Perhaps you’ve just come back from a short term missions trip, are about to go on one, or are somewhere else on that spectrum altogether. Regardless of your situation, I’d like to share some of what I learned on my first trip overseas, as well as the mindset I wish I would have had prior to stepping onto foreign soil.
I’m just finishing up with a short term missions endeavor and I have begun to think through a couple things. Namely, questions such as “how have these two weeks changed my perspective?”, “What has God been teaching me here?”, “have I faithfully helped the existing leadership?”, and “have I faithfully been seeking God in my service?”.
Although those are perfectly fine questions to answer or ask and are indeed good thinking points, I believe it would be significantly more beneficial to offer the following: first a description of the mindset I found myself with, second, the mindset I am praying and working to have on my next missions venture––the mentality I wish I would have had––and lastly, what that correct mindset looks like.
The Mindset I had:
If you fall into the category of going overseas for the first time, as I did, a couple of things are likely to happen––at least, they happened to me. First, it is very likely you will be overwhelmed and overstimulated by everything for a number of days. I don’t use the word “everything” simply to avoid thinking of a better word––because there are indeed many––but rather to express the breadth of the distraction that will be in front of you. People dress different, speak different and are, well, different. Just about everything in the grocery store is going to seem exotic and interesting––you might just find yourself tempted to purchase all the chocolate you can carry, and certainly more than you should eat. Culture shock is one way to describe it, but I’d like to offer a second description of such a mindset. Because it’s not that I was shocked or afraid but rather culturally enthused and distracted. Therefore, I would say, instead, I was wholly distracted and acutely interested in the new culture I was immersed in.
This distraction or periodic urge to become a world traveler or a coffee connoisseur isn’t necessarily a bad thing, save the time it steals and distracts from your pursuit of God––which is precisely what happened to me.
You aren’t going to have a whole lot of alone time on your trip. Let me rephrase that, you aren’t going to have alone time unless you labor and take intentional steps to get it. You are likely going to have something to do, a place to be, a meal to eat, and a plethora of other things to “accomplish” ninety-nine percent of time. People are going to want to get to know you, you’ll have meals at local homes, and you’ll almost constantly be with your team. This type of schedule will make you realize (I hope) that you aren’t in quite as much control of your time as you typically would be. This, then, will either push you to take steps to find time to read scripture, to pray, to pursue Christ on an intimate level, or spiritually starve while you scarf the delicious fresh bread.
The Mindset I’m Praying To Have Next Time:
What then is the mindset I wish I would have been prepared to have? It is the mindset I strive to have every day––to seek Christ fervently when and when I don’t feel like it. Jim Elliot says it this way,
“I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not”
and it is true no matter your geographic location. Certainly, we are to enjoy God, pursue him as our all satisfying treasure, our favorite, and to flee from any attitude of begrudging service––for that kind of mindset it entirely obtuse to biblical teaching––but also to realize, in our fallen state, we don’t always desire God as we should. We ought to act out reverence for Christ, out of worship to him, not because we always feel like it but because he is worthy. Perhaps this distraction, this preferring of other things to God is more evident in things in the category of “new affections” than in anything else. We ought to guard against it like we guard against anything else that threats our devotion and joy in God––with a Colossians chapter three attitude (by putting it to death).
What It Ought to Look Like:
What I would say, then to anyone going on a missions trip, including myself, is to seek Christ Jesus fervently, violently, earnestly, in all things, as you always strive to do––in the classroom, in your summer job, in your relationships, and on your missions trip. You aren’t somehow or another going to automatically seek God because you are on the opposite side of the ocean, it’s not magic. It’s going to be difficult, you, as always, are required to take up your cross daily in order to faithfully follow Christ as we so clearly read in Luke 9:23.
In short, then, I would urge you to treasure Christ above all else, above another half hour of sleep, above staying up late laughing with your team, and above getting the “full cultural experience”, that’s not why you are there. Pray as David prayed in Psalm 37––to delight in the Lord, to trust in the Lord, and to commit your way to the Lord––and as the psalmist in Psalm 119:5 does––oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! You are there for Christ, to show Christ, and to preach Christ. If you aren’t with him, drinking from his word, and seeking him in prayer, you aren’t going to truly seek him in service, and it will be another trip in the books where a student went on a missions trip for himself and not for God. If you want to show Christ, you must be with Christ. You aren’t going to serve out of the overflow of joy in God if you prefer foreign chocolate to your Bible reading time.
Pray that you would find yourself pondering the riches of Christ, not how to say, “how much is this?” in the local language. And answer the question, “why am I going on this trip” with honesty, seeking to find that answer, by the work of the spirit, in accordance with God’s word, with Paul’s statement in Philippians chapter one––that Christ would be honored in his body, whether by life or by death.