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Refocusing missions locally

Our View

By Editorial Board | Echo

All kinds of missions experiences can be meaningful. Nevertheless, there is a disconnect if we fail to recognize the importance of local, long-term missions.

The Daytona team hangs on the beach with locals. (Photograph provided by Daytona SBM Team)

The Daytona team hangs on the beach with locals. (Photograph provided by Daytona SBM Team)

What did you do over spring break? One hundred twenty members of the Taylor community went on Taylor World Outreach-sponsored mission trips, participating in evangelism, construction, teaching and other service-activities in locations from Indianapolis to Ayacucho, Peru, to Vladimir, Russia.

It’s easy to romanticize a week in Russia over a week in Indianapolis — not to invalidate either experience or the opinion of those who prefer Indianapolis. A lot of questions have been addressed in Christian thought on short-term missions, international missions, evangelism, imperialism and more, and our weekly Editorial Board meeting was lively as we discussed it.

So we pose the question: in the aftermath of spring break, and spring break mission trips, how can we refocus our attention toward missions where we currently are?

Many of us have heard socio-economic statistics on Grant County — for example, our county has one of the highest poverty rates (20.3 percent) in the state. There are a lot of places in need, and one of them is right where we are. And it’s not just that this field is important because it’s close by; it is also easier to build trust with those with whom we share cultural norms.

This applies to how we think about impactful international missions, too. The way to make a Kingdom impact in a community is through the cultivation of relationships, which happens in the long-term. Associate Professor of Sustainable Development Phil Grabowski commented on his six years in Malawi as it relates to relationships and missions as bridge-building.

“On a short-term mission trip you can establish that link, say, ‘Oh we visited so-and-so who’s there long-term, or who’s from there,’” Grabowski said. “Having those relationships to break down those barriers — I think that’s what I see as God’s kingdom work.”

This idea can make domestic missions impactful in a different way. One of the purposes of international missions trips is for individuals to distinguish their faith from their own culture, which is also incredibly valuable. Domestic mission trips may offer another kind of opportunity.

“While international trips are an amazing experience, I think domestic trips have just as much to offer,” said spring break missions co-director and junior Josie Luptak. “The domestic teams do not take as much time to adapt to their surroundings, as they are usually very familiar. There is less of a language barrier and an ease in communication. These teams can jump right in, understand how they are needed, and make fast relationships.”

This week, we encourage you to think about the various needs of communities in Grant County, or in Indianapolis or in your hometown, and how there might be less barriers from the start.

There is nuance in everything, of course. Even the language we use — for example, calling a domestic trip a “mission trip” — can make acts of service down the road seem “exotic,” added Grabowski. So it’s not necessarily a question of prioritization, as much as it is a reflection on what we can be doing here in Indiana, and how domestic missions differs.

Professor of Anthropology Robert Priest commented that greater need overseas may invite prioritized attention, but that knowledge ought to underpin all kinds of missions engagements.

“I don’t think one is ‘better’ than the other, but rather that they are both so in demand,” Luptak said. “We need believers acting here and across seas!”

This week, consider what it means to be active here in Indiana.

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