MUST WE TRAVEL FOR MISSIONS?
My husband Jeff would often ask me: Why should we have to go to another country to do missions? We have needy people all around us.
I know, I know.
But I had to go anyway. God plunked me in the middle of El Salvador in 2011 to see poverty there . . . so I could return home and see poverty here.
Hopefully you learn more efficiently than I do. While I still treasure foreign mission trips, I’m learning we don’t have to take expensive trips elsewhere to open our eyes to needs at homes.
Missions at home can be incredibly rewarding, if we release some myths surrounding them.
Here are five mistakes I’ve made about hometown missions and how you can avoid them.
MISTAKE # 1: I have to do something big.
Flying in to another country for a week of focused work in a foreign culture can seem more glamorous than volunteering once a week to sort donated shoes and coats for a clothing drive in your own town.
But it’s not. Small things are big things. Routine aid done regularly and nearby might have a longer-lasting impact than a few days spent every few years somewhere distant. I may only donate toilet paper once a week to the food pantry, but to those families receiving it each week, it makes a difference in their daily lives.
MISTAKE # 2: I have to have lots of free time.
When you minister abroad, you know it’s for a limited time (unless you’re a full-time missionary, of course), so you freely give 100% of your time to the cause at hand.
But at home? That’s not possible. One deterrent to my helping a *little* at home was the fear I’d end up having to help a *lot*. When I became involved with a homeless family with major needs, I was afraid my whole life would get sucked into theirs, leaving no time for my own family.
I’ve since learned this: It’s not only okay, but it’s necessary to set healthy boundaries for missions at home. We can’t participate in every good opportunity that comes our way. God equips many servants in an area; never are we the only ones capable of meeting every need. When we have to say no, it opens an opportunity for someone else to say yes.
MISTAKE # 3: I have to self-initiate the projects.
I’m awful at dreaming up new ways of serving. If I have to come up with my own ideas, I’ll freeze and do nothing.
Instead, we can just show up where God already is at work. Most established ministries are hungry for more volunteers and are ready to use us immediately. Our director at Manna House is a great example—when new volunteers arrive, she instantly sets them up to serve desserts or hand out toiletries or stack boxes of food.
MISTAKE #4: I have to keep the two worlds separate.
When we travel for missions, we leave behind the distractions of home. It’s easy to focus on one thing.
But when we volunteer regularly in local outreaches, we don’t have the luxury of setting aside our regular lives. We still have to wash clothes, buy groceries, take kids to ballet class. To effectively manage both worlds, let them bleed over into each other.
So instead of making a separate dinner date to spend time with one of my best friends, I invited her to help me deliver meals each Wednesday to disabled residents. We get to catch up and get to serve others at the same time.
MISTAKE # 5: I have to know what I’m doing.
Thinking we need to be experts before we reach out is a powerful deterrent. How can I go door-to-door handing out gift bags in a poor neighborhood when I’m an introvert and won’t know what to say? How will I handle a theological question I can’t answer?
With humility and grace. While some missions do require specific skills, most don’t. The main requirement is a heart for God and a love for people. The Lord supplies our missing ingredients through on-the-job training, through other people we’re with, or directly to us through His Spirit.
Granted, if there are skills to learn and work to prepare for, let’s do so. But we don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to hand out shampoo and soap to Hispanic families in the soup kitchen line. If we smile and say, “Hola,” we’re spreading God’s love.
JUST SHOW UP
Only a few years ago I had no friends who lived in housing projects, I’d never prayed with strangers receiving free food, and I would have immediately said, “No way!” to having breakfast in a homeless camp under the bridge.
But God still does miracles. Opening my blinded eyes to the poor in my own community is proof. Jeff was right after all: I don’t have to travel far away to minister to needy people; I can help people here in my own community.
I still make mistakes, I’m still a scaredy-cat, and I still don’t know what I’m doing.
But I’m learning that just showing up is the biggest step in doing missions at home. It’s our willingness God wants. He’s big enough to handle the rest once we arrive.
When we’re present and attentive to the people God puts in front of us, He is pleased.
They are loved.
And we are blessed.
What myths have you believed or mistakes have you made in missions at home? What fears have held you back? How have you overcome them? Please share in the comments.
Lisa Burgess looks for God in everyday moments and in ordinary lives, then shares them on her blog. Read more of her stories about discovering Jesus among the poor in her hometown here: http://www.lisanotes.com/category/my-stories You can also find Lisa on Twitter and Facebook.