Mission as Pilgrimage

Journey: something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another; an act or instance of traveling from one place to another  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/journey

During the first two weeks of any new year, you hear the word “journey” quite a lot.  At the gym – journey to fitness or weight-loss journey; at the office supply store – let us help on your journey to organization; during any sports commentary – the journey to the championship; on the church sign down the road – every journey needs a stable foundation (in front of the nativity scene, of course).

Journey is a word that we use at this time of year because we think are thinking about a destination or a goal we want to achieve – and that’s why it’s used so often when talking about sports playoffs or championship games.  But when we use the word “journey” in our Christian life, we shift the focus from the destination to the journey itself.

This shift is evident in A Mission Journey, which was written by United Methodists with experience in short-term mission for volunteers going on short-term missions.  Rather than focus on the destination – where we’d like to go on our trip – we focus on dialogue, respect and relationship building, and we always remember that “this is God’s mission and not our own.”

Pilgrimage in Mission

Our journey in mission is not really about our destination and it’s not about the work that we do – although both of those are important aspects of any mission trip.  Our journey in mission is about opening ourselves to see God at work in the world, to allow the Spirit to open our eyes and hearts to see where there may be needs in the world that we can help to ease.  Our hands may be busy, but we can’t let that be our sole focus – when we are planning a mission trip, on the way to our destination, and while our hands are busy at the work before us, we must remain prayerfully open.

At each point along the way on a mission journey, we have opportunities to get to know those who are on the journey with us.  These may be people who have signed up for the mission trip, friends from church that you may know but on the mission journey you have the opportunity to know each other more deeply, to share stories of your faith, your struggles, your joys.  There may be people at your destination, perhaps a homeowner who you are helping.  Although your visit may be brief, you can listen deeply and share the gift of being present with each other.  The porch repair, the replaced window, the new flooring – these are important tasks, but the journey is about listening to each other, giving and receiving in the name of Christ.  In this way, all people involved in short-term mission – those who plan, those who work, those who receive, those who host – all are on a pilgrimage.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines pilgrimage as “journeys to holy places undertaken from motives of devotion…”  I believe that short-term mission trips can be pilgrimage, if the travelers are attentive.  On your short-term mission journey, be prayerful.  Before you choose a destination, be praying.  While on the road, be praying.  When the hammer and saw are in your hand, be praying.  Look up and be praying.  You are going on a journey to a holy place, let your devotion to God be your motivation. Those people you meet along the journey will bless you even as you seek to be a blessing.

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