Last week I went on a mission trip. I was able to travel with our youth group from Georgia to Cincinnati, OH to work with the Franciscans for the Poor. We stayed at the Tau House, a converted convent that is now used to house groups who wish to come and do mission work within the city.
Each day we broke into groups to work at various sites. There would be many to choose from- The sandwich window at Mercy St. John’s (providing a meal for those experiencing homelessness or those not able to feed themselves), the Ronald McDonald House, Stepping Stones (an organization dedicated to helping those with disabilities become more independent), People Working Cooperatively (an organization which helps low-income, elderly, and disabled residents have a better quality of life), POP Bridge Ministry (a place where those who are experiencing homelessness can go to be mentored), and New Life Furniture (a furniture bank for the needy).
We had a guest speaker one night come to talk to us about homelessness. Tommy would lay it out on the line for us and give us new perspective on what it is like to be homeless and how important it is to address a person experiencing homelessness instead of just passing him by like we don’t see him. He impressed upon us that just because a person doesn’t have a home it doesn’t mean he isn’t deserving of respect and kindness.
The week changed us all. There was not one person in our group that didn’t feel differently at the end of the week than they did at the beginning. Thought processes had changed and there seemed to be a better understanding of the dignity of all life. I dare say that our lives were touched even more by those we set out to help.
As we gathered one last time for prayer and discussion that last day, we talked about how we were changed and what we planned to do to continue the work we had started. This conversation made me think about where the mission field truly is. I was questioned once why we had to travel so far away when there were many in our own area that could use help. Sometimes it takes a monumental trip or experience to inspire us to do more. Once inspired we can easily see the work that needs to be done within our community.
So where is the mission field? Do you need to travel 500 miles as we did or travel around the world as many others do to find work that needs to be done?
The truth of the matter is that the mission field begins in our own homes, but it doesn’t end there. It is easy to make excuses as to why we can’t help out others. It is easy to be bogged down with our own problems and worries that we barely look up to see the man with the sign asking for help. It’s easy to allow the field work we do at home become the only work we do. However, we are called to do more.
The elderly neighbor who struggles to cut the grass- he’s part of your mission work. The woman at the store who looks to be overwhelmed by the screaming children she has in tow- she’s part of your mission work too. The man who sits quietly on the side of the road with a sign that says, “Will work for food”- yes, he’s part of your field work as well.
The mission field encompasses all that surrounds us. It is our duty and obligation to take care of one another. Christ tells us specifically that we are to do so- even elevating this as the second greatest commandment- “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:38).
How can you go out into the mission field to bring Christ’s light and love to others? Here are some ideas to help you do so:
- Volunteer your time at organizations that aim to better the lives of the people they serve. It may surprise you at how easy it is to become a volunteer.
- Look in your own neighborhood to see if there is anyone in need of your help there.
- When someone approaches you for money, if you are not comfortable giving any, at least address the person and let them know you will pray for them- and then do!
- Have a stash of food gift cards that you can give to those you encounter who are in need of a meal.
- Carry bottled waters in your car to distribute to those who may be thirsty and needing a drink.
- Carry food packets or “blessing bags” filled with essential items (razor, socks, toothbrush, a juice box, and crackers) to give out when you see someone with a sign asking for help.
- Have a list of contact numbers available to that you can easily refer someone to the right kind of care that is needed.
Mother Teresa once said, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.” Mission work does just that- it embraces the poor, the dirty, the undesirables of our society and the unwanted. It strives to make life better for those who experience difficulties in their lives. It does not judge, but simply reaches out to take the hand of a fellow human being and lift them up from the pit they have temporarily fallen into.
Today I challenge you to walk out into the mission field. Cast your worries aside and simply live to help others. When you do you will find that the mission field can be in your own home, at your church, as you drive down the street, or outside of the local Walmart. You don’t have to travel to take care of others. You simply must be willing to truly look at those who live in your own community and start there.
What other ways can you think of to live a missionary life?