Several years ago God started a conversation in my heart and it overflowed into conversations with several people in our Russia community.
At the time God had been teaching me the importance of language within church ministry and that we should all be speaking the same language. It was simultaneous with changing the language of ‘doing’ mission to more accurate language of mission being who you are in your every day, walking around life.
At first it started with a tension I felt every time I said ‘mission trip’ in reference to our time with our friends that happen to live in a Russian orphanage. It didn’t feel right every time I used it and it took awhile for me to realize why.
Think about all the connotations that go with ‘mission trip’: building things, youth trips, VBS camps, medical trips, relief after natural disasters and a myriad of other thoughts.
At one point during our yearly travels to Russia, we had thought we were doing VBS, but looking back, we could have literally traveled with no activities and it would have been a great visit. I’m actually really proud of how far we’ve come in not taking a lot of ‘stuff’ and buying what little we use there to pour into the local economy. This year is the fewest amount of checked bags we’ve EVER taken.
In the tension I was feeling about what the hell we were doing every November, the reality was that our time in Russia was no longer any of the ‘normal mission trip’ categories. We were not there to entertain or occupy the kids, but we were there to love them deeply and continue our friendship. Frankly, we were there to talk, eat, hang out and eat some more with tea about four times a day, because Russians are some of the most hospitable, warmest people that love spending time together that I have ever met throughout the world.
Through the years, God had taken our idea of ‘ministry’ and grown it into genuine friendships that have been invested in and nurtured for many years, and will ultimately continue as far as God would have us go. The commitment is strong and passionate for those of us who truly feel called into this relationship…and we are a stubborn lot.
We’ve seen the kids we love go to university or technical schools, get jobs, and have their own families. We’ve also seen the not-so-good stories of kids that have followed the not-so-excellent example of their parents before them. Yet, once called into this piece of someone’s life, God doesn’t mean for you to exit. God means for you to walk alongside…for the long-term. Rest assured this type of ministry will test you and your endurance. It will challenge how you think. It will create a different perspective that you never intended to gain.
It was about five years ago we started changing our language and calling our time in Russia a ‘visit’ to our friends. When people ask me why I am going to Russiaeach year, I tell them I am visiting my friends. ‘Oh, how wonderful you can make that trip,’ they say. And I always reply with, ‘It is a blessing to be able to visit them.’
Through the year-ish that it took us to actually change our language, I am most proud of the fact we actually sat in the tension of the wording ‘mission trip’ not feeling right, and then praying and discerning the ‘why.’ We could have sat back and decided that’s just what is the norm for what we are doing, but it didn’t accurately describe what we were as a community with our friends who happen to live in an orphanage in Russia.
Who really wants to look at their friends and tell them they were a ‘mission trip’?
I think the first time I really thought about that perspective, I was wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Velikoretskoye Mission Trip’ and one of the kids asked me what it said. As I sat in front of my friend, I was tongue-tied as to how to explain a ‘mission trip.’
At that moment I knew God needed our language to change.
Speaking the same language is important, and we’ve had confusion on the congregation level of people understanding what we mean. I’m pretty sure some thought it was a touring trip, and it is no where near that because we spend as much time as possible with our friends. Long days of travel lead I to long days every day as we make the most of our time together. There are several of us who will animatedly educate others as to why we don’t take ‘mission trips’ to Russia, and we love those conversations.
As I sit on the plane for the first leg of travel on our way for this years’ visit. I am aching to see my friends…to wrap them up in my arms, whisper I missed them, talk with the older kids as they struggle through knowing they will leave the orphanage, see the older ones who have left and catch up on their lives…and spend one of the most amazing weeks out of my entire year. The pause button that was hit about this time last year will be unpaused very soon, and I cannot wait for our yearly visit.