Harry Potter and the Student Mission Trip – The Inconsistencies and Virtues of the Missional Life – Post 2-

The primary audience of this series of posts are directed … to me and maybe this one is for youth workers too.

There was a moment during one of our mission trips when a couple of our high school students were debating whether or not they should see the new Harry Potter movie that was coming out when we returned.

When asked for my thoughts I said, “Well I personally have no problem with Harry Potter. Are people really concerned with the magic & sorcery? I grew up on Lucky Charms and Narnia books, I’m now in the ministry …”

They replied, “No, not like that. It’s just odd to be serving at this AIDS Camp and then planning what we’re going to do next week.”

It’s here when they had my attention. I’ve always been sensitive to whether or not short term mission trips were a good thing. I end up concluding that they are when given the appropriate framework. In this case, I was concerned that this mission experience was simply going to be “consumed” similar to how the new Harry Potter movie was going to be “consumed”. On the other hand, I was grateful that they were aware of this tension and so like any good youth pastor, I fueled it.

“Good point, maybe you shouldn’t then.”

To which one replied, “Yeah that’s ok, I don’t really feel up for it anyway.”

It was odd for at least three reasons. One, it was a sudden reactionary response that killed the conversation without resolve. Two was because we were sweating in the intense heat of the Bahamian sun and the prospect of air-conditioning, a comfortable chair and a refreshing cold Coke would be quite alluring (Who is the idiot that chooses these mission trips in July?? Oh ;). The third was it wasn’t my point at all. I simply didn’t believe that God was going to be any more glorified had they gone or not.

I’ve always been in the habit of saying something like “Don’t go on these mission trips, be moved by the experience and return home despising your suburban upbringing. Don’t disdain your family, destroy your material possessions and judge the life-style of others. If you are a suburbanite, you are one, until you move to the countryside or into to the city. Instead, share what you have gained from the experience and invite others to dissever it for themselves. The short term mission trip has many blessings, among them is that it encourages those who are being served to feel the care of countless complete strangers. Another set of blessings is extended to the one doing the serving.”

This is part of the framework that we try to create. This is deepened by the idea that we are to serve in the way of Jesus, which is concerned much more with the attitude and the relationship than with the metrics of the work (though how much work we do is part of stewardship). It’s this attitude that I hope we return with more than the desire to keep building cabins and sidewalks here in the ‘burbs.

I know all of us in ministry want to see tangible differences but having our students sell all their possessions, drop out of high school and become some type of suburban monastics may not be wise, sustainable or even Christ-like. The opposite of that would of course be, having students return home with no distinct differences aside from being tagged in a handful of pictures, a souvenir or two, maybe an encouraging note given by a youth leader and the thought, “I did my part, now where’s the remote?” The latter would certainly be Exhibit A of the poverty tourism argument.

Regular readers know that I like the gray areas and here is no exception. Similar to my first post in this series on “compassion fatigue”, we have to accept who we are and who we are changing into. Not everyone should return from a mission trip, sell all their possessions and return and serve. It’s profoundly beautiful when we see people receive this calling and similarly, we need to receive our own callings. More on that later in the series.

I cannot count the number of times when a student has returned home from serving in New Orleans or at the AIDS Camp and a friend says to them, “I cannot believe you were cleaning out one of those houses destroyed in Katrina – you don’t even clean your room.”

Or in the words of another female student, “My friend said to me, ‘I believe you, but I just can’t picture you helping like that with your church. It hurt at first but I totally got to explain it to her.'” It’s in these accusatory conversations that I believe God finds joy and the server discovers that they have been changed as they were trying to bring change.

That’s a very powerful moment and among the other moments and prayers, I hope God uses all types of lessons to help us with all sorts of virtues contextual to our lives. Maybe in this case, we end up consuming less, giving more, caring more, serving more, judging less and grow in the life that Jesus modeled for us.

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