March 23, 2014

I Went on a Mission Trip and All I Got Was this Matching T-shirt and the Wrong Attitude

No, I do not hate mission trips. (I do have reservations about them, but also know that when done well, the money spent is not a waste.)

But yes, I do hate matching t-shirts blaring the church’s name and a cheesy slogan. (“Kenya Help?” Seriously? That money could definitely be put to better use. Just ask the missionaries you will be working under for the week.)

(Is it really that hard for 20 adults to keep track of each other in the airport?)

But besides cheesy matching t-shirts, one thing I don’t like is when the group gets back to church and their post-trip presentation is all like “They seemed so content even though they had so little! They didn’t even have hot water, and they had to wash their clothes by hand. It made me thankful for my nice hot shower and my mom who does my laundry.”

Because immediately when this happens, when we feel grateful because we have more stuff, more resources, more whatever, our gratitude becomes rooted in making comparisons. In essence, “I am thankful because I have way more stuff than they do in that poor third world country.”

And if it’s wrong when our envy is rooted in comparing ours lives to others’, then our gratitude should not come from making comparisons either.

All Christians, no matter how poor or rich they are, are called to gratitude.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And if our gratitude is rooted in somebody’s lack, should that somebody’s envy be rooted in our excess?

In no way am I trying to say that we shouldn’t be affected by the sight of poverty. I am not saying we should look at a child in tattered clothes digging through the trash with no compassion. We should pray for our eyes to always see the world as our Father does. But what I am saying is that gratitude is not based on having more or being more than other people. That type of gratitude is not genuine, it’s circumstantial.

I’m talking about gratitude in all aspects of life: our appearance, our resources, our relationship with Christ.

Does it ever make sense to say,

“I am thankful because at least I am not as ugly as he is.”

“I am thankful because at least I have a nice house, new clothes, and a hot shower.”

“I am thankful because my life could always be worse.”

“I am thankful because I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

Does that sound familiar? (Luke 18:9-14)

It’s not that people don’t have good intentions with loving hearts when they say things like “I’m thankful because I have a nice house with a washing machine.” It’s not that what people felt on that mission trip wasn’t real, or that what they saw wasn’t shocking.

It’s that even after those “mission trip feelings” fade and we aren’t being shocked by the sights of poverty every morning, we are still called to be grateful.

Believe me, I have been that person before. I have been wearing that matching t-shirt, standing in front of church, professing my life-long gratitude to God after being exposed to the sights of poverty for a week. But you know what? It never takes long to get back in the groove and become irritated and ungrateful due to a few “first world problems.”

And this is not just true for people coming back from mission trips. It’s true for anyone who is tempted into gratitude based on “good” circumstances and having a whole lot of “stuff.”

Because it shouldn't take a trip to a third world country (or living in a third world country) to make me grateful for the “stuff” I have. It shouldn't take a tragic death to make me grateful for the people in my life, disease to be grateful for health, a broken down car to be grateful for when it's running well.

All it should take is a Savior, a knowledge that life here on this earth is but a vapor, and a heart filled with hope for the “happily ever after” that’s coming our way.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

So by all means, go on mission trips (planned correctly.) But don’t come back with the wrong attitude, a skewed version of gratitude. And please, ditch the cheesy matching t-shirts.


Grace and Peace,