I have led countless mission trips over the years, leading teams overseas to try to help others living in poverty. However, last summer my wife, Carmen, and I were reflecting on these trips and came to a realization: These trips were going nowhere.
I was adamant in my defense of the contribution these experiences have toward the long-term global-minded lifestyle of the participants. I would argue that these trips have the potential to serve as catalysts for permanent life-change and I have always tried to make the experience both fun and rewarding, and to maximize teachable moments.
I would also explain that these trips have long-lasting impact as we’ve tried to foster cross-cultural relationships with organizations we’re involved with overseas. Yet, as I reflected back on years of these trips, I realized that I had not, in fact, created long-lasting impact on our cross-cultural relationships. Since we were only coming into a country with a minimal relationship based primarily on one or two week visits, it was nearly impossible to develop relationships with long-term impact. Neither could I point to very many concrete examples of permanent life-change among the many trip participants. Perhaps these trips weren’t delivering as I had thought.
Maybe part of the problem with mission trips is the fact the emphasis is on the trip more than it is on the mission. This was the realization we came to as a family. On my trips, I was very intentional about helping participants become more globally-minded—with results that were spotty at best. At the same time as I was intentional on the trips, I was not intentional with those I care about the most, my wife and our children, to help live more missionally.
It was at that point we committed to mission (without the trip) as a family.
If you would ask us, we would have always said all the right things when it comes to living on mission. See, to us, following Jesus means that we should live like He did which includes, bringing “good news to the poor,” but we haven’t always lived that out to the extent that we could. And we certainly haven’t been diligent about passing that on to our kids.
Simply put, we want to be the kind of family that lives like Jesus did: Living out our faith in practical and meaningful ways that make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others.
We have friends who have also taken that seriously, and it has led their family to different parts of the world. As they blog during their own mission trips, we follow their journey and generally are inspired by, and sometimes we even become jealous of, their family adventure.
So, we have decided to take our own family adventure for one year. However, like the trips I’ve taken in the past, our one-year trip is going nowhere—I mean that literally. We aren’t going anywhere. We’ve decided to call our year of adventure the ZeroMileJourney, and stay at home.
We simply want to make a difference right where we are. We want to live differently in a way that brings good news to the poor right here in our city and across the globe. Since it seems like blogging is the thing to do during a family mission experience, we began posting (admittedly quite irregularly) in January of this year about some of our experiences as we “travel” this year-long journey.
As with any journey, our un-trip has taken us through some peaks and valleys. There have been some times that have been very encouraging, including our son’s decision to spearhead a fundraiser for his school’s breakfast program or the times that we’ve spent as a family serving dinner at a homeless shelter.
At the same time, we’ve learned together what is probably the most important lesson when it comes to living as missionaries: It doesn’t come naturally and it’s difficult to prioritize others before ourselves. When our oldest daughter has a terrible day at the track, her heart isn’t broken over girls her age in Asia who are being trafficked for sex. When our son, a goalie for his hockey team, gives up a few goals, he’s not concerned about the children his age in sub-Saharan Africa who have lost both parents due to the AIDS epidemic and now have to raise their younger siblings. When our youngest daughter swims her seemingly endless laps during practices, she isn’t thinking about the fact that the pool she is swimming in is cleaner water than the water that hundreds of millions of children drink every day.
And yet, it’s in the little things—the attitudes and comments that don’t get posted on any blog—that we have derived the most excitement as a family. We are encouraged when we hear our kids faithfully praying every night for Ruth, a girl our family sponsors who lives in the Ecuadorian Andes. Or, when our son’s teacher tells us how he passes the ball to the special needs children in gym class, even though he has the opportunity to score on his own. Or, when we come home to find them watching documentaries of inspiring humanitarian stories, instead of watching Phineas and Ferb (although, I’m not going to lie, Phineas and Ferb still win out more often!).
ZeroMileJourney is going nowhere. But it’s making a difference somewhere: It’s made a difference in our family already, which we pray will continue to spread.
Brent Esau lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, with his wife, Carmen, and three kids where he is Director of Global Outreach at Southridge Community Church. Brent and Carmen have been trying to document their family adventure at www.zeromilejourney.com and are open to help organizations in making a difference globally.