Written by Alyssa Esparaz
The beginning of summer reminds me of one of the most memorable trips of my life.
I was 14 and headed to the Philippines to visit some Compassion centres and the child my family sponsored through Compassion. It was my first time travelling to a developing country, and I was ready to save the world.
What I didn’t know is that I was about to be completely broken–and that more than anything, I was the one who needed saving.
I’ve been on more than my fair share of missions trips (or vision trips or exposure trips or compassion trips or whatever you call them) throughout my teens and young adult life. Each time, I’ve come away with a totally new perspective on my faith, on the way I live my life, and on the ways Jesus longs to shape me to be more like Him.
I’ve also become convinced that in many ways, we need to reframe the way we engage with short-term missions.
What I wish I knew before going on my first missions trip was that I was about to embark on a journey of understanding my faith from a totally new perspective.
Missions trips aren’t simply about what we are doing for Jesus by serving others. In fact, they are often more about what He is teaching us through serving others–as well as through living with, serving alongside, and being inspired by others.
I wish I had known that this wasn’t about a silver-bullet solution that only my team and I could bring “over there” or even to the “underprivileged” parts of our own community. There was no renovation or gardening I could do better than the locals, no class I could teach better than someone who lives in that context every day.
There is nothing particular about us that makes us the only people who can “go over there” and save the world.
Except for the fact that we need to go. As in, we need to learn from our brothers and sisters from different cultures and ways of life. We need to serve with the local church in the developing world, to be inspired in our own ministry at home. We need to experience proximity with those living in poverty, that we may recognize our own poverty and together run to Jesus as our “enough.”
What does this look like? It means going with a posture of learning. It means we don’t arrive with our agendas and to-do lists, but rather with hearts ready to listen and engage in communion with people who live in a different culture and lifestyle, yet who are family all the same.
The reality is that short-term missions can be extremely damaging if we’re not careful–and that is why we need to go with humility, inviting Jesus into every moment to open our eyes to what He is teaching us.
Travelling with this mindset doesn’t always feel productive. When I first got home from the Philippines, I didn’t feel like I had accomplished a whole lot. I had gone, met our Compassion child, and visited some Compassion centres.
What I didn’t realize was that the work was just beginning. Seven years later, I’m still putting in work as a result of that trip–working through the brokenness I witnessed, the brokenness I started to confront within myself, and the brokenness of the injustice in this world. I’m working on understanding my position and privilege in the world, and how I can best communicate, exemplify and be the love of Jesus to the world around me in the everyday.
What I wish I knew before my first missions trip is that the real mission field is my own heart, being shaped to better reflect Christ’s heart. And the real mission is to learn, through new and awe-inspiring experiences, more and more of what it means to follow Jesus and be part of His global Church.
Want to learn more about travelling with Compassion? Visit www.compassion.ca/visit.
Want to read more on this topic? Check out When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.
Need some travel tunes? Check out this Spotify playlist from Compassion Ambassador Dan Bremnes!
This series is about youth who strive to make this generation one of compassion. They are responding to the brokenness in the world by taking action with Compassion Canada. We hope these stories inspire and encourage you.