We arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska, with hearts ready to serve, not sure what God had planned for us. We had received an invitation to come on mission, and spirits were high as we prepared to give our all in a radical way. However, we didn’t know He had something totally different in store for us than what we had expected.
Throughout our time in Alaska, we did a wide range of activities: organizing donations at a pregnancy center, serving meals at a soup kitchen, playing with home-schooled children, socializing with a young group, and spending time with families from the local parish, to name a few. We even connected with a college student who had encountered FOCUS from an exchange program at another university; she is excited to bring students from Alaska to SEEK2015.
While we all enjoyed the mission and the people we encountered, when the time came to go home, we couldn’t necessarily see tangible results from our efforts. The people of Alaska had fed us a lot of food and been such generous hosts, but what had we done for them? Our acts of service seemed small in comparison. Our experience prompted all of us to reflect on the purpose of mission.
But that’s the thing about mission trips: When we go on a mission trip, we don’t always end up doing something super “productive.” The main purpose is not to build houses, or plant orchards, or dig wells, or provide medical services—although these are good tasks and the trips may include any or all of the above in the process. But the most important thing we do on our mission is found in the relationships we build, the seeds of faith we plant, the depths of hope we dig, and the healing love of Jesus Christ we share. Through our mere presence in a place, we communicate our faith in Jesus Christ because it is in His name that we come! Young people giving up a week (or two, or four) to travel a long distance through a desire to go on mission and make disciples of all nations speaks volumes about the love of Christ.
Sometimes, when we encounter people of foreign lands, our mission involves receiving Jesus Christ from them, too. This kind of mission takes humility. We lay down our expectations of accomplishment and put aside productivity and efficiency. We may not feel like we are serving, especially when the people we meet welcome us to feasts of local delicacies or take us on beautiful hikes to see the scenery of the area. Instead of striving to give, we learn how to receive—both the hospitality we are being shown and the people from whom we are receiving it. Often when we go on mission, we are the evangelized.
As we left Alaska, one thing was very clear: no one was returning home the same. We had all been deeply affected by our time on mission, most notably by our fellow missionaries! Our time praying, laughing, and serving together had drawn us closer in Christian community, which, in turn, drew us closer to Our Lord. Our goal on mission is to share Jesus Christ with those around us, and that does not exempt the people with whom we serve. Everyone needs to know the love of Christ. Mother Teresa once said, “If the Missionaries of Charity have brought joy to one unhappy home – it would be worthwhile offering everything – for just that one – because that one would bring great joy to the Heart of Jesus.”
Bring joy to the Heart of Jesus. Serve on a FOCUS mission trip.