By Steven Norris
When the car pulled away from the house, I surveyed my surroundings in Belize — cinder block walls, cement floor, twin-sized army cot, mosquito netting, and one fluorescent bulb hanging overhead — and the thought hit me, “I am all alone.”
Mission trips often involve traveling with a familiar team of people and doing work during the day. As the team returns to the hotel in the evening, it can be easy to fall back into old routines and cultural habits from “home.”
By contrast, I traveled to Belize as part of a “mission immersion” experience to force us out of our comfort zones and immerse us in life, language, culture, and ministry in this foreign land. Over the two-week period, we would be staying in ten different cities, with ten different pastors, serving ten different churches.
As I was welcomed into the life of Pastor Luis Pacheco — eating meals together, visiting church members, leading in worship, and being a part of their family — I began to understand Jesus’ instructions to the disciples. In Luke 9, they were sent out without an extra bag, food, money, or change of clothes.
In so doing, the disciples were forced to depend on the hospitality of those to whom they were ministering. They had to “become one” with their hosts, their futures dependent on the futures of their host family and community.
One of the problems with the way the Church currently does missions is that we tend to keep a healthy distance and distinction between those giving and receiving help. While those needing help come to us in a vulnerable state, we often maintain a safe distance that insulates us from the realities of their concerns. Even on mission trips, our hotels often become secluded ghettos of American culture, expectations, and values.
Conversely, the Doctrine of the Incarnation teaches that Christ left heaven and became one of us in order to reach us with the Good News. Christ became vulnerable, even to the point of death, so that we might know the riches of God’s grace towards us. How might our efforts in missions reflect that kind of commitment and vulnerability?
My time in Belize taught me to be very careful with “missionary tourism.” Our focus should be on creating lasting relationships with brothers and sisters living in other lands. We must be willing to let down our guard, come out of the safety of familiarity, and be vulnerable in order to receive the transformation that God wants to do in our hearts. This is true with our mission efforts in Griffin as much as it is in Belize.
I am very certain that my time with Pastor Luis did more to transform me than anything else. While I was able to offer some encouragement, that experience was instrumental in my conversion from a citizen of the United States to becoming more of a citizen of the Kingdom of God — a worthy goal for all followers of Christ.