The number one question I am asked about going on a “mission trip” is “so what are we going to DO?” Over the years, our missions ministry has sought to move away from transactional mission and focus on transformational mission. That simply means we’re moving away from doing projects FOR people and instead living life WITH people.
When I think of the stories of Jesus found in the Gospels, we see Him sitting with friends and colleagues, we see Him eating, we see Him listening. We see Him being present with people. How often do we simply take the time to be fully present with those around us? More and more our missions ministry is seeking how to be like Jesus and how best to love and care for the missionaries we support. We want to walk alongside them, so they know they are not alone in their ministries. We want to share meals and encourage their hearts. We want to listen to their stories, cry with them thru their difficulties, and lavish love upon them.
And so, we commit to visit our global mission partners at least once a year, and each of those visits look different. Sometimes it involves small group leader training. Sometimes we organize a retreat for the leaders to take a break and learn from each other. Other times, we simply sit and be together, sharing meals and stories. The most important gift that we can give is the benefaction of our presence. It is an unforgettable gift when we are lovingly and emotionally present to others in the now of life. Yes, we love being able to support our partners with monetary funds, but we want more than that. The gift of presence to those whom we love does not bend or break our finances…but it does require connecting with our feelings and our emotions. It demands intentionality, the burning of psychic energy and seeing with the heart. The ministry of presence is a way of “being” rather than a way of “doing” or “telling.”
Henri Nouwen, my most favorite author, wrote these wise words:
More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.
So I will ask you, how are you giving of yourself to those around you with the ministry of presence? How are you taking the time to be fully present with members of your family, those who live in your neighborhood, and even with our partners in ministry around the world?