Getting My Money’s Worth on a Mission Trip

July 25, 2011

I am back to the blog after a three week hiatus.  I hope you’re still here!

Thank you so much for being nice to my guest bloggers.  I really appreciated them.

So, I’m back home after a week of sweating in Mexico.  What happened over those few days?  A lot of work, and a lot of sweating among communities of poor okra farmers.  I played and prayed with a lot of children who accepted the gospel.  I played soccer like a total gringo and got schooled by eight-year-olds.  And I did a lot of grunt work.  And while our silly matching T-shirts didn’t spontaneously catch fire as Jamie the VWM had wished for, a lot of things did…and did not happen.

Keep reading to find out just what I learned under the searing Mexico sun.

Getting My Money’s Worth

Although I didn’t know what I’d be doing, I was resolved to do what was asked of me as hard as I could.  I wasn’t going to save the world in a mere week, and I tried to not have plans that were too grand about how I was going to bless the crap out of everyone.

But by the third day of mixing concrete, digging ditches, and playing “burro” with the children (which is remarkably similar to “horsey” in America), I was tempted to be disappointed.  Were these jobs really big and important enough for me to be doing?  Was I getting my money’s worth? (These questions are paramount to Americans with too much time and money.)

But I remembered that Jesus said that even giving someone a cup of water in his name is ministry.  Now, giving someone a cup of water is really no big deal.  It doesn’t seem important, really.  Wouldn’t it be easier for someone else to give out the water?  The fact is, Jesus praised people who did small, seemingly unimportant things for others in his name.  There is no such thing as “getting your money’s worth” with Jesus.  There’s no job “too small” for a Christian to do.  That’s just our big fat egos talking.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses…

I highlighted here that I didn’t really pray…at all before signing up.  I know myself well enough (and just how good my prayer life is), that the more time I spent “praying,” the more time I’d have to come up with an excuse to stay home.

It would be really freaking hot.  The work would be hard.  I’m really busy already.  I don’t know if I’ll be safe.  It costs a lot of money.  Someone else can do it.  I don’t have the skills for this.

Then I met the group of sixteen strangers who I’d spend the week with.  People who had paid much higher personal cost to come than I.  Two mothers with children with them, one pregnant with her fifth child.  There were four people over age fifty.  One was even deaf.  I found myself one day mixing concrete with the senior member of our group, a 71 year old woman with a steel rod in her spine…

I felt pathetic.  I felt ashamed of the ridiculous excuses that were in my heart.

As it turns out, Mexico was no hotter than my hometown.  We were never remotely in danger.  Our host family took good care of us, and none of my other excuses panned out either.

A Drop in the Bucket

Short term missions are just that…really short.  

We didn’t change the world.  We were there long enough to lend a helping hand, give the gospel to some kids, and go home.  It’s easy to debate if such a short trip is even fruitful, if that’s what you like to do.

I hope it was fruitful.  But I do know this.  One week doesn’t make me a “missionary,” or an expert.  It doesn’t give me something to check off my list.  It doesn’t give me the right to judge “selfish” Christians who don’t go on mission trips,  nor does it make me any more righteous than them.  Heck, going on a piddly one week mission trip and then coming back feeling super holy probably makes you less righteous than if you had just stayed home.

This is what I know for certain.  A week is a drop in the bucket of my life.  And if I don’t come home and live a little more justly and walk a little more humbly, then the whole week probably was a complete waste.

All right, tell us all about something small, something unimportant you’ve done for Jesus (without getting too braggy!)  Did you dig a ditch?  Hug a kid?  Offer a cup of water?

17 responses to Getting My Money’s Worth on a Mission Trip

  1. Welcome home, Matt,

    Glad you are back safe and sound and sane.

    How do I not get too braggy?

    Something small and unimportant I’ve done for Jesus?

    Well, I used to clean toilets and try to do it as well as though Jesus would be the next guy to piss there.

    Having said that, now I’ll get back to writing the world’s greatest book on humility.

    John Cowart

    • That’s awesome, John. A lady in my church just told me a story yesterday of how she traveled overseas to a children’s hospital. She had grand plans for blessing those children. She was led through the first ward of children. Then the second ward of children, who were even worse off than the first. Her heart was breaking for these kids. She wondered where she’d be working, which child she’d get to bless first. She didn’t think the children could get any worse off, but she was led to the third, then finally out the back door. There, in the alley, was a large pile of trash. She was given a shovel and told that the first thing they needed was the trash to be moved to the dump. Sometimes, that’s what Jesus needs. :)

  2. Awesome, Matt! If I am reading this correctly, your heart is turned towards doing more. You have already filtered out the seemingly unimportant to write this post, and a couple of your points will grow: service, sacrifice, love for others, and the Gospel! Worth a million bucks. It is not about changing the world, it is about being obedient to God, and handling his Gospel where ever we are called. I was at a church yesterday that had a stop sign at the end of the parking lot. “Entering the Mission Field.” It does’t matter where we go, it matters that we go where Jesus has sent us.

    I have done lots of stuff for Jesus. It’s hard to serious about this business for 35 years and not feel like bragging a little… but Paul said brag on Jesus, so I feel good about that.

    One of my favorite things to do is give anonymously. We’ve left food on the doorstep of needy folks, sent bank checks to others with no return address, and dropped cash into bibles while folks where up front getting prayer, or picking their kids up in the nursery. A friend of mine and I rented a backhoe and knocked down the high pile of fill behind the church, leveled it and put in a playground in a day. Another time we built 12 picnic tables for VBS at night.

