I’m standing at the front of a half completed church. The block walls hold up trusses under tarps protecting us from the sun and rain. There are no doors and no windows, just open gaps in the wall where they will be installed when the church has enough money. In front of me is a group of teenagers who signed up for this “Mission Trip” to Romania. They sit on folding chairs and benches in a circle facing the baptismal pool I just stepped out of with another student. Beside me are the students and adults on the trip who have responded to my call to commit their lives to Jesus. Our arms embrace each other as tears roll down our faces. My voice cracks as I try to finish my thoughts for this very special worship service. It’s our final worship service together before we pack our bags and leave in the morning. I can think of no better way to end a mission trip than like this. If only there was a way to teleport each person home from that moment, our lives would be so much better.
The next morning we begin our three day journey home. Three days not because of the length of travel, but because now we have some stops for sightseeing. First a couple stops at castles and palaces on our way to the airport. Next comes almost two days in Paris. Excitement builds among the students as we near the City of Light. I try to be excited with them, but I’m not. My heart is split between going home to see my wife and boys and standing back in that church. I’m conflicted. I hold Euros in my hand with plans to buy decadent French pastries and enjoy the sights of one of the most magical cities in the world. Yet, I’m haunted with the fact that I will spend more on one meal than the foreman for our project earned in a day.
How can I move so quickly from service to those less fortunate than myself, to this self-serving frivolity?
To be honest, it would have happened eventually. I’ve been on enough mission trips to know the commitment to maintaining the sacrifices I made on the trip quickly fails as the reality and comforts of home come flooding back. I go from daily Bible study and no TV, to sitting slothfully on the couch all too quickly. It begins in the airport as my heart races at the sight of the first restaurant. The burger, fries, and milkshake are almost sinful as I eat them ravenously. Then comes Wifi which allows me to promptly ignore my newfound mission trip family to get caught up on YouTube and Facebook.
As I finally get home, I share tales of the trip with my co-workers and church family who are curious of what I’ve been doing for over two weeks. I remember the sacrifice I made and how much my life was changed for those two weeks as I show pictures of our living conditions, the community we stayed in, and the ministry we performed. I’d rather end my pictures with the baptism, but I know my friends are equally excited to hear about Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
I loved spending time with my students showing them history come alive in Paris. I don’t regret any part of the trip, including the juxtaposition of Paris to Romania. In a way I appreciate it to help me truly see how meaningful service to others is and how unfulfilling a life focused on personal gain can be. I, and most of us American Christians, live a very easy life. We think we’ve got it all together. It’s not until you have your electronics, your air conditioning, your bed, and even your toilet seat taken away do you truly appreciate the blessings in your life. You can evaluate what you really, truly need.
For me I’ve found I need my faith and my God. Even as a youth leader who went on the trip to lead worships, I went to connect with God. I knew without the distractions God would meet me there. I was also reminded that my family and my friends mean more to me than I thought. No matter how stressful work is or how frustrating church politics are or how complicated family life is, none of it matters in the end. I can see where my life is better in spite of all of that. And remember that’s why I go on mission trips in the first place. So that I can see the world as Jesus would see it. Through love and service.