Somehow summer schedules still squeeze sweltering spiritual soirees and sojourns between semesters.
Those of you with more years behind you than ahead recall two-week long revival services conducted under brush arbors with lemonade and funeral home fans. The seersucker-clad evangelist sweated out the heat and dealt out some hellfire of his own in hopes of keeping you from it eternally.
Youth camps usually found a way to add more heat, if not light, by concluding with a campfire. Marshmallows roasting on sticks, testimonies of how one’s life had changed that week, and singing old standards like “Do, Lord”, “Kumbaya” and “Pass It On” kept the heart strangely warm and tender.
Vacation Bible School was hardly a vacation for mothers who went hard to work on crafts that would end up in shadow boxes or on refrigerators as reminders that God wanted to make something good of these kids. Little ones pledged their allegiance to the Christian flag, the Bible and the American flag (the order I prefer). They learned Bible stories like Daniel in the lion’s den, Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, and Jesus calling his disciples, feeding the 5,000, and calming the storm.
These things still happen in many churches, but something else has been added that is worth noting, and it’s a something that has also reshaped us all for good: Mission trips are all the summer rage now.
The word “mission” conjures missionaries sent to remote parts of the world where the heathen know not the God of Jacob or Jesus. Missionaries carried the good news with them to these foreign lands, lived among them as awkward visitors in native garb, and then came back to our churches on summer Sunday nights to show slides and build support. They did a lot of good, driving out superstition in favor of faith, and stopped many a virgin from being thrown into a volcano to appease an angry god. Though well-meaning, they sometimes also brought their Western ways with them, which made it seem that they were bringing a Western Jesus, too.
Nowadays we are learning better to respect the cultures we enter when we go. We are looking for the Christ who has already beaten us there. We are as eager to learn from them as to teach them. We go to be changed as much as to preach change to others.
We used to delegate mission work to career missionaries. While they still go for us, we also go now. Sometimes we go to help missionaries. Sometimes we go because fewer missionaries go fulltime now. But we are going more now than ever. Instead of sending only our money and prayers, we are sending each other and going ourselves.
We used to think we were going in order to change the world that needed changing “over there”, as if our world “back here” didn’t need changing. We are finding that the world is being changed as much because it is changing here as there, and it is changing here partly because we have gone on mission there.
When nearly a hundred of our church’s youth and adult sponsors returned last month from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, their mostly educated white world that bears for them enormous promise of prosperity was less important. Making friends with Dominican kids, who have very little of their own but faith, family and friendship, taught our kids that their lives consist of more than the sum of their things. They got out of their comfortable routines and learned that the world’s goods are not only unequally distributed but that opportunity is, too. They also got to question their unspoken assumption that God blesses them with more because of their own goodness and industry.
The Christian mission enterprise in the world is maturing for the better. If these kids are evidence of its value, we will all be the richer for it.
George Mason is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church. This column is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on the magazine’s “Worship” page. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.