Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

Want to Change the World? A Letter to Friends on Mission

Nicaragua mission trip

You’re headed out to change the world. Maybe it’s your first mission trip; maybe it’s your fiftieth. Either way, anything seems possible, like a window to change is wide open. But as you go, remember this: changing the world doesn’t happen the way you think.

Your leaders prepared you well: immunizations, messages, packing lists, prayer. Pockets stuffed with treats and trinkets to give. A journal to record expectations and great moments and more prayers.

I hope, though, you’re prepared for the greatest miracles to be invisible, slow-moving. They happen deep, not just in the people you came to serve, but in you.

The secret of the short-term mission trip

You may bring tangible relief, build a house, share good news, teach kids from the slums. You might even see a conversion or a witness something inexplicable.

However, you’ll come home to an everyday that, if you’re not careful, will make you forget the people you served. You can’t bring them with you, but you will bring this: your transformed heart.

This is how a mission trip changes the world: it changes you first.

This is true of every trip I’ve taken. Each opened my eyes, made me see like never before. Pain, triumph, corruption, sparks of light in unexpected places. They changed the way I talk to strangers, do my work, push others towards their dreams. This makes a bigger difference than I ever did on foreign soil or in the inner city.

Unless you allow this trip to go deep in you and reshape how you interact with the world, you’re missing out on its full effect. Here are three simple ways to let yourself be transformed in these coming days:

Listen and look

Start with humility. Don’t try to be a rock star: moments in the spotlight aren’t the ones that really matter. What matters is hearing and seeing. While you have the greatest news ever, don’t presume to have all the answers. Offer your attention and respect instead of trying to fix someone.


We are all more ignorant than we know. Recognize the problems are complicated. Ask good questions. Wrestle with answers. Think about what this means at home, to the way you spend your life. Think about how we contribute to these issues. This will change how you interact with the world, make you more informed.


Love hard, in action and commitment. Love returns and refuses to let these days be only a memory. Love finds ways to give and is moved by compassion. Love knows that pain is pain, whether half way around the world or at the grocery store down the street. Love will apply this to life.

When you come back…

I hope to God you never forget the stories and people you encounter. I know I won’t:

a refugee mama who barely escaped with her family,

holding a featherweight child in a dump,

a girl begging, shaking from withdrawals,

laughter with a prostitute who never had a birthday party.

These people changed me much more than I changed them. I carry them with me, see their faces and hear their words, even years later. They teach me to take the transformation and live in it daily. They teach me to listen, learn and love those right before me. This is changing my little corner of the world, person by person.

This is my prayer for you: Above all, let yourself be transformed. If you return dissatisfied with your comfortable life, if you realize you don’t have the answers, if you suddenly see opportunities for compassion where before you judged, your trip is a success.

 Have you been on a trip that changed you? If you’re one of my friends out there now, how do you hope to be changed on this trip? Tell me about it in the comments!

Some more thoughts on mission trips:

Letter to a Short-Term Missionary

2 Replies

  1. Dear Sarah,

    I mentally teleport when I view images and read stories of people around the world. My heart is deeply moved as I long to connect wih them. (I have been especially drawn to India for over ten years now.)

    God is preparing me for global impact, and I sense in my spirit that I will have a hand in The Purpose Hotel. Perhaps we will share some experiences!


    1. Hey Chris, I get what you mean about “mentally teleporting” – it’s hard to keep my feet on this soil sometimes when my head and heart are elsewhere. I’m not personally involved in The Purpose Hotel, although I think it’s an incredible vision and couldn’t help but share it on Facebook 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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