By Derek Tronsgard
Last week I was asked “the question.”
You know...The question. The question that every youth minister and/or pastor is asked whenever they are in the planning stages of a mission trip experience.
It doesn't matter if you're going to Mexico, New Orleans, Wyoming, or somewhere in-between. If you are a leader planning a mission trip for youth and you are heading somewhere more than 100 miles from your home-town, someone will ask you the question.
“Why are you going to [insert location here] for a mission trip when we could just stay here? There's plenty of people here who need help & it would save a lot of hassle and money.”
There it is. The Question.
It's a fair point. So what's the answer?
When I was first starting out in ministry, I was asked this and never could articulate an answer. I knew somewhere deep in my gut that there was a reason we needed to go far away, but I never could put it into words. I never could quite give the asker an answer that satisfied The Asker.
But I knew that year after year, on trip after trip, I witnessed faiths deepened, relationships strengthened, calls discovered, lives re-imagined, spirits ignited, and hearts impassioned. I even tell people to this day that I first heard my own call to ministry on a Youthworks mission trip in high school.
But can't those things happen with local mission work? (Yes, they can.) And isn't there a temptation to turn these sorts of mission trips into “poverty tourism” (Yes, there is.)
So what's the answer!?
There's a great word from German philosophy - Weltanschauung – that literally means “world view”. And for me, this holds a big part of the answer.
The basic idea of weltanschauung – or world view - is that all of us construct our own conception of reality through familiar language, culture, and communities to which we belong. And the size & scope of our “world view” as individuals expands as we move further away from our own language, culture, and communities.
Have you ever met someone who recently studied abroad and, after returning home, couldn't stop talking about it? Well, you saw someone's world view growing before your very eyes.
And have you ever had to veer a youth group conversation away from talking about a past trip for fear of leaving other kids out of the loop? Well, those kids who went on the trip had a shared experience of a growing world view and needed to process it together.
So think, then, about what happens to a kid's weltanschauung when we load them in a van and travel to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people with unfamiliar customs who live unfamiliar lives and eat unfamiliar food. Talk about a chance to grow a world view!
And when we add theology on top of all of that – when we theologically articulate to our trip participants the way in which God's Kingdom and God's Spirit works in these unfamiliar places, amazing connections start to fire in teenage synapses. God gives eyes to see as God sees and hearts that beat as God beats and hands that work as Christ works. And when kids see God at work in a far-away place first, it sometimes makes it easier to see God at work back home.
And while that isn't to say that this can't happen in local missions, too. But serving Christ while simultaneously expanding world views is powerful, powerful stuff.
And when perspective and world views are shifted and expanded, our world view is expanded. It changes. And when change touches our weltanschauung, home can never look the same again.
So why do we go far away for work that could be done at home?
Great question. To me it's all about weltanschauung and God's Spirit – expanding our world-view while our Kingdom-View.
But that's just me. How would you answer?
Derek Tronsgard is the Pastor of Youth and Family Ministry at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Mound, MN where he lives with his wife and Golden Retriever. He is also a semi-pro nerd who loves fantasy sports and comic books. You can follow him on Twitter (@derektronsgard).