At the end of the Catholic mass back when it was in Latin (pre Vatican II), the second-to-last phrase was “ite, missa est.” This became “go, the Mass is ended” when churches switched to English, but that’s not actually what it means. In Latin, the verb missio means “I send;” to add “est,” the third person present form of esse (to be), makes it passive—“it is sent” rather than “it sent.” There is much debate as to what, exactly, is sent—is it the congregation? the Eucharist? the coffee tray for the folks waiting in the narthex?—but there’s no agreed-upon concept of the noun, only of the verb. To be part of the Body of Christ is to be, of necessity, someone who is sent out into the world; this is why the Church talks a lot about mission (yep, also a derivative of missio).
Last week I went on my first-ever mission trip. And not only was it my first, I went as an adult leader for a group of high schoolers. Hah! This is one of the many things that convinces me God exists; surely I wouldn’t be stupid enough to volunteer to take vacation time and do this sort of stuff of my own volition.
It was, I think, a success, to whatever extent that sort of language can be used about mission trips. Most people didn’t get sunburned, no one was bitten by snakes, and we delivered to their parents the same number of kids we took with us. Many of the folks from my congregation as they were sending us (which was a whole other kettle of fish, that service of them sending us with their prayers and support and all; it’s still a hell of a thing for me to brush against the holy like that. It’s somewhat like getting a static shock; not unpleasant, but it definitely causes you to draw back for a second) told me that it would be a life-changing experience, and perhaps it’s just that I’m truly a curmudgeon, but it wasn’t. I didn’t have any shocking OH WOW GOD moments, and I wasn’t totally thrown out of my understanding of the world to come back enlightened. It helps (or doesn’t) that the area where we were working is close to where some of my family grew up, so it was actually a kind of coming home for me.
But a big realization I had to work on all week and am still working on is that really, it wasn’t my mission trip. Technically, yes, I was sent to work with these folks and I most certainly did the work of painting, building, sanding, cutting, sorting, hanging, etc. But my primary role was to make sure the kids could work with these folks; I was there to make sure the trip happened without one of them cutting his hand off or something. They were my mission field.
Reader, I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around that, not least because it still makes me laugh that people put me in charge of anything at all. Surely they know I’m actually an irresponsible 15-year-old, not an adult. My life is so often that dog meme that I have no idea what I’m doing, although I think that’s adulting in a nutshell. It’s the epitome of “fake it ’till you make it,” but even still it’s really weird for the kids to look to me to get things done or tell them what to do or even to make sure they turn the lights out at night and then sing them awake in the mornings (yes, I did that). I had one gal tell me at the end of the week that I was an imposter, I was actually a teen pretending to be an adult because I could talk Internet trends with them and I knew most of their music. It was a hilarious moment of both being found out and being a little horrified that they should think it shocking for me to be “in the know” when I’m only a decade or so ahead of them.
I loved the opportunity to get out of the office and use power tools and tear stuff apart and build things—that ever-delightful concept of a task you can see with a beginning and an end—and also I got to know my fellow adult leaders who are some seriously neat people. I have finally arrived at the place where I get to know all the secret back-door stuff adults do when the kids are otherwise occupied, and I don’t even care that it’s mundane, it’s still awesome. My childhood self is vindicated.
I also got to see my kids going. Part of this is the literal going, in the sense that freaking none of them had “off” buttons holy crow how did they never stop AT ALL, but some of it is also that I got to see them truly taking on this sense of mission, of being sent, of reaching out to places and people that scared them and about which they were totally unsure and then growing into these new spaces. I got to co-lead devotionals every night and it was basically the best thing ever; sometimes my kids said incredibly stupid things, but more often than not they took me to school and taught me so much about grace and hope and the bigness that is God.
It was, actually, awesome. And the best thing was that it wasn’t earth-shattering, but it was totally life-affirming. I want this, even this, even though I came back home and slept for 14 or so hours the next day. I don’t want to be a youth minister, necessarily, but let’s get this minister train on the tracks. Even the hard days are totally worth it.
Maybe it’s that passion that is sent. Or maybe it’s just me.
“Get up, for this is your duty, but we will be with you. Have strength of heart and do it.” (Ezra 10:4, NLV)