I have heard it a dozen times over the last couple of months: “Oh, you’re going to Paris on a mission trip! Man, that must be nice! You’re really suffering for Jesus!”
I completely get the sentiment behind these jokes. After all, Paris is one of the nicest cities on Earth. It is beautiful, full of history and culture, and the place of dream vacations. The comments are always said in jest with the right heart, albeit with a misunderstanding of the task. That is one reason I was excited about this particular trip. I knew it would give our students an opportunity to experience firsthand a very important lesson concerning missions.
Missions in Paris is not what you think.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Missions is not an adventure, it is a calling to sacrifice.[/pullquote]
Our work for the week was actually in a suburb of Paris. In fact, it was in a suburb with a high population of West Africans, and our work was primarily readiness work assisting a longterm team on the ground. Our goal: to help them identify concentrations of West African Muslims and locations of potential ministry. We walked for 7-10 miles every day, checking out potential ministry sites and trying to plot places on a map. Several days we did this in the rain. And to make matters worse, you couldn’t even see the Eiffel Tower!
Missions often has the allure of adventure, especially when the location is exotic or romantic. We hear that someone is headed to some tropical location full of strange sights and cultures, or someone from our church moves to a beautiful, far away city, and we immediately romanticize the enterprise. We imagine our missionary sitting in some cafe on a cobblestone street sipping a latte, but in reality they are pounding the pavement looking for apartment complexes or exhausting themselves teaching English classes, leading Bible studies, mapping neighborhoods, and trying to meet serious human needs. Before long that exotic place is no longer exotic; it is just home with all of its problems and difficulties.
Another temptation surrounds the work itself. Instead of romanticizing the place, some can romanticize the mission. My students this week commented more than once on this point. Our goal in going was to serve the longterm missionaries. On this trip, that meant doing a lot of grunt work so they could focus their time on the ministry of the gospel. It is easy to think that being a missionary is simply sitting in a circle with interested onlookers and telling Bible stories as people hear the message for which their heart has always longed. Unfortunately, it rarely goes that way. There are countless hours of very ordinary, mundane labor that go into having a group of people who will even listen to you share. Furthermore, most of the people a missionary encounters have no idea what they are missing and they do not see her, or more accurately her message, as the answer to life’s problems.
Sure, our team got to see the Eiffel Tower. We spent a day mulling around the tourist sites, but this trip to the City of Lights was far from magical, and the souvenirs were blisters on the feet and aching joints. But that is how missions works. Missions is not an adventure, it is a calling to sacrifice. But for the Christian, that sacrifice is a joy that cannot be matched by adventure or romance.