without real showers or restrooms, to build houses in Mexico.

We built four houses in five days. Student’s understanding of God expanded, people’s lives were changed, and God’s love was seen through everyone. It was awesome!

The planning that’s involved takes months. Registration forms, organization paperwork, passports, liability forms, rental vans, drivers, adult support, fundraising, parent help, devotional books, scheduling, overnights while traveling—sunscreen! The list goes on and on and on.

Sidenote

I no longer use the language “missions trips.”

I choose to call these trips Serving and Learning Trips. Why? Because to use the language of “missions” has a lot of negative connotation surrounding the colonization of so many indigenous groups around the world.

It implies that the people on the team are going to save those other people. When in reality these trips are less about the destination, the activity, and more about the opportunity for those on the team to experience God’s transforming power. Really, these trips are selfish.

By changing the name to Service and Learning, everyone is reminded that those on the trip are going to (1) Serve: partner with God in a place where God is already at work and (2) Learn: have the humble spirit of a student, ready to learn from God and those we meet along the way.

What We Needed

With my new position at a church, that is primarily an older demographic, I was asked to plan a trip to Mexico. With different demographics come different obstacles. I wanted to make sure that anyone, of any age, and any ability level could attend this trip. Which meant not using the organizations I have used in the past. Here’s what I was looking for:

  • Sleeping arrangements that allowed for those with older bodies to sleep well.
  • Showers and running water.
  • An organization where we didn’t have to cook.
  • An organization that was not solely focused on building.

Never Plan Alone

I always plan these trips with at least two other people for a few reasons.

One being that the more you bring others into a project, the more buy-in with the project they have, and therefore more excitement for the project stirs. Another, being that it’s an opportunity to have other people in the congregation understand how to plan the project in the future. Last, being that it is not a good example of leadership to carry the entire burden of a project. It sets the leader up to be the center of the trip not Jesus.

So, I was on the hunt for a planning team!

I asked the head elder at my church, who in the past had planned similar trips to what my experience was planning these trips. And the only 19 year old in my church, who had never been on any trip like this. We were a small but mighty!

Let the Planning Begin & Finding People to Go

I had my planning team now, we just needed a place to go and people to take with us. It took us about three weeks to find an organization that would support the needs of our community. After finding Door of Faith Orphanage, we just needed to recruit the rest of the team.

Having worked with students for so long I was not prepared for the inability of adults to make up their minds and to fully commit to the trip. We started with 15 people interested in going. I thought that was a great number. I could easily divide them up into groups of three for prayer and support during the trip. We would only need two cars. I can work with 15.

I had planned to have two meetings between three months of leaving for the trip. Within the time between the two meetings ten people dropped out and two people signed up.

Seven…That’s not even double digits?

Where Two or More are Gathered

I really had to check myself. For years I have been telling people that it doesn’t matter how many people show up… it’s about being available for the people that God calls on the trip. Now I had a to own my words. I had to claim the fact that God wanted a specific group of people on this trip. I had to set my pride aside. God called seven specific people to this trip for seven specific reasons. I needed to honor those reasons. Seven it is!

Where did you see Jesus today?

Every night of the trip we would gather together to debrief the day. The question I always ask is “Where did you see Jesus today?” In the beginning of the week this portion of the trip was short. Maybe a one word answer from each person.

“This trip is about helping us train our eyes to see where God is already at work,” I said, “It may take time but if we keep seeking to see Jesus at work then sooner or later we won’t be able to stop seeing the way God sees.”

There is a flow to a trip like this. I learned that the size of your group doesn’t matter, the flow still happens. There is something about the Wednesday or the midpoint of a trip. Maybe its because your group has had enough time with each other to realize that everyone is safe or at least in the same place of learning. I’m not exactly sure why, but it is always at the mid-trip moment when breakthrough happens.

“I saw Jesus today in the way the community rallies together to support each other no matter what. I wish I had that in my life… just a little bit,” our youngest participant says.

The entire group freezes.

We just got called out, by the only 16 year old in the room, to be vulnerable and real. The group has the choice to shut it down or embrace it. After a much longer silence than normal the oldest person in the group says, “Me too.”

What I Learned

From this we had the longest, most indepth evening debriefs I have ever been a part of. Community happened. People’s hearts were softened. Worldviews were broadened. Lives will not be the same.

I am not sure exactly what the other six specifically learned from this trip, but I learned that God is faithful.

As a leader and pastor, I need to remember that God has reasons that is outside my understanding for everything. Big isn’t always better. Small is often more intimate and provides a fertile ground for growth. I need to trust, even though I don’t know or understand the reasons for the smallness, that God’s desire for small is actually an exciting opportunity for BIG transformation.

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Cassie Carroll
Cassie Carroll, M.Div., graduated from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Prior, she spent five years as the Director of Youth Ministry at Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church. Cassie is happy to be back in California and currently resides in North Bay. She has begun the Listening in Place Project, traveling throughout the US to collect stories from those thinking outside the traditional Church box. Cassie seeks to become ordained with the PCUSA. Learn more about Cassie by visiting cassie-carroll.squarespace.com
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