It’s three weeks and two days before our team returns to Guatemala.
“What do you do there?” I’m often asked by family, friends, and colleagues.
“We will build two houses and fit fifty people to wheelchairs,” is the elevator speech I frequently pitch, meant to quickly convey a summary of what we do over the course of our seven day visit. Sounds good, and most people walk away happy.
Yet, my elevator pitch is wearing thin on my soul.
In the days leading up to each short-term mission trip I have circling in my mind what I need to pack. There is the usual: clothing, underwear, razor and cream, toothbrush and paste, bug spray, antibacterial hand sanitizer, sun screen, phone and fitbit chargers, medication, and protein bars. But that only fills a half of my suitcase, and I intend on bringing an extra bag, or two.
What else do we take with us? I like taking children’s toys; jump ropes, Frisbees, (water) balloons, ball caps, bubbles, sunglasses … anything I can imagine that would bring a smile and a squeal of delight from a child. I bring any prop that can facilitate play, that I know I can safely leave behind as a gift made with a new friend.
What we pack and bring with us on short-term mission trips is revealing of the far deeper question, “Why do you go on mission trips?” More specifically, “Why do you go on mission trips to Central America?”
“My goodness, Pastor Todd,” well-meaning people will remind me of what I already know, “You don’t know a lick of Spanish.” Nope. I don’t.
What I pack reveals my top priority for taking part in short-term mission trips, and why I make a habit of returning to where I’ve previously served. It is about making and building relationships that are deeply rooted in my Christian faith, as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Though I may look and play the part of an old curmudgeon pastor back home, on mission trips I love to let my hair down and play with children. For some reason, children love to play with me, too. Playing is a way of making new friends and strengthening old friendships. Playing with children is a means of building trust with parents and extended family.
Play opens minds, hearts, and doors to the love of God.
Playing with children is a real and visible reflection of the sparkling, vivacious love our Heavenly Father has for humankind. Playing with children shares the love and grace that our Lord shares with each of us as His own created and adopted children. Playing with children reflects the depth of love that God expressed when He shared His Son, Jesus Christ, with the world.
Sharing the love of God with the world spreads the Gospel, leads people to Christ, and strengthens the kingdom of God. Sharing the love of God drains sin from the world, breaks down walls, and eliminates barriers that separate us … from each other and from our God.
Sharing the love of God by playing with children is the ultimate act of inclusion. It is radical, revolutionary, and turns the world on it’s head. It’s kind of like building houses for people living in cornstalk huts and fitting people to wheelchairs.