    I am always amazed at what and how God wants to do things. Yesterday the Lord asked me to go to a church 2 hours away. What?!? I did. When I got there the main speaker walked over and prayed for me to be healed?!?! What?!?! BTW – I am healed! And then at the end, I had a chance to minister to others with my gift. Amazing. It opened a door for me to go and minister again. Amazing!

    Jesus is amazing! Serving him is the greatest joy of my lifetime and to him be all the glory!

  3. How on earth did you get Jamie Wright to guest post for you?!

    Beyond that, I guess I’ve been serving at a Pregnancy Crisis Center all summer. It’s for school (a required internship), but I love it, and I know that even if I’m doing something “dumb” like filing work, I’m serving those in our community who need a little bit of God’s love.

  4. Welcome back Matt.

    You make a good point about North Americans who go on missions trips, thinking a) they should really be getting their money’s worth and b) having a holier-than-thou attitude for having “sacrificed”.

    I’m one of those people that have never gone on a short-term missions trip but I have delivered grocery bags filled with turkey sandwiches, Christmas cookies, bottle of water, pair of socks and a book (not a Christian book or a track – just a book for reading leisure) and left them on dumpsters around Vancouver’s downtown at Christmas. I’ve showed up to spring clean the church kitchen (I am the only one younger than 50 that shows up), and when my friend had postpartum, I’ve cleaned her bathroom and cooked her food.

    If there is one of the ‘gifts of the Spirit’ that I definitely don’t want, it’s helps. But at the same time, I feel I have to do my share, because we ALL benefit when the body is healthy.

  5. I teach CCD. (Catholic Sunday School). The only thing I don’t love about it is getting up early on a Saturday morning. So I guess that small thing you are asking about is getting up early (7:00 am) on a Saturday morning.

  6. Many years ago, I helped a young woman in our church’s Careers group, someone I barely knew, to pack up her books for an impending move. It took me one day out of my life. No big deal. We moved soon thereafter, and I never saw her again.


    Years later I received a note from this woman that her dad had just died, but she knew he was in heaven. She wanted to thank me for my role in his conversion. A staunch unbeliever, he first started looking into Christianity because he couldn’t understand why I would come over and help his daughter pack books. Such a small thing to do with such eternal significance.

  7. Wow let me just say you hit my feelings on a dot! I feel very blessed to have gotten the opportunity to work with you guys even if I didn’t have much to offer. But even the little things we did coould’ve meant something to someone . We can’t change the world in a week but we can sure make an impact in one person . And I beleive we all accomplished that!

  8. Matt, great post and welcome back! Truly inspiring. I’ve never gone on a missions trip but I’m the unofficial “chair stacker” at church. I guess that’s something otherwise we’d have chair chaos…

  9. Recently I was on my way to church and drove past a woman whose vehicle had broken down. Dang that Good Samaritan story, I had to turn around and go back, and I never did make it to church.

  10. I will pray for strangers that I run into as Jesus leads me. It is a weird feeling to go up to people and ask if they need prayer. One time, He led me to pray for the friend of a Lybian-born woman I met on a London subway. The last time, He told me to pray for a rough-looking man sitting on a bench near a golf course. That was scary, even in broad daylight. It turned out that they guy wanted to stop drinking and repair his relationships. He was totally broken and Jesus wanted to tell him that there was hope. That was the last time.

    • Actually, the most humbling prayers have involved the potty. You might consider me the Queen of Poopy prayers. My second child had one painful incident with #2 and decided to never do THAT again. It took a year of praying for her on the potty and off before she figured out that the process was inevitable and much better as a daily occurrence. The third child took two years to potty train, at four years old, because he wasn’t convinced it was possible for him. At one time, I had a “standard potty prayer.” I might still even remember it if anyone has a prayer request ;-).

      It falls under “Things You Never Thought You Would Pray About Before Kids.”

  11. Welcome back, Matt. I’ve helped with all sorts of ‘inconsequential’ things on missions trips and at home from cleaning to removing debris to whatever else. If our goal is to take a trip to change the world, we may become very disillusioned quickly. But we can trust and obey, see it through His eyes, and go on to the next and the next. Good stuff, Matt. Thanks.

  12. Hey Matt, sounds like an excellent week!
    Think about this:
    Maybe you did change the world…of one child whom you played burro with. Or maybe you did change the world…of a parent when their child came home with the message of the Gospel.
    Our job is not to evaluate our ‘worth’ when we minister. Our job is to walk in obedience to where Jesus calls us; and to do what he directs us to do.
    Something small and unimportant that I did? Eh, nothing. But I did something Grand and significant in the eyes of the Lord:
    I went on a STM; I spent 6 days hugging and loving on kids. I spent 6 days helping pastors reach their community with the life saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. I spent 6 days learning about another country, and falling in love with that country. I spent 6 days having my world rocked by a world rocking God. I spent 6 days learning more and more about Jesus Christ. Best 6 days of my life? Yep. Even when some of those days sucked. Even when my heart was broken by some of the things I saw. Even when one of my team members laughed at something I said, in a mean way. I went and was changed. I really can’t imagine how anyone could go on a STM and not be changed. I am now going to look for more and more opportunities to serve. I think North Dakota is calling me now…