Many of us have been in church when a missionary is home on furlough and is invited to speak. I’ve always enjoyed hearing about their experiences, viewing slides and learning what God is doing in tough places. I’ve often wondered what makes a good missionary, what does God look for in a person who He sends overseas? To me, a good missionary would need to be a laid back, low key person, open minded and able to leave the familiarity of their comfort zone. As I was preparing for my trip to Guatemala, I thought about those characteristics, I prayed that God would help me to be open to His Spirit.
Those of you who don’t know me well, I am anything but laid back and low key. Like most of you I take comfort in the safety of familiar environments. Yet I felt led to go on a weeklong trip to Guatemala. Have you ever wondered if God has asked you to go on a mission trip? Maybe God has spoken to you, but you brush it off because you don’t have time, you have too many commitments, or you ask yourself-Why would God send me? What do I have to give?
Well first off, there are many life lessons to learn on a mission trip. Some people can broaden their world view and learn about cultural differences, they learn to be more sensitive to people unlike themselves (Romans 15:5-7).Other people may gain a greater understanding of servanthood because they are exposed to the needs of others and develop a true sense of what it means to serve (Philippians 2:3-8).Then there are people who gain a deeper trust in God as they were confronted with difficult situations. (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
One of the live lessons I learned was compassion. I have many opportunities to give my time and attention to others, I’ve seen a person in financial need and then do what I can to meet that need. But do I have compassion for them? Do I listen to their deeper needs? Do I take on their burdens of anxiety, shame, or embarrassment that often come with being oppressed? I had seen many pictures of poverty, I’ve glanced at pictures of people who live in dirt floor homes, wearing ragged clothes, and dirty faced kids. On my trip to Guatemala I came face to face with poverty.
The pain and suffering and the reality of poverty were no longer things I read from a book, seen in pictures or heard about on the everyday news. Pain and suffering were directly in front of me; pain had a face and suffering was real. These were people with names, people who I spoke to, played with, fed and hugged. They have desires, hopes and dreams. When you come into contact with extreme poverty, it will change your heart. The petty things we make such a big deal over become smaller. Disagreements and arguments we have with friends and family can bring on feelings of shame.
I begin to realize the frustrations and stress of everyday life are so small in comparison to people who and are stuck in extreme poverty. Colossians 3:12-13 says- Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must cloth yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowances for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you so you must forgive others. If you cannot go on a mission trip, there are plenty of opportunities for us to show tenderhearted mercy and forgiveness. This could be with co-workers, family and friends. God has chosen all of us to reach out beyond ourselves and show gentleness and compassion. If you have opportunity to go on a mission trip, I encourage you to go. You will grow in your relationship with God; He will put your personal struggles in perspective and give you a more sensitive heart. I also believe you will gain experience that will continue to guide and shape your Christian life with greater purpose.
*Some of my insights for this article were heavily influenced by the archives of Kevin Mahaffy – Group Mission Trip 2019