The last two days I have seen all three of my daughters off very early in the morning for mission trips associated with our church. Halle and Katie Ann are serving in NYC. Shelby is serving in the Dominican Republic, the first of her sisters to serve in a third world country. Among my many prayers for their trip and their efforts, one that you will NOT hear, is a prayer for their spiritual growth and maturity. Nor am I praying that they embrace their faith in a more personal way as result of this trip. Now before you say anything like “What-are you crazy?” Let me explain. My prayer is that they are salt and light in the darkness, a positive and gentle reminder of what is good in the world. IN other words, my prayer is that they come and do good to others, not the other way around. They are the missionaries, not the mission. Even Jesus said in John 10:10 “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” His mission was for others to receive hope and help from Him! Again-NOT the other way around. Sure, right now you may be thinking “Judy is way over thinking this. It’s not that complicated.” Recently, a young enthusiastic Columbia medical student wrote an article about the “Narcissism of Global Volunteerism.” Her writing was very one-sided about her personal experience on a medical brigade volunteer trip to Africa. All in all it was a pretty negative article that seemed to recklessly deposit every global volunteer effort into the same pit of despair in which hers had sunk. Her thinking was that global volunteer efforts are completely narcissistic on the part of the volunteer(s), and furthermore, that it enabled entire cultures to remain oppressed and dependent on others for their daily sustenance, if not also, for their political structure. In particular, she slammed the wide use of social media, picture taking and subsequent posting, as a visual means of showcasing our good works for everyone to view and adore! While her article was entirely too ambitious in its attempts at lumping together all aspects of global volunteerism and all volunteer organizations, I did feel there was something to be learned from it. Indeed there is a grain of truth for us as volunteers both domestic and international, to be gleaned from her sometimes pompous thoughts. And so, on the eve of their departure to their respective mission trip destinations, I made this article required reading for all three of my girls. As I told them, “It begs the question, do we exploit the poor and impoverished for our own spiritual gain? Do we exploit their lot in life and their humble estate in order to elevate ourselves spiritually in the eyes of the world, our church, our friends and family? Is it through the inherent humility of the downtrodden that we seek out the “magic bullet” to practice humility for ourselves?” My girls had some eye-opening thoughts. They agreed that the author might be a little skewed in her narrow opinion of global volunteerism based solely on her own experiences. But they also agreed that the answer to some of those questions could indeed be “yes!” In the end, we had a round of prayer and I prayed for the girls to be exactly what I started this blog with-salt and light to those they come in contact with-NOT for the girls’ personal gain, even personal spiritual gain. I did not pray for them to become better more behaved daughters, or to necessarily enjoy every moment of every day they are there. Okay, you are exactly right reader: Spiritual growth is not something you can turn on and off with a power switch. You know the old adage applies here: “You can’t stop a train.” It’s highly unlikely that the girls will come out of this experience, and not grow spiritually. But let that be the work of our God, not our work. Ephesians 2:8 says “It is not by works we are saved, but by grace.” The same holds truth for spiritual growth. It happens NOT when we benefit personally from our acts of service, but rather when we are obedient to our God. I would submit if you are going on any mission trip as a “self-help” mission for either yourself or your child, then rethink your participation on that trip. And I would go so far as to say, if you don’t know the people in your own neighborhood by name, or if you have never so much as volunteered a single hour in the community where you live, then for Pete’s sake, get your priorities straight. Greet your neighbors with genuine interest. Have someone over to your home for dinner. Practice hospitality. Try making real life application of Romans 12:13 in your home! Join a local service project. Do these things first. Don’t expect a thing in return. Not so much as a friendly wave from the next door neighbor after delivering him those cookies! THEN, if you feel the conviction and the Holy Spirit’s tug to go on an overseas mission trip (or to the inner city of NYC), knock yourself out, and pray that you truly see people with Jesus filters. This is something you have heard a 1000 times in your life, and if you haven’t, allow me to be the first to introduce you to the concept: “It ain’t about us.” It’s never about us. Ever. Even if it is my precious girls who I love more than my own life. It’s not about them. And God help me, I’m trying to teach them that!