Healthy Soul/My Life/Teen Life/Witness and Evangelization

A Drop in the Ocean: Why Missions Matter

As I stepped off the plane during my first mission trip, I hardly expected the ways in which my understanding of poverty was about to be challenged. I left that trip with many different emotions and takeaways, but above all, with the realization that I had a lot to learn. And I still do.

Since this first trip, I’ve had the chance to travel on other mission trips and to spend this entire summer in Nicaragua learning from awesome people who know much more about international service than do I. It’s got me thinking… what can we as Catholics do to enter more fully into experiences like this? What are some of the attitudes or conversations we can have to prepare for these encounters, to recognize Christ in all we meet?

I’ve started to see some themes among the answers to these questions. Although I’ll never be an expert, I’ve tried to compile ideas that have proved quite helpful to me.

So, for those of us preparing to serve in this beautiful way, here are some things we fix our eyes on to open our hearts to God’s plan for us:

1. Jesus is already there

The goal of a mission trip is to serve, to recognize a need and to help fulfill it. However, we must remember that we deserve very little of the credit during such service trips. It’s not our duty to “bring Jesus” to people because… He’s already there.

He can only work through us; we are merely His instruments. And, more often than not, we’ve got more to learn than we could ever hope to teach. Whenever I go on mission, though I’m technically the “missionary,” I find others ministering to me more than I could hope to minister to them: inviting me into their homes, teaching me how to cook, how to work, how to speak another language. I have to step off my high horse and realize that I’m receiving far more than I’m giving, both from Christ and from my fellow brothers and sisters.

Even in terms of our physical contributions, it’s so important to be humbled during these trips. For many of us making these trips, we were not recruited to build a school because of our unparalleled construction skills. My Nicaraguan counterparts can tell you that I am completely lacking in the technical expertise department…However, I thank God that it’s far more important for me to build relationships than to build schools.

Often, it’s not our skills that are required on a mission trip. Rather, our presence. We may not be able to erect a building in a day, or even lay a brick without help, but if we can get to know the lives and struggles of our friends around us, and that is something special.

Just like the boy with five loaves and two fish, we must bring our whole selves to Christ’s feet in humble service and let Him use us as He pleases. Service is less about how much we give to others and more about how much we give up to Christ. We must put ourselves at His complete disposal, imitating Mary’s gift of self as Christ’s humble vessel.

2. We are little

Philippians 2:3 says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

As Christ’s children, we each possess indelible human dignity. There are no “served” and “servers” in God’s book; rather, we are all heirs of the Kingdom and called to live lives that reflect this.

When we serve others, it’s a good thing. Unfortunately, Satan knows that, too, and he uses it to tempt us to the sin of pride. It’s easy to glorify ourselves in these experiences, instead of the Lord—to make ourselves big, when, in fact, we are quite little.

If we look at each person as more important than ourselves, we can nip excessive pride in the butt. We are third (God first, other second, and then—only then—us). If we remember this, then it’s much easier to focus outward, to worry less about how we look to others, and instead focus on the true reason we are there: the human soul in front of our faces. It’s about them, not the number of likes we get on our pictures or the amount of people who compliment our work.

3. Solidarity is key

Catholic Social Teaching (an awesome resource for social-justice minded folk) refers to solidarity as the idea of shared responsibility for other individuals, a duty of our status as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.

As Christians, Christ is the premier model of solidarity. He became flesh to show true love, to share our struggles, and to feel our pain. When we serve others, He calls us to imitate Him, to enter into other’s struggles with empathy and solidarity. We are called not to walk above others, but with them—to accompany them hand-in-hand.

By entering into the lives of our community partners, we leave our comfy bubbles. Especially if we are encountering poverty for the first time, we can expect a bit of discomfort. However, in this discomfort, we are given the opportunity to endure it joyfully, to live in solidarity with those for whom the discomfort of poverty is a daily reality.

When the going gets tough or the bathroom situation is less than preferable, we have a choice: complain, or live in solidarity, letting other’s struggles become our own. When Christ took on our skin, He chose the latter every day.

4. We can’t change the world in a week

…But we can let it change us.

We can’t end poverty—at least not in a week. But if we let that week (or month or year) change us, then we have accomplished an ever greater goal: we have created a ripple that will impact every choice and every soul we encounter in the future.

Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Our drop is little amid such struggle across the world. But it still matters. Never diminish the impact you can have on the world, even if you can’t see it.

5. Everywhere is our mission field

Christ has given us a Great Commission to go out to the world and proclaim His Word. We’re all called to be missionaries, but we don’t all need a passport to do it.

Christ needs us as much in our schools, homes, parishes, and workplaces as He does in the middle of a foreign country. Every duty—no matter how mundane—can be offered for His glory. Every relationship—no matter how seemingly inconsequential—can be a life-changing encounter.

Our mission field is here. Our ripple starts now.

About the Author

Faith Noah

Howdy, I'm Faith and I'm an avid fan of chocolate chip cookies, golden retrievers, and St. John Paul II. I enjoy spending time outside (kayaking, climbing, biking, you name it!). I nerd out on neuroscience, bioethics, and anything related to NCIS or the MCU. But at the end of the day, you'll find me either engaging in sugar-induced fits of hyperactivity or having a deep stimulating theological discussion--one extreme or the other. Fun fact: my whole name (together) is in the Bible. Hebrews 11:7. No big deal.

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