There’s something I always feel bad about when I come back from a mission trip – I can rarely provide much in the way of photo evidence that we actually did any work. I usually have tons of photos of our teens out and about doing something recreational during our free time. Pictures of teens actually working? Not so much. And even when I try, they usually don’t look nearly as engaging as you’d hope.
This has given rise to the assumption on the part of some (well, okay, my wife is the only one who has said it) that it seems like all we do on mission trips is go out and have fun. Well, I want to declare most definitively that we do not just have fun on mission trips! Sometimes we are most definitely not having fun!
Um, maybe that’s not my point. Because even when we are working we are having fun. And we do work hard. But what I want to point out in this post is something really quite important, actually, which is that the recreation we have as a team is actually a very important part of the mission trip.
While the main focus of going on a mission trip is to serve our Lord by serving a congregation and helping them win souls for Jesus, a secondary focus is the growth of the team members. That growth happens as they serve, but it also happens as they form friendships with one another. God has built us in such a way that our relationship with him deepens as we form deeper relationships with Christian brothers and sisters.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when we go and do something recreational as a team, that is when the friendships deepen. This week has been a perfect example. Every day after we finish our work for the morning, we go back to the church and have some lunch, and then go about doing whatever it is we’re going to do with our afternoon. While we’re sitting at church, either getting the lunch stuff out or waiting for everyone to finish eating, or just sitting and taking some deep breaths, each of the teens is somewhat absorbed in their own little shell – phone out, maybe headphones on, maybe talking with on other person, but not much large group interaction. As soon as we get out and get going, however, suddenly they are talking and laughing with one another, playing around as a team. After playing lasertag, riding go-karts, or going hiking, we’re driving back and there is even more interaction.
The point is that the play time matters too. It provides shared positive experiences for them, and that helps them form memories and grow closer to one another. That growing closer is an important part of the whole mission trip experience.
So, yeah, we do play a lot. And yeah, sometimes the evidence is much easier to produce of our play time than our work time. But it is time well spent. And we do work hard too.