There are people who express some misgivings about church mission trips. They say, for example, that such mission trips can actually be church group vacations dressed up to look like mission trips.
We took our church group vacation this year to exotic Perry County, Alabama.
Don’t get me wrong—Perry County is a lovely place. The county seat of Marion is a nice small town that houses two fine colleges: Judson College and Marion Military Institute. Marion also holds a special place in the histories of both Baptist life and the American Civil Rights Movement. The other town in the county, Uniontown, is also a pleasant community.
But, like many small, rural communities, Perry County has many challenges, economic and educational ones being among the most serious.
Several years ago an organization called Sowing Seeds of Hope (SSH) was established in Perry County as an effort to address in an ongoing way some of the needs in the area with the love of Jesus Christ; among the ministry partners with SSH is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Alabama. Each year several churches will bring groups to Perry County to work in conjunction with SSH on various projects.
As the Mission Ventures Team of the First Baptist Church (FBC) of Fitzgerald, Georgia cast about in 2009 for a mission project for the summer of 2010, we felt led to Perry County. Thanks to the budget gifts and special gifts and to the encouragement and prayers of the FBC family and thanks to the sense of call that a dozen of our church members felt to give a week of their lives to helping people they didn’t know in a place that they had seldom if ever seen, we went to Perry County.
Here at the end of our week there, I am glad to say that I can speak for all the members of our team in saying we are glad that we came.
We took on two main projects this week, both in Uniontown.
First, some of us spent the mornings conducting a literacy camp at the Uniontown Public Library. The library is housed in a former bank building in downtown Uniontown. There we led local children in activities involving reading, writing, crafts, games, songs, videos, and, of course, refreshments. And, thanks to our having a dentist in our group, we were also able to provide some dental hygiene instruction!
We will never forget the children who came to the camp; there shined in many of their eyes a bright hope that I believe will lead to good things in their lives.
Second, we spent the week painting the interior of the Robert C. Hatch High School cafeteria, including the bathrooms. Some of our team spent all day every day painting; those working in the literacy camp went to the cafeteria to paint in the afternoons. The school’s principal selected the colors and she chose the school colors of purple, gold, and white, which coincidentally happen to the be the colors of our hometown Fitzgerald High School. When the students return to school at the end of the summer they will have a bright newly painted cafeteria in which to eat breakfast and lunch; our hope is that they will find that encouraging and even inspiring.
Two of our team members also spent some time in the afternoons tutoring high school students in Marion.
Here at the end of the week we are tired and ready to go home but we leave with great hope and trust that the love of Christ that we have shared through the work we have done will be of help to somebody somehow.
This much we know: it has been a privilege to serve.
When we get home we will have, I hope, a different perspective through which we will view our own community and the role that our church family can play in addressing the needs that are right in our backyard. I hope that this group will also be the vanguard of many such efforts in the future.
A church grows in spiritual health, I believe, as we tend to our own spirits through spiritual formation, particularly Bible study and prayer, as we tend to the real needs in the real lives of our church family members, and as we reach out to share the love of Christ in the world beyond our walls in places both nearby and far away.
A mission trip can be an important component in the process.
This one was.