When I was in high school I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and New York City. This was no ordinary trip. It was not a family vacation or a school sponsored trip, rather it was a mission trip hosted by my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). High school students from Oklahoma and Texas met in Dallas to begin our adventure. The theme of the trip was “Poverty and Homelessness in the Big City.” During our trip we were going to meet with people and organizations that had devoted their lives to the cause of serving the poor and the homeless in DC and New York City. This was no ordinary mission trip; it was something that I still remember clearly to this day.

During our week long journey, we served meals to people from all walks of life. We talked with them about their life, listen to their stories of hurt, pain and even their struggle with addictions. Coming from a medium sized town, I was not exposed to the homelessness on the scale that I witnessed in New York City. Sure I knew that they more than likely existed but it wasn’t something that I thought about. Because of this trip, I became more aware of the people in my city that needed assistance.

Now that it is the summer, churches are gearing up (or already have) for mission trips. Generally the appeal of mission trips is to go to different places, to see a different part of the country or even the world. Mission trips, especially for youth and young adults, are essential when it comes to faith development. These experiences, memories, discussions and connections provide a foundation for what is means to be a follower of Christ in the 21st century. Seeds of faith are planted as a result of these trips.

In 2007, I was blessed to go to the continent of Africa, more specifically the country of Malawi. I was there for about two weeks, touring the country, visiting with local missionaries and church leaders. I saw people who lived in one of the poorest countries in the world cling to their faith in God. At one of the churches I visited, one of the leaders showed us an area in the back of the church. It was a small room but it was filled with bags of corn, wheat and flour. It was recently harvest time and the members of the church donated ten percent of their crops to the church so that the church could use it to serve to her people. When the group I was traveling with returned to the United States we had conversations about our experiences. Many of us agreed that we went to Malawi to find a way to help the people in that country with some need that they had whether it was water or sanitation, but all of us returned changed. The people of Malawi through their generosity and bold faith, in spite of what was going on in their life, transformed us. We were not the same people when we returned. Our hearts were filled with the goodness of the people. Our souls were renewed by the faith that was expressed and our eyes were opened to a culture and people full of life and devotion.

Mission trips in their inception were started by people who wanted to share the message of Christ to those who had not heard it before. Missionaries would risk their lives going into areas where the story of Christ had not been told before. But now, mission trips have evolved. There are not areas where the gospel has not been spread to. There are not places were missionaries have not already been, so what is the point of mission trips now?

Mission trips have the power to impact those attending the trip just as much as those who are being served. These trips have a way of exposing us to things that we would rather not see or talk about. If we are going to be followers of Christ in the 21st century then the idea of mission trips has to change. The idea of swooping into a place and announcing that you have all the answers is not what people are looking for. Anyone can build a house with Habitat for Humanity or even feed the homeless. The focus of the mission trip should be on what God is doing in the world and how we as followers of God can join in.

Missionaries of old believed they were bringing God to the people, but now the mind set should be finding God where we go, knowing that God as been there for a while now.

On most of the mission trips I have been on it wasn’t always the big service projects that made the most impact. It might have been a nightly devotion or story of why a homeless shelter was started. So as many churches send their members off to serve others, let us remember that God has been on this voyage long before we arrived, let us be open to the transformation that is possible when we open ourselves up to what God is doing and has already done.

The Rev. Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He currently serves as Associate Minister at First Christian Church (DOC) in Orange. Rev. Dolive can be reached via email at evandolive@att.net or online at evandolive.wordpress.com.