Canceled Mission Trips Give Us an Opportunity for Self-Reflection

With much of the world in various stages of lockdown, short-term mission trips have become one of the first summer casualties. Planes are grounded. Airports are quiet. And the folks who print all those matching mission trip T-shirts are wondering when business will pick up again. But I, for one, am grateful someone hit the […]

With much of the world in various stages of lockdown, short-term mission trips have become one of the first summer casualties. Planes are grounded. Airports are quiet. And the folks who print all those matching mission trip T-shirts are wondering when business will pick up again.

But I, for one, am grateful someone hit the pause button on short-term mission trips this year. Because it gives our churches a chance to reflect on how disconnected our missional practice may be from our everyday lives as followers of Jesus.

I’m convinced that each and every overseas trip, must be rooted in a day to day lifestyle of local mission. Every church and every believer must grapple with this challenge. Otherwise our mission trips become a two-week jaunt that bears zero relation to the rest of our year—and our vocation as Christ-followers.

This year, I believe Jesus is inviting us to consider a greater degree of integrity between our daily lives and our occasional overseas missions practices.

One of the dangers of the way our minds work, is that we have a tendency to romanticize the poor who are geographically distant, and demonize the poor on our own doorsteps. It’s a coping mechanism, designed to keep the poor mostly at arms length, so we can help them in small doses without too much cost to our everyday lives.

Case in point, how many short-term teams would have headed down to Latin America to build houses and paint schools this summer? Nothing wrong with that right?

But what if those very same people we were ministering to in Guatemala or El Salvador in 2019, are the ones arriving desperate and needy at our borders in 2020?

Is it right to serve them on their own turf, and then reject them when they try to flee violence and end up on our turf?

Since all mission trips are canceled anyway this year, how about we take that time to reflect on these three invitations to go deeper in our missional practice. Perhaps by strengthening these foundations, we will be in a much better position to consider traveling abroad next year.

1. Are We Practicing Hospitality Locally?

Radical hospitality is at the very heart of the gospel, which Jesus defined as “good news for the poor” (Luke 4:18). God welcomes us and in turn, asks us to welcome others, especially the poor (who are repeatedly described in the Scriptures as the orphan, the widow and the foreigner/refugee.)

So, God’s heart is very much for the refugee, so much so that his own Son chose to become a refugee (Matt. 2:13–23). Jesus proclaimed that, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me in (Matt. 25:35).”

Literally, whatever you do for refugees you do for him. So, it would be fair to say that our posture towards refugees reveals something of our heart’s posture towards Jesus.

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What if part of the church’s criteria for traveling on an overseas mission trip was to obtain a letter of reference from local refugees?

This really doesn’t need to be complicated. Many churches are already doing it. Reach out to a local refugee ministry and make yourself and your home available. Perhaps you can come alongside a newly arrived family and show them the ropes. Perhaps you can provide tutoring for their children so they can integrate more easily at school. Even the simple act of inviting a refugee family for dinner is a beautiful act of radical hospitality.

You say you care about refugees? Then tell me, what are their names?

2. Are We Advocating for Refugee Justice?

Part of Jesus’ call to love our neighbors is the call to advocate for them too. After all, how can we love our neighbors while ignoring the boot of injustice on their neck?

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” And that goes doubly for those we would seek to minister to if we were traveling to their countries this year.

This is a matter of integrity as followers of Jesus. If we remain silent in the face of government policies that hurt refugees, all the while signing up for short-term mission trips to go and “bless” them in their home countries, we may be the very “Blind Guides” that Jesus criticized for traveling over land and sea to convert others, while remaining blind to our own hypocrisy and injustice (Matt. 23:15,16).

Again, this need not be complicated. Vote for those who are concerned about refugees. Support policies that help asylum seekers. Don’t build border walls with cruelty and glee.

3. Are We Grappling With the Big Picture?

If the first invitation above was the invitation to compassion and mercy. It is like the call to rescue those who are drowning in a river.

The second invitation is the invitation to travel upriver and address the root causes of people falling into the river. This is the call to work for justice (Micah 6:8).

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And this final invitation is the call to recognize that very often when we travel upriver, we will come face-to-face with ourselves.

Because, historically our own nations have too often been complicit in the very root causes that result in refugees having to flee their homelands.

For example, many of those seeking asylum in the United States are fleeing gang and drug violence in their homelands. But the guns fueling that violence are often made and bought in the U.S., according to this research.

This year, is a good year to seek to understand more about the root causes of the challenges facing the nations we may be traveling to on short-term mission trips next year.

And when we do, let’s be open to the invitation to lament and repent for what our nations have done. Just as Daniel repented for the actions of his nation’s leaders, even though he as an individual was not guilty: “We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you” (Dan. 9:8).

There are few themes repeated in Scripture more than the call to care for the orphan, the widow and the alien:

“So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” —Deuteronomy 10:19

“Cursed is he who distorts the justice due a foreigner, orphan and widow.” —Deuteronomy 27:19

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment … against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the foreigner and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.” —Malachi 3:5

“When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the foreigner, for the orphan and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” —Deuteronomy 24:19

Let 2020 be a year for missional self-examination.

For whatever reason, the pause button has been pressed on short-term mission trips this year. It’s a chance for reflection and to move towards greater integrity in our actions as followers of Jesus.

And in doing so, may we discover a renewed, more consistent, love for the nations.

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.