4 things “Summer Missions teams” need to think about before headed to the city.
Short term missions trips and summer service trips hold within them the power to transform leaders and youth with experiences, education, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Or these trips fumble into breeding a bunch of privileged, whiney, and sunburnt white kids indulging in poverty voyeurism or tourism. The later becomes a selfish act, what some have deemed “poverty pornography.” When service becomes about us, our accomplishments, and what we do, it feels really good. “We helped the poor. We posted all the pictures of little brown children around us on Facebook. Ta-da-da, let’s blow our horn before we go into the market place so everyone can see our good works.” Then it becomes masturbatory-missions. It brings forth no life, nor mutual transformation, it only makes me feel good, and worse it objectifies, exploits, and oppresses others.
Before your small group decides to pack up for a week, and rough it at the Sheraton, or on the floor of the Presbyterian Church in downtown, prep them with scripture study, prayer, education, and awareness.
Here’s 4 things that I recommend:
1) Study the Bible: There are over 3,000 verses in scripture that speak about God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the foreigner, and the orphan. How is it that we have missed these scriptures? What idolatries or comforts sit in our heart that keep us from viewing these scriptures? So many folks want to run around attempting to tear down others with six scriptures, and yet they have neglected 3000 that speak about God’s love for the poor. Are we that biblical ignorant? Our Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Mainline, Evangelical, and Charismatic) have raised generations that parrot pulpits instead of think for themselves. Don’t know where to start? Resources below.
2) Try praying some dangerous prayers. I say dangerous, because they may just transform us. We sing that song “open the eyes of my heart, Lord,” but I feel as though we Christians shut our eyes as soon as something conflicts with our context, culture, or understanding of the world. What dangerous prayers can we pray before we hit the streets to pass out sandwiches or build a.d.a ramps on the sides of houses? Try these simple three prayers:
a) Lord, Show me Jesus in the face of those society has called “least.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
b) Teach me humility, like that of Christ in Philippians 2. Help me to be quick to listen, and slow to speak. Help me God, to desire to be the “ears of Christ” instead of my sometimes egotistical desire to be “the mouth piece of God.”
c) Help remove judgement and sin from my own heart, before I attempt to remove sin from others’ hearts. (Matthew 5-7)
What might happen if we prayed these prayers, and truly meant them? That might mean Life Change.
3) Learn about the City.
I’ll never forget my professor Mark Hausfield telling me that the Holy Spirit is in the research, and that God loves the city. As a young evangelical, I was so zealous to bring my “anointing” and “my testimony” everywhere I went. But after intensive research and looking at the historical issues in the city, my eyes where opened. When we view the city and understand its historical context, then issues of world-systems, powers, and principalities become evident.
Who founded the city? Why? How were the poor treated in this city? Who built the buildings? Where did this people group live? Where were their churches? What forces were in power? How were immigrants treated? Was blood spilled in the city? Was there a fire, or a flood, or war? What darker forces and systematic injustice contributed to this city’s history and perhaps legacy? In a similar manner, How does God love the city? What beautiful things are happening there? Where is God’s spirit manifest? Who is working together? Who is doing good in the city? Are churches setting aside petty disagreements to host a free health clinic? How are churches working with nonprofits, businesses, and neighborhoods? When we assume we are bringing God into the city, we are prideful. When we walk into a place without taking a minute to understand the history, we are ignorant.
4) Check my privilege. Check Church History. Check my isms. How has our education privileged us? How has our wealth given us advantages? What about our skin tone? Does everyone have equal access to health care, education, and basic needs? There have been many excellent blogs written about white privilege, heteronormativity, patriarchy, ableism, and nationalism. You can find resources and videos to help talk about these tough issues with your group.
What about Church history? How has the Church failed in her mission? How have we succeeded? How has history shown that colonialism, gold, and manifest destiny blinded well-meaning Christians in the past? How is the church working towards redemption and liberation now?
What about me? Are there patterns or things I learned from my parents, family, culture, or even my church background that are causing me to be ineffective at loving my neighbor? Have I used terms in speech that demean others and cause them injury? Am I ethnocentric? Am I a classist? Am I a sexist? How have I showed love, and lifted up others who are different than me? Has my culture used the bible to hurt others? Have I used the bible to beat down people? How have I used the Bible to love others and encourage them? When I go into a project, do I go as Christ to serve and to be present, or as a conquering army to steal, kill, destroy, and lord my knowledge and so-called “religion” over others?
There is so much more that we can do to prepare our trips to learn and to serve. We never want to create another system of oppression, but we want to be ministers and servant-leaders like Christ.
May your missions trip be transformative to YOUR heart as well as those you serve.
Please check out my other blogs on Christian Service and people experiencing homelessness, missions, urban ministry, when you have time.
There are so many other great leaders who are talking about these things as well.
Please chime into the discussion.