I set up a blue, borrowed card table and tried to steady it on the uneven dirt of Highland Park in Brooklyn, NYC. The dollar store puzzles were opened and ready for my first batch of seven-year-olds. They surround my table with all the intensity of a summer vacation hopped up on sugary drinks and creme-filled cookies.
For three-hour stretches I taught group after group of the cutest kids on the planet. We learned about God through yarn and play dough and working as a team.
That summer I hugged kids, passed out snacks, learned the motions to five thousand songs and served God with my body. For that is truly the way to worship him.
It has been two decades since VBS in the park but my hands and feet have stayed busy, as yours probably have. We, the Church, have built homes, dug wells, prayer-walked, preached, sang and danced, distributed Bibles and food, snuggled babies, and stuck our hands up the back of puppets, all in the name of Jesus.
“I want to be your hands. I want to be your feet.” We beg Jesus to be used of him. Our bodies are able, our hearts are willing. Give us something to do!
Maybe it is our big American Adventure Spirit. Maybe there is a deep ancestral drive to tame the next wild west.
Maybe we have learned to measure our effectiveness by our productivity; our worth is seen by what we do.
Maybe we see ourselves as The Powerful Ones and the world is just waiting for our elbow grease to arrive in their neighborhoods as the answer to all their prayers.
Maybe we have just never considered anything other than grit.
One of our family goals is for every kid to experience a mission trip before they leave home. You can read about the benefits of cross-culture trips in this post, To Travel or Not to Travel: Five Reasons to Take Kids to the Developing World.
But a dilemma cropped up. What counted as a mission trip? Only those taken with a church group, meeting a tangible goal while working with our hands?
What about the trips my kids took to African farm land, watching their dad converse with local managers and hanging out with school kids in the slum? What about adoption trips? What about visiting missionary friends?
What makes a trip a mission trip?
What is it that I really want for my kids as they travel internationally?
As I read smart books and listened to what God said about valuing people, an idea surfaced.
What if the world needs more of our eyes and ears and less of our hands and feet?
People above products.
Sharing above giving.
Relationships above blood, sweat and tears.
Listening above action.
Eye contact above diligent hands.
I sat down on a blue, borrowed, pillow on the cement floors of a creative center in Mymensingh, Bangladesh. I had no puzzles to offer that day. My feet were quietly crossed under my legs.
In one room, I watched the most beautiful women on the planet reenact the horrors done to them in secret. The lightness with which they told their common story, indicated healing was taking place in their sweet hearts.
In another room, my eyes followed their gifted fingers as they wove thread in and out of colorful blankets. I listened to them talk about their kids and their projects and tease the fastest seamstresses among them.
That day I bore witness to their stories and honored their creativity. I was the recipient of a fuzzy, maroon bindi on my forehead. I complimented and I smiled.
That day I found another way to worship God.
Is there a time for action? Of course.
A time to get stuff done? Without a doubt.
Alongside the people we value and serve, not for them because we were all created for action.
Parenting friends, I still want to take my kids on mission trips, but the doors have been thrown wide open on that term and here is what I believe qualifies as a “mission trip” from here on out:
Any time we enter into another’s world to pour the honor and dignity of Jesus on to them, we are fulfilling God’s mission.
After doing missions in eight countries (with various degrees of maturity), serving as a (mediocre) cross-culture missionary for four years and spending my entire adulthood in love with serving Jesus (however naive and slightly arrogant I have been), a switch has been flipped in my heart.
I want my kids to learn to be the hands and feet,
but being the eyes and ears might be even closer to the heart of Jesus.
Maybe it is still a toss up.
What do you think?
Cover photo by Adrienne Gerber.