I have been on a lot of mission trips and I have always learned a lot from them. But one of the nagging questions I have is regarding their effectiveness in encouraging and sustaining long term transformation. A lot of mission trips are about going into a place and performing a service project with little thought to how that project will transform not only those who serve, but how the service can be taken home and help transform the community. It’s not that I think that people don’t think about this issue, but it’s sometimes just easier to go into a place, put up a wall and go home. Almost to where that has become a joke in many circles. You have probably heard the story about the village that knocks down the wall everytime a mission team constructs one and leaves town, therefore allowing the new team to construct a new wall.
Keeping these things in mind, we have been experimenting over the last few years with different kinds of trips that would really challenge our core beliefs, stretch our thinking, and keep us wrestling with the issues when we get home so that we can be passionate about transforming those we serve among.
So over the last couple of years we have re-visited and strengthened our relationship with a couple of partners that have had a history with Bel Air for many years.
One partner is Amextra which is a microfinancing organization among many things. It seeks to work among the poor and oppressed in various areas of Mexico. You can read up on them, but here is their Mission and Vision:
Mission and Vision
Amextra is a Mexican founded and run, non-profit organization whose main purpose is to promote the holistic transformation of farmers, indigenous people groups, women, youth and children who live in rural and urban areas of extreme marginality and receive little to no attention from public and private institutions in Mexico. We understand transformation to be a process that results in improved conditions and quality of life in families and their communities.
Holistic Transformation: All people are valuable in and of themselves, without distinction of race, color, religion or etc. However, we need to be aware of who we are and what we have, independent of our social condition, we always have something to share.
Community Participation: All people have gifts and the potential to develop them in community. Participants gradually become aware and gain power in decision making and responsibilities in the process of change, this strengthens relationships and community values.
Unconditional Service: The act of service reveals the character of people and communities in transformation processes. Service is not just an act of good will, a response to our feelings of compassion or to win a cause, but rather a natural revelation of the character of people in transformation. “We do not serve because we are transformed, rather we are transformed when we serve.”
The second partner is Partners in Hope, which is actually the organization that we partnered with and serves in conjunction with Amextra. You can read more about Partners in Hope, but here is a synopsis:
Partners in Hope (PiH) is a Christ centered non-profit organization that believes Christians should be an active part of their church bodies and, through them, should address the needs of their communities and the larger world. We partner with churches who wish to respond to God’s grace by modeling Christ’s life in a way that changes the lives of others.
We facilitate transformation through an intense immersion experience in Mexico, called the PiH Seminar. The PiH Seminar includes 5-10 days of living in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, a city, where chaos, poverty and injustice abound. Through the Seminar, participants experience first-hand the lives of people, the work of Christ- centered organizations who serve among the poor, and the hope that God brings through transformation.
The PiH experience is unsettling, eye-opening, convicting and sometimes overwhelming. Yet countless participants have seen their own lives, how they view the world, and how they respond to need changed forever.
With these two partners we have focused on providing both an educational piece along with service. Here is a brief synopsis of what we did. Very brief. Each day is accompanied by morning and evening devotion and reflection times, and it is just an intense week with all that we are learning and experiencing. Each piece is important to the larger puzzle. Each museum, lecture, community we visit, and service project are meant to enhance each other and give us a larger piece of the puzzle. The effect is that you walk away from Mexico City with a real passion for the people, their history, and wanting to make a difference there and in our communities here.
Saturday, March 22:
- Served with our partner church Sina Presbyterian in Zacatapec. Visited Las Galeras migrant workers camp and played games and songs with the children. Worshipped with the church on Easter.
Sunday, March 23:
- Traveled to Mexico City from Zacatape. Lived in the Quaker hostel, Casa de los Amigos in the heart of Mexico City.
Monday, March 24:
- Visited the Palacio Nacional, Zocalo and the Cathedral. Amazing, amazing murals of Mexico’s history by Diego Rivera. Lecture on history and politics in Mexico by one of the volunteers with Amextra/Partners in Hope. Very challenging.
Tuesday, March 25:
- Visited an Amextra site in Valle de Chalco. Visited the poverty ridden area Lomas de San Isidro which is constructed of shacks on the hillside. Etc.
Wednesday, March 26:
- Visited San Pedro Marty, a community which has been transformed by the women of the community, who have been inspired by the Catholic Church there and liberation theology. Traveled to the Lutheran Center and received a lecture on liberation theology (which was probably the most challenging part of the trip for most of my students).
Thursday, March 27:
- Spent all day at the pyramids at Teotihuacan.
Friday, March 28:
- Served at the Sisters of Charity orphanage in Mexico City. Heartbreaking. Sipped coffee afterwards and explored the part of the city called Cocoyan (which was home to Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo). Mexico has an interesting history. Lecture on transformational theology.
Saturday, March 29:
- We shared our gifts with each other (I wrote a poem I will share later).
I’m going to share more about this trip over the next few weeks, but if you have questions let me know. I recommend it for you, your community or church. It’s a hard trip to describe sometimes (because it is not traditional in many ways, i.e. building homes and evangelism) but is so impactful.