Earlier this week I was in a meeting, studying the demographics around two churches in neighboring towns. Someone stopped by to pick up information from the person I was meeting with, and while we were all talking the person who stopped by invited me to join him on his next trip to the town where he has been organizing hurricane relief work for over three years. “You should come and see the work we’re doing, join us!” It hadn’t been but a few minutes earlier in the demographics meeting that I’d told someone “come and see, join us” myself!
When Methodists (and I suspect this is true for most short-term mission projects, no matter what the faith convictions of the people) come back from a mission trip, they are often enthusiastic as they tell others about their experience. Telling someone about the trip usually includes stories about the people you’ve met, the work done and left still to complete, and the worship services. Telling someone about the mission trip with enthusiasm isn’t the same as experiencing it, though, and that’s why people say “come and see” or “come and join us!”
Taking vacation time to work on someone’s house isn’t glamorous. Taking time away from work to clear brush and clean out overgrown lawns isn’t an easy decision. Taking time away from family and the comforts of home to help with disaster recovery isn’t easy because it means facing our own vulnerabilities and fears of disasters. There aren’t witty TV or internet ads for mission work like there are for posh beach resorts or action-packed amusement parks. The way people choose to go work instead of vacation is that they’ve been invited to “come and see” by someone who’s already gone to join in the work.
Restoring Homes, Recognizing Dignity
When we go on trips like these, we are participating in recognizing the human dignity of another person. When we meet someone whose home has been damaged in a fire or torrential rainstorm, when we listen with compassion to their story and then work beside them to re-build their home so they are safe and dry, then we are living into the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we consider the question “what is mission?” we include activities such as mission trips to work on homes as well as the work of establishing churches in places where there are no churches. Both are necessary to live out the gospel. “Love your neighbors” doesn’t require going to another country, as the thousands of United Methodist mission teams within the U.S. prove. These are people who don’t seek their own glory, but just to help someone even if briefly. Many people just volunteer their labor for a week or two. Now and then there are people who commit to a project long term, such as the man I met this week. He’s organized different churches and teams to work on North Carolina hurricane recovery for several years. There are others who still go to New Orleans, to New Jersey, to places affected by wildfires, to Houston.
A hundred years ago mission work didn’t look like teams going out from every church for disaster recovery work. The church must always reconsider the needs of the world in light of its call to live out the gospel. The words of Fred Pratt Green’s hymn “The Church of Christ, in Every Age” speak to how the church must always pay attention to the needs of the world. When we sing this hymn and ask others to “come and see”, we are being God’s church in mission:
The church of Christ, in every age beset by change but Spirit led, must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.
Across the world, across the street, the victims of injustice cry for shelter and for bread to eat, and never live until they die.
Then let the servant church arise, a caring church that longs to be a partner in Christ’s sacrifice, and clothed in Christ’s humanity.
For he alone, whose blood was shed, can cure the fever in our blood, and teach us how to share our bread and feed the starving multitude.
We have no mission but to serve in full obedience to our Lord, to care for all, without reserve, and spread his liberating word.
Hymn found in United Methodist Hymnal #589