On Sunday morning I will get on a plane and travel to Moscow, Russia, to participate in a World Mission Initiative (WMI) Short Term Mission Experience.
This week as I prepare for my trip a lot of people have inquired about my mental state. Aren't you scared to travel to Russia during the Trump administration? Isn't it the dead of winter in Russia right now, how will you stay warm? Why would you go to Russia during the first week of Lent? Don't the Orthodox fast during Lent? What will you eat?
For people who do not know me well, my decision to go on a mission trip in Russia sounds like I've lost my mind. But, this isn't my first mission trip. In fact, I've been lucky enough to participate in four other mission trips in my life. I thought I'd share a little bit about each trip. Then share how I've come to understand mission an essential part of my pastoral vocation.
Long Beach '09
I travelled to Long Beach, Mississippi in the spring of 2009. I was a sophomore at Pitt. I went with a team from my home church, Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church, through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Long Beach was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in '06. Three years later, entire streets still lay barren. We spent two weeks doing light construction work- painting, splitting wood, and nailing siding. This was my first big trip away from home, and my first experience of God at work in the midst of human suffering.
At Pitt I belonged to University Christian Outreach (UCO), an ecumenical, charismatic, campus ministry. Over spring break of my junior year we traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to visit UCO Belfast. Being a huge history nerd, I spent a lot of my time there wandering through the museums and universities to learn about The Troubles. The violent religious conflict that occurred in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants in the mid 20th century. Belfast was my first international mission trip, and my first taste of the cost of Christian unity.
After I graduated from Pitt, I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a gap year, a year of missionary work. I worked mostly with university students. For Spring Break that year we took a group of students to Detroit, Michigan to learn about urban poverty. 2012 Detroit was feeling the aftershocks of the Great Recession- gentrification. And those aftershocks took the form of inner-city poverty, racial discrimination, and drug abuse. This trip challenged me to broaden my understanding of who is my neighbor, and to love my neighbor as God does.
In 2013, I accepted God's invitation to study at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PTS). One of the programs that drew me to PTS was their World Mission Initiative (WMI). This program exists to help students discern their call to mission by sending them out into the world. They sent me to Kathmandu, Nepal my middler year. This was my first trip to a non-English speaking country. And it was by stepping so far outside of my comfort zone that I was able to hear God's invitation to ordained ministry.
Looking back on these trips, I now can trace how mission shaped my pastoral vocation. The kingdom of God is bigger than the four walls of the church. We have to go out into the world if we want to follow Jesus. Mission isn't just for people who "do mission." We are all called to step out of our comfort zones and follow God out into the world. Pastoral ministry is a missional ministry. It involves prayerful discernment of what God is up to in the life of my congregation, and getting in on what God is already up to.
So yes, it is going to be cold in Russia. The food will probably taste different. And I probably won't get enough sleep. But I'm going. Excited to follow God out into the world, and into the unknown.