I am still thinking about the magi’s journey to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus. Preaching on a text sometimes hammers it deep into one’s psyche. What strikes me is the investment the magi made. They gave not only the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but also the time and energy for the trip itself. They entered a foreign culture to pay homage to an infant king who was not immediately their own.
I see so many connections in this story to the value of short-term mission trips, especially to different cultures. As one who has lead over a dozen mission trips to Jamaica, I see the investment and hopes that people make when they go on a “vacation with a purpose.” A key element of that preparation is to recognize that they go to discover Jesus in that place, more than to bring Jesus to that place. The Christian service or actions that the missionaries perform are important, but the relationships, conversations, and participation with the people of that new culture are what become holy and blessed.
Too often I can become fixated on the physical accomplishments of a trip. When I have worked with Habitat for Humanity it brings me satisfaction that we have constructed a safe, secure, simple structure for a family in need. And when a team runs out of building materials or out of time, I feel frustrated and disappointed.
Still the bigger accomplishment in any trip is the network of relationships that develop in the community. Worship, meals, conversations and play are just as significant as the work done on the house; we often meet Jesus, hidden in the smile of a child or in the song of an impromptu choir. Those encounters with Jesus change and enlighten us, if we give them “homage.” Time for reflection and prayer have been a key element in my mission journeys because they help us bring Jesus home after the trip.
I look forward to leading mission trips in the future. I sense that Jesus is waiting.
Have you ever encountered Jesus in a different culture than your own?