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FIRST-PERSON: Mission trips for teens: why they’re so important

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–I get around a bit — okay, quite a bit. I have the safety announcement memorized on two major airlines. I can tell you the way T.S.A. procedures vary from airport to airport. I know the best places to eat (and a few to avoid) in major airports. Travel is part of my job and I enjoy it. Beyond that, even without the job, travel has been an important facet of my life — and the life of my family.

One of the most interesting discoveries in my journeys is that most people never travel out of their immediate area. Even on college campuses where I am a frequent speaker, most students are from the immediate vicinity, or at least from the state in which the school is located. Most people stay close to home, and consequently, have a one-dimensional view of the world. When I speak about living in a multicultural environment, stripping Christianity of its American biases, and developing a global worldview, students look at me like I am an alien. It is mind-warping to realize there are committed Christians in other places who experience life differently than you do.

During a recent trip, a younger deacon from a prominent First Baptist Church in the South sat by me on the plane. He had never heard of Golden Gate Seminary (that’s another story), and he was fascinated Southern Baptists had a seminary outside the South. He was, however, very mission-minded — having led several church-facility building trips to Brazil. He has two young daughters he also wants to have a passion for missions. My advice: Take them with you to Brazil! One of the best ways you can educate your children (or help educate other children) is to send them on trips to other cultures.

If possible, every Christian young person should have two mission trip experiences while in the teen years. The first should be a “soft landing” trip — an introduction to the world through a location with first-world services (i.e., bathrooms and a McDonald’s close by). The second trip should be much more primitive (i.e., squatty-potty hole and “what is this?” for dinner). My daughter followed this sequence. Her first trip was more like mission-tourism. It was profitable, but relatively easy. A subsequent trip, partly canoeing up a jungle river, was much more challenging. As Melody met mothers with sick and deformed children who had no access to medical care, they pleaded with her to treat them. Melody’s heart was broken — particularly when she recognized problems easily solved by proper medical care.

She hasn’t been the same since she came out of the jungle — and that’s a good thing. Travel changes your perspective. One of my friends took his children on several significant trips, even taking them out of school when necessary. He once told me, “You can’t let school stand in the way of your child’s education.” Don’t misunderstand me, good attendance is important (after all, I work at a school). But the larger point is well-taken — travel is educational in ways a classroom experience can’t replicate. So, go somewhere! Learn something. Meet new people. Get out of your comfort zone. See how the Gospel connects with people in different cultures. Shatter some myths. Take a risk or two. Or, if you won’t or can’t go, invest in some young person so they will have a more global worldview and compassion for people around the world.
Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., just north of San Francisco. This column first appeared at his blog, JeffIorg.com.