Growing up in Brazil, I experienced many of the negative aspects of short-term mission trips, certain events and attitudes only witnessed by those on the receiving end. I watched as mission teams impacted the lives of orphans in my home city. The teams taught the orphans to open their hearts to love and, upon the team’s departure, forced the orphans to add the team members’ names to their personal lists of loved ones who had abandoned them. In my community along the Amazon River, I have also seen mission teams tour my home and culture instead of serving and encouraging the people who reside there and then I have watched exhausted full-time missionaries complete the short-term mission team’s unfinished work projects. Though not all mission trips were characterized by negative aspects, many were. Therefore, over time, I cultivated a hatred of short-term mission trips.
Knowing my aversion toward short-term mission trips, my family and friends were very surprised when I applied for the JBU Louisiana Disaster Relief Trip. Why did I apply for a short-term mission trip if I hate short-term mission trips? Good question. As embarrassing as the truth is, to be honest, I applied one weekend in the late-night hours after binge-watching a season of Supergirl on Netflix. In my caffeinated, sleep-deprived state, I think I was inspired by Supergirl’s sacrificial life toward others and wanted to do the same. Though I debated retracting my application multiple times throughout the weeks leading up to Fall Break, I did not: God was already softening my bitter heart.
In Louisiana, I witnessed the positive aspects of mission trips in new and exciting ways. Through the exhaustion of physical labor, I understood bits of each JBU mission team member’s culture and story in a more authentic way than ‘hammocking’ in the Quad or coffee dates at Pour Jons could ever match. Not only was I given the chance to better know my classmates, but I was given the unique opportunity to empathize with the courageous people of Louisiana and their heart-breaking stories. To open your home, in most every culture, is a sign of vulnerability and hospitality. In Louisiana, however, the people portrayed the ultimate example of vulnerability: they opened their homes to be destroyed, their possessions to be discarded. As we threw away moldy trophies and water-soaked wedding albums, the home-owners shared their stories with us. Their testimonies of hurt and of hope will remain with me forever, and I hope that one day, if I ever endure a hardship equivalent to theirs, I will remember the Louisiana people’s strength in Christ, despite adversity, and be encouraged. I also listened to the cultural story of Baton Rouge and New Orleans: jazz music and oysters, protests and poverty. Yes, we toured, but whereas previously I would have viewed tourism as a depreciation of authentic culture, I felt as if my experience in Louisiana was enriched by the small glimpse into the bustle of city life.
Are mission trips a blessing or a curse? It depends. Will I sacrifice myself to work hard without complaining? Will I humble myself in a place that is someone else’s home? This trip showed me that so often in the past when I deemed a short-term missions trip as “unrewarding,” I did not comprehend the trip’s influence on the individual team member. I know now that God can use short-term mission trips to impact the life of an individual on the mission team, and thus alter her entire perspective of the world.
Jansma is a sophomore majoring in family and human services.
She can be reached at JansmaJ@jbu.edu.