I love mission trips and service projects! In forty years of youth ministry, I have been on close to 100 of them. What’s not to love? We get to obey God’s command to minister to the “least of these.” We travel and experience different cultures as we meet new people, make new friends, and strengthen the unity of the youth group. We come home excited, blessed, and ready to live fully for Christ. It’s all good, right? Well…maybe not.
Experts are discovering that one barrier to effective ministry is that sometimes our good intentions and well-meaning help can actually harm those we are trying to serve when we do it without sensitivity and understanding. Another barrier is the rise of narcissism in youth culture. Students have told me they will go on a mission trip if it is out of the county, someplace warm, or if there is a fun “day away” activity. How can we break these barriers and open up our hearts and minds so the Spirit can work through us to bless others and glorify God?
Perhaps we can begin by asking and wrestling with some questions such as:
- Does the ministry we do strengthen or weaken those we are serving?
- Is this service going to enhance or erode the recipient’s work ethic?
- Will this cause the recipient to become more independent or more dependent?
We need to be sure that the ministry we offer does not in any way diminish the recipients, rob them of dignity, or devalue their unique individuality. We don’t intend to do that, but without understanding and sensitivity, it can happen.
Here are some questions and suggestions to help you and your students wrestle with these issues as you prepare yourself to be servants of the one true King:
- Why am I doing this? Is it to get away for a nice trip with friends or is there a willingness to deny oneself, give sacrificially, and put the needs of others first?
- What is my attitude? Do I see myself as some kind of redeemer come to rescue from injustice or am I aware I am a fellow pilgrim on this journey of life willing to walk with a brother or sister while we lean on and learn from each other?
- Who am I ministering to? Am I willing to set aside all preconceived ideas, judgmental attitudes, and biases to see those I meet as image bearer of God, redeemed sinners, brothers and sisters in Christ? Am I humble enough to learn what they have to teach me? Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man I meet is my superior in some way.”
- How am I ministering? Am I willing to work hard work to understand what it means to live with injustice, bigotry, or marginalization? Am I willing to try to walk in their shoes, to be sensitive to their unique situation?
For a better understanding on how to develop a new attitude that will enable you to serve effectively, I recommend two books to use with your group before the mission trip: “Toxic Charity” by Robert D. Lupton and “When Helping Hurts” by Brian Fikkert.
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