By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary
Last week we introduced our spring 2013 FirstThird Dialogue theme, Reclaiming the Servant’s Heart, with the first of three webinars. The webinar’s theme was “Making Mission More Than a Trip.” This week we will get various perspectives on mission trips themselves as we prepare for this week’s topic, “Servant Learning.” Let me start the week by offering my own perspective – being the person at home.
Two of our family members just returned from mission trips. Each being on a different trip, the day after their return our family spent much of the day hearing stories and debriefing their powerful seven days serving others in various in communities.
As one of the two at home, I was glad they both had a rich experience. But, if I’m honest, I have “mission trip fatigue.” As the wife of the Director of Mission Outreach, mission trips are just part of my husband’s job. And, after about 4 or 5 years of 2 to 3 trips a year, I stopped caring…or at least stopped asking about his trips. Now here’s the thing, I appreciate mission trips as a participant, but as a spouse or “the one left at home” the debriefing always seemed to miss the mark. You see after a few trips, the details all sound the same, at least to me. We worked, we had some mishaps we had to overcome, we bonded as a group and discovered new things about ourselves, and now after a week of “meaningful” work, we try to return to our lives. Have you ever been “the one at home”? Does this sound familiar?
This may seem self-centered, but somehow the meaning always seems to be lost in the translation. And, upon self-reflection, it’s as much about me as them. What my husband and daughter share correlates with the questions I ask. If I ask what they did, I’ll get the list of work projects…If I ask how it was, I’ll get vague responses. But if I ask other questions, I get more interesting and less “cliché” answers. So now I ask different questions. What made this trip unique? How were the relationships among the people on the trip? What was the hardest part? What surprised you? Where did you see God at work? How did God work in your life? Sometimes these questions surface out of a story or sharing pictures days after their return, but more often than not, these questions are answered weeks later.
What I have discovered after over 10 years of being a mission trip leader spouse, is it’s not the events that matter, it’s the relationships…between people on the trip, between people on the trip and people along the way, and between them and God. There’s also a theme around how God shows up along the way…in relationship to their work, each other and the people they encounter. And in the midst of all of that, my husband and my daughter are changed. And as I seek to accompany them on their journey, those stories and learnings never get old.
Since most of our mission trips are part of long-term partnerships, both close to home and around the world, hearing stories about God’s work around the world is also engaging. I want to know about how our friends and ministry leaders are doing in other parts of the world. Being an ambassador of our congregation is cool. And hearing these stories, especially over time, changes me…causes me to think of the world with particular faces and stories, causes me to pray for ministry leaders close by and far away, causes me to lift my head out from little world, and see the breadth and depth of God’s activity in the world. And for that, I’m grateful….and blessed.
I have a servant’s heart, but I’m human and get caught up with my own priorities. I need others to remind me of our call to be God’s hands and feet in the world. I’m grateful that serving…and mission partners…are not only an ongoing part of our congregation’s life, but also our family’s life as well.
So next time you have someone returning home after a mission trip, what will you ask? And how might you discover intersections for connecting their week and your lives?
Join the conversation on Facebook.com/FirstThird!
Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She’s our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.
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