Mission Trips Are Practice In Paying Attention

I’m back after a week-long mission trip in Detroit with 5th-8th graders. Pastor Charon Barconey and the Presbytery of Detroit are great partners in ministry, you guys. So is Charon’s son Michael, who produced this terrific video of our week. You should go to Detroit and work with them, seriously; I’ve been two years straight now, and I don’t see why three isn’t in the offing.

Mission trips are invitations to pay attention. With kids as young as we had last week, attention is a goal unto itself. We leaders spent the week urging our students to notice things and to attend to their surroundings, both in work and recreation.

“Pay attention to how much rice you’re putting in that bag.”

“Pay attention to your surroundings as we walk, en masse, down a busy city street.”

“Pay attention to the devotions.”

“Pay attention to the instructions.”

For leaders of mission trips, though, the week asks you to pay attention to multiple things at once, and I’m finding this to be a valuable element of discipleship formation for adults. It’s true for individual leaders and the community of leaders. No one person can pay attention to all the important things happening with a group of early adolescents. The work they’re supposed to be doing, the weather, the food planning, the transportation, their allergies, their social interactions, their emotional state, their environment: taking stock of all these things, all at once, is impossible. It takes a team, and I had a good one.

Paying attention to one thing at the expense of all the others over the course of a mission trip is a path to frustration. Leaders who focus on the work projects first and foremost, for example, will become hopelessly frustrated if supplies are lacking or if kids aren’t focused. We have to develop an awareness of what else is happening as the work project flounders. Students are relating, plans are evolving, new opportunities are presenting themselves.

For youth as well as adults, mission trips are a school of attention.

 

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