I think a lot of people go on missions trips because they want to experience the self-fulfilling thrill of “before and after pictures.”
You know what I’m talking about:
“This is a picture of the plot of dirt we found when we arrived. And this is the church building that we constructed in 4 days.”
“Here is a picture of the muddy, garbage-filled stream that the local children used to drink out of, and this is a picture of the village kids drinking crystal clear water from the well that we dug.”
For the most part, I think we come by it honestly. We want to make a difference. We want to know that all of our efforts were not in vain. That we accomplished what we set out to do. Then we want to celebrate the impact of those efforts by sharing the results with our family and friends.
The problem is that while we think we are celebrating the impact, we are usually just celebrating ourselves.
Missions trips are supposed to be catalytic, not cathartic.
It’s a good thing to leave your comfort zone and spend a week or two serving a community that has real and urgent needs. But please remember that the moment you put a bow on your efforts and say “mission accomplished” with an “after picture” you have officially declared victory in a war that was never yours to begin with.
When people serve with us at New York City Relief, there are lots of “before pictures.” Honestly, almost all the pictures we get are “before pictures.” Every now and then a volunteer team gets the privilege of snagging an “after shot,” but every “after picture” is the result of weeks, months, and years of effort that God has put in through countless vessels who were willing to say, “here I am, send me.”
In 1st Corinthians 3:6 one of the greatest missionaries of all time writes this: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
When we go on missions trips to communities where we are not entrenched on a long-term basis, we have to remember that we are in the business of planting and watering. The growing is God’s job.
So the next time you want to share the success of your short-term missions trip, let your life be the “before and after picture.”
Show the world how different you are “after” your short-term trip by engaging in ministries at home that serve the poor.
Find places in your community that need the same kind of involvement as the organizations you partnered with abroad.
Teach your family and friends the lessons that you learned by encouraging them to go on the same short-term trip that launched you into the mission of God.
Every person who surrenders his or her life to Jesus should be a walking, talking “after picture.” Not because you’ve arrived, but because you’ve started. And sometimes the best thing to get a person moving is a short-term missions trip.
Smile for the camera!
Grace and Peace,