As the semester draws to a close, many Samford students are preparing to embark on summer mission trips. Some will go across the nation, others across the globe.
On these one to two week long trips, the young missionaries will provide aid like clothing and food, help construct homes and community buildings, and – some would argue most importantly – they will share the story of Jesus Christ.
Four years ago, I was getting ready to leave on my first short-term mission trip. I spent hours packing and preparing to travel to a foreign country to share my faith and my resources.
That summer I spent two incredible weeks in Ecuador. My team spent most of the time in a small jungle village called Misahuallí working with the American missionaries who lived there full time.
During our time in the jungle, we worked on building a house for the missionaries to live in, put on Vacation Bible School for Misahuallí and other surrounding villages, and spent time each night worshipping with the missionaries. My team also spent a fair amount of time exploring the capital, Quito, by foot and by cable car.
This is not unlike so many of the trips that Samford students have experienced and will experience this summer. It’s a pretty standard framework.
Go to a faraway place full of people less fortunate than you, spend a few days working, take pictures with cute kids so you have a new profile picture, enjoy the tourist attractions and foreign scenery then return home new and improved.
After my trip, I watched my friends feel righteous about the work we had done. They posted pictures with adorable Ecuadorian children and wrote blog posts about how much good work we did.
I did the same. I wanted to show the world what we had accomplished and the people we had met.
However, I had the feeling that something was off.
I realized that I had gone into the trip with the wrong attitude, like many students who go on short-term mission trips tend to do.
I was expecting to save these kids with my resources and my ideas of God. I was supposed to change their lives.
In reality, they changed my life.
I was helped more by this trip than the jungle kids were.
Yes, we did good work, as all short-term mission teams do. We made substantial progress on the missionaries’ house, and we were able to give clothes and shoes to kids in a severely impoverished jungle village.
But I was the one whose life was altered. I left with a new perspective. I appreciated the resources I had more than I ever had before the trip.
Short-term mission trips are not about them; they are about you.
Really, you could send the money you’d otherwise spend on the trip to the missionaries or organization in charge and do much more good than you would by going in person.
But that’s not the point.
By going somewhere new, building relationships along with homes and learning a different culture, you are forever changed.
Anna Lautenschlager is a senior religion major. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.