Tell me if this sounds familiar…
We were on a mission trip to Mexico to help renovate a church building for the community. Every day we were there, a group of youth would gather around to watch us. There were two boys in particular who tried to steal our backpacks every day. We always kept a sharp eye out for them and never lost anything while we were there. The last night we were on our trip, and the project was finished, we gathered for a celebration meal of pasta. Nothing fancy, but it felt good to celebrate what we had accomplished for God and this community. As I stood inside enjoying the last moments we would spend with our brothers and sisters in the community, I looked out and saw the two boys standing across the street. I went with one of the other members of our group and asked the boys if they would come join us. After some coaxing, they finally came in and got a plate of food. As they turned to leave with their plate of pasta, I told them not to miss the bread and dessert as well. They were overwhelmed and couldn’t believe that we would offer them all this for free.
It’s a great story isn’t it? Now how about this…
One evening while I was at the church preparing for the weekend services, I looked out the window and saw a group of teens sitting on the church steps smoking. I could see the skateboards sitting next to them on the ground and immediately knew they were the ones who had destroyed several of our flower beds. I immediately went out to the teens and told them that this was private property and they were not allowed to smoke or skateboard here. They got up and began to move down the sidewalk. I stuck around a little longer than I planned to make sure they didn’t come back, but still made sure to call the police on my way out the door so they would check on the building later.
I’ve heard stories like both of these over and over again. I’ve even been at board meetings where the same person who tells the first story, will later share the second. It amazes me how different Christians will behave when they are outside of their church element. It’s almost like the church building itself is the catalyst to creating a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Why do people do that?
Why would they go on a mission trip and set down the barriers to their heart, yet upon returning home immediately refortify them?
I’ve seen hearts broken on mission trips; grown men weep at the prospect of never seeing the children they’ve been serving for only a couple weeks. Yet upon our return to our own churches we throw our hands up and say “what are you gonna do” when our own youth leave the church. So what’s the difference?
Some would say that people in other countries are more open to the message of the gospel. But I don’t think the longing for Jesus changes from one country to another. There are plenty of people in the United States who long to know Jesus as well. What changes is our mindset for ministry and ultimately the Jesus that we show them. In other countries they see the Jesus who humbled himself to serve and love those whom the world has seemingly forgot about. We present grace and peace as we open our arms in service and humility, not asking for anything in return. We don’t shut ourselves off with class labels or position titles.
On a mission trip we are there as witness to the power of what Jesus can do in the lives of others. At home we try to do Jesus’ work for him. Imagine what our church communities would look like if we kept the mission trip heart when we return. If we kept the peace and humility of worshiping in a church with no windows and a leaky roof while sitting in our padded pews watching projector screens. If we continued to let Jesus do the work and not get in the way.