Many mission trips are really Christian excuses to travel abroad. Do some physical labor. Meet some grateful people. (and wonder why these people who have less than me are happier than me). Get in as many pictures as possible with the locals. And boom, successful mission!
This is drive-by ministry. It does not create lasting change in the people that go on mission because it was never created to bring about lasting change in the people that are served. If you want to transform lives, something must be sacrificed, and that is especially true in the transformation of our own lives.
An evangelical youth pastor once lamented that mission trips and service projects are really more about the people doing them than the people on the receiving end. But at the same time, he praised the fact that, if it is done right, the people that go on mission can truly be transformed. GlobalRM is about getting both transformation in the missionary and in the communities ministered to. We do this through a trendy, but no less powerful word, sustainable.
Our missions must be sustainable in order for them to be transformational.
We have to be committed to the people there. We have to be committed to their lives. We have to build individual relationships with individual people. The reason why we leave a trip without being transformed is because we left no part of our hearts behind. We took them with us, full of interesting sights and sounds and foreign culture. There was nothing sacrificed on our part. We were the givers.
Sustainable missions are committed to real people and to solving their real problems with our personal and communal resources. Doctors, nurses, and dentists heal. The priests and deacons administer the sacraments. Nerds like me teach about the gospel. But none of this matters unless we have partnerships with those who will remain behind and relationships with those we served.
The social teaching of the Catholic Church has a great word that should be trendy because it is at the core of human relationships: solidarity. Solidarity means that any two people, because they are both human persons loved by the same Heavenly Father and have the same redemption in Jesus Christ, can truly be united in friendship despite all other differences. Rich and poor can join in solidarity just as much as owner and worker, producer and consumer.
Pope John Paul II had this amazing quote on the secret of solidarity and sustainable mission that I am still trying to find the reference for (leave a comment below if you know where it comes from). To paraphrase, he said "No one is so rich that he has nothing to receive, nor so poor that he has nothing to give."
Rich, white, suburban Christian groups doing drive-by mission trips devolves into a kind of paternalism that is nasty and undeserving of the name mission. This paternalism says essentially, "You are poor and weak. I am wealthy and have many things you need. I will come to you and give you some of my excess to meet some of your needs." Solidarity is impossible if someone carried- whether implicit or explicit- such an attitude.
When you go on mission you need to ask yourself what part of you are you willing to sacrifice in order to be united in solidarity with your brothers and sisters afar. Your sacrifice will be what sustains this mission. You will give your time and attention away. Your skills and expertise, your sweat, money, and care will be given, too.
And in the end, if you sacrifice for the life of another, you will find yourself richer, not poorer. One thing all happy people have in common is their generosity. When you open yourself up to your neighbor in need, you will discover through them that you were in need too. Grateful people have this way of getting inside your heart and making it bigger.
One lasting change that will come out of this GlobalRM trip in October is not the massive dental care we will provide, or the general hygiene we will teach. Nope. It will be your heart, changed and transformed. It will be broken again and again by the poverty you see, and reformed and mended by the joy you discover in the midst of the poverty.
And once you are transformed, you'll want to sustain this mission forever.