Airport sitting always stimulates that smaller-than-average math part of my brain and I began to calculate my own travel statistics: Since transitioning into my present ‘role’ as a missions guy at the end of 1999, I’ve traveled to Africa 35 times (this trip is my 36th, but who’s counting?) Add up ‘mission’ trips while I was a senior pastor, and the total is over 50 international trips since 1988 – when I arrived in England for my first ‘overseas’ trip.
I have removed the United Airlines Hemisphere’s Magazine from the seat pocket (which the announcement over the speakers has told me I am welcome to take as a souvenir) and looked at the map. It’s hard to read with all the little lines representing United and partner flights, but… best I can tell, I’ve actually only been to 10 African countries (no, airport stops don’t count!) and a total of 22 countries in the whole world, including Canada and Mexico.
Canada clearly wouldn’t count as an international trip, since, other than the bacon, everything else is pretty much the same, eh? Mexico sort of counts, one trip was accompanying my [then] youth pastor on a mission trip to Mazatlan. The other two Mexico trips involved, as I recall, my wife, a beach, and some sort of little drinks with paper umbrellas in them…
So, how come I’m on my third passport, all with extra pages inserted – twice for each passport – with only a paltry 22 countries total?
When I was a pastor with the Vineyard churches, our leader, John Wimber, warned us about developing a ‘mission’ philosophy that has more to do with filling one’s passport with a variety of stamps than developing long-term Kingdom connections.
My passports appear redundant – ten trips to my dear friends inside the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, nine trips to the terrible, impoverished, mega-city of Kinshasa, DR Congo, etc., etc. But each time I land in familiar airports throughout the world, I am met by friends – colleagues in ministry, some of whom I have known for over a decade. There is not the excitement of a new place (even ‘exotic’ locations lose their exotic status the sixth or seventh time you’ve been there), but there is the ongoing development of kingdom relationships, where you sense that your efforts are actually making a difference.
Contrast that with the ‘show-up-and-do-something-for-these-poor-people-get-some photos-and-leave’ philosophy, which seems to have pretty much hijacked most local churches’ missions departments. Often in the book of Acts, it states that Paul, or Barnabas, or others would ‘stay there for a while’ to encourage the church.
Perhaps rather than the cart leading the horse, local churches, through collaboration between their leadership and laity should prayerfully find true partnerships where they can have ‘staying power,’ and thus make some measurable differences, i.e., “fruit,” for the sake of the kingdom!