Do Justice: Reclaiming Mission Trips

I have lately had my doubts about church mission trips.

But it’s been a while. Like 4 years and 3 months, to be exact – which is how old the twins are at the moment – finally after this long stint away I went to West Virginia with the lovely good folks from First Presbyterian Church. My mind was all over the place with stories about #dejarriabechton and #racheldolezal and #freddiegray and #tamirrice and then we were helping with VBS at the local Presbyterian church where the main verse was the familiar Micah 6:8. Do justice. How do we do justice? I kept turning this over in my mind. I’m thinking about restorative justice and transformative justice and racial justice and reproductive justice and social justice. All really important. Still. As much as I theorize and criticize the white savior complex, the nonprofit industrial complex, the christian mission trip complex (might as well throw that in right now), I had forgotten about the complexity of feelings and dynamics that happen on these kinds of trips. Like:

The feeling of the sun wringing the sweat out of my skin so that no matter how much water I drink I never have to use the restroom. Because it’s just so dang hot. But, that feeling of sweat and dirt and sunlight mingling together so deep in my cells so that no matter how hard I scrub in the shower at the end of the day, I still feel it all right under my fingertips.

Like a different kind of baptism, and one that doesn't wash it away but makes it a part of me. Sweat. Dirt. Sunlight. And a little bit of Gatorade.Click To Tweet

It’s good to embrace these moments.  But,  we need to thoughtful and critical along with being hopeful:

We have to be self-reflexive. We have to constantly check our privilege. We have to check our language. We have to check the work that we do and make sure it isn’t about our agenda and what we think is necessary. We have to realize that we’re not necessary, in the long run.

We have to be sensitive. We have to listen. To each other. We have to see. The people we’re working with and for and around on the work site. We have acknowledge our insensitivities.

We have to be sincere. We have to be open. We have to be honest. What we do means nothing if we don’t embrace our bumbling and clumsy way of doing this work.

Ultimately we – and I’m preaching to myself – have to remember that nothing is perfect. None of these endeavors are ever going to be void of the social, historical and institutional problems that make such work necessary, but even our theologies are lacking, too, our faith language is faulty and we will fall short. It’s okay. The Holy Spirit makes up for it. The Holy Spirit fills in the holes. The Holy Spirit takes cares of the gaps.

So we trust, we follow, and we strive and struggle to make God’s kingdom known, yes, – but not just in a cerebral way, we want to taste God’s kingdom and share and be nourished by that same food at the table with all, so we taste, we drink, we pass, we break bread and pour out the cup, and sometimes that looks like tortilla chips and granola bars, sometimes it looks like hammers and nails, sometimes like riding a bike with training wheels, sometimes like taking photographs  and selfies with a little black girl named Evaline.

Because this is how we do justice. We show up. We aren't above digging holes and moving dirt. We get our hands dirty. We acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We give thanks. We keep showing up.Click To Tweet

2 thoughts on “Do Justice: Reclaiming Mission Trips

  • June 17, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for that Mihee. I’m glad you feel that way, because I struggle with the whole mission trip thing too. But I do know that I and the other people who joined you on our mission trips, especially the youth, were changed in an important way. We may have done very little to actually accomplish improving the situations of the people we worked with, but our hearts were changed, one at a time, to look outside ourselves, consider what one person can do, what the church as a body can do. And who knows how that will end up playing out in the rest of their lives, what they’ll go on to do and accomplish. I have no way of knowing how the people in the DR were changed, but I would hope at least that they were made to see and feel that someone sees their struggles, that people of faith are at least caring, at least praying for them, if not actually accomplishing anything more than perpetuating the noprofit/Christian mission trip complex.

  • June 17, 2015 at 11:09 am

    in my mind and heart I will be taking this to Kenya from 6th August for our handful of days at P.C.E.A. Njoro orphan and vulnerable children with a team of nine. (all adults)

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