Each year as we prepare for, or as the team is serving, I am asked about our trip to Italy. It is usually a question of “Why Italy?” out of a sense of curiosity. But, admittedly, some of the questions are much more pointed. Some ask why we would send people and resources to a European “Christian” country when we could have a much greater “impact” elsewhere.
While one is out of curiosity and one is more direct, they both provide the opportunity to dive deeper into our understanding of Christian missions. It allows us to dig deeper and have a clear understanding of where God is needed, how He has chosen to save the world, and how modern mission trips fit in.
Where is God Needed?
In our effort to send missionaries to the ends of the earth, in some ways we as American Christians unfortunately fall victim to our own efforts. In order to raise support, missionaries need to motivate people to give, and to do so they share their ministry as a compelling need. And what is more compelling than the picture of the hurt, poor and lost of this world. Think of the picture of the African child in tattered clothes looking up to the camera with sad eyes. It compels us, but it also very subtly deceives us. It deceives us into the notion that their need is “greater” than that of our neighbor next door, or a citizen of a European country. All three contexts share the same truth: there are people in each who don’t have the restoration and redemption of the Gospel in their life.
This is reminds us of Jesus when he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV) We are called to all places at all times. And this includes Italy, a nation where Catholicism has become cultural and has minimal impact on a personal level. While 80% of Italians claim to be Christian, only 3% report actively participating in their faith.
How Will He Save?
So if God is needed in all places and at all times, how should we reach out? Unfortunately, this is where we once again fall victim to our own efforts. Since most mission trips involve a significant financial commitment, we have approached our trips as wanting to “maximize impact” and making sure the trip is “worthwhile”. We think in terms of return on investment.
But let me be clear. God’s salvation plan has not included one-week trips until the last 50 years. For the first 1,900 or so years God’s plan was focused on planting Gospel-centered faith communities among the lost of the world. His salvation plan was first the saving grace provided through His Son, and then proclaiming this good news through local churches animated through the transforming and restoring work of His Holy Spirit.
The hope of the world is first and foremost God’s saving work, and second, His bride the Church. When God poured out his Spirit He did so to a local community of believers who were committed to each other and to the Gospel, and through them the good news went out.
As a reflection of this, everything we do in missions at Mercy Hill Church for missions is centered around the local church wherever we serve. Whether we serve in Italy, Rwanda, Mexico or locally, we partner with and edify the local church in those communities.
So, How Do Mission Trips Fit In?
“If the hope of the world is the local church, then why go at all,” you may ask. But this question is still flowing out the view that a mission trip is about what we can accomplish or achieve. The proper question should be what will we allow God to accomplish on this trip?
And if His plan of salvation is our guide, then we know what is most important to Him is relationships. It is our relationship to Him, our relationships with each other, our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, and our relationships with the hurting, lost, and broken of this world. Just as Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)
Because of this, our mission trips at Mercy Hill Church center on building relationships in all these areas. We design and create space on our trips for this to happen. There is individual time for people to reflect and walk with God. There is time in cafes in Italy, on the terrace at Solace Ministries in Rwanda, and time on our other trips. There is time ministering with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the local context so we can encourage them and they can edify and teach us. And there is time to be involved in reaching out in ministry. If this involves some construction work or a tangible project, cool, but that will just be secondary to our main focus on building relationships.
With all of this in focus now, I hope that you can see that our question of “Why Italy” can now change to the statement “Of Course Italy.” Of course Rwanda, and Mexico, and Royal Family Kids, and India, and the Middle East, and Milwaukee, and beyond.
May we be a church that at all times and in all ways is reaching out to all places. And as our church family is reaching out to our brothers and sisters in Padova, may we be lifting them up in prayer this week and beyond.
MH Missions Trips
Find out more about Mercy Hill missions trips at mercyhill.org/missionstrips