I began thinking about mission while reflecting on the relationships I had made during these last 4 months in Miami. Relationships that took time to cultivate and were sometimes challenging, but ultimately relationships that I can not see myself living without. And I thought, a year of mission is just that– a year that allows you to live out your own mission and create relationships of solidarity, faith, understanding, chaos, intentionality, confusion, love, community, and to be challenged as to what all of those words mean.
Could I have discovered this if I had only served in Miami for one week? My answer: No!
The terms “short-term mission” and “long-term mission” are used to describe type of mission and more specifically the time at which individuals and groups of people (college groups or youth groups) serve with a community. For the purpose of this blog, “Short-term mission”, to me, would be a week or weekend whereas with no contact after the experience and “long-term mission” would be a year-long commitment (like YAV or JVCs) or a partnership. I believe these terms differ in many ways, but they fundamentally differ in how building relationships are lived out.
I have been on many short-term trips and have enjoyed each and every one of them. However, I noticed that by only spending a week with a community I tend to compartmentalize them; only thinking of the people I met in terms of their role in the soup kitchen we served in or only remembering them for teaching my group how to paint a house. After a mission trip it is a common question to ask, “How do we bring this week back to where we came from before?” I always said I did not want to forget the people I had met. But did I truly meet them? Did I really even know them? Looking back I wish I knew more about them and remember them for the people that there are and not were in that short week I spent with them.
There is some potential for harm here. By not fully understanding where someone is coming from it is easy to make judgements about their way of life. It takes time and a willingness to understand someone’s values, culture, language, socioeconomic differences and overall worldview. Despite this, these challenge can be avoided on short-term mission. By preparing for a mission experience groups and individuals can take time to learn about the geographic, economic, and social structures about the place they are serving. They can send letters to hosts and begin a dialogue to initiate the building of relationships. With these tools, I believe, short-term mission could be more successful and impactful.
A year long mission allows me to build full and lasting relationships. Experiencing the good days and the bad with my placements and community has allowed me to see the full scope of who the people I love so much truly are. I’ve learned about their passions, quirks, and what pushes their buttons. So far my year of mission as exposed me to experiencing emotions of empathy, grief, and celebration. In turn, the community I have built here in Miami have seen the person that I am too, but have gone a step further, and have pushed me to consider things I never thought possible and have give me the tools to be my best self.
[Pictured above is the Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami. The tower is a symbol of Cuban migration to Miami and sends a message of a safe harbor and refuge during the turmoil in their homeland. These past weeks have been particularly significant since the passing of dictator Fidel Castro. Mixed emotions have been felt throughout the city. I chose this picture because this year of mission not only had made me think of my immediate community but those who I share a block and neighborhood with. It is important in a long-term mission to fully recognize the scope of relationships that I encounter everyday. Relationships, even those who I say “Buenos Dias” to on my walk to the bus, are significant. Long term mission has challenged me to think about the space that I am taking up in an already existing and thriving community.]