The real Saint Patrick

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Last March I had the unique privilege of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland. This “bucket list” trip was special and memorable for many reasons. I was able to spend time following the Saint Patrick trail and learn more about the man and missionary called Patrick. I discovered much information and inspiration at the new Saint Patrick Center, in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, at the only museum in the world dedicated to the history and story of Saint Patrick: saintpatrickcentre.com.

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During my travels I visited a number of historic sites including Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where it is said Patrick baptized converts in a well in A.D. 450, and also Saul Church, Downpatrick, where Saint Patrick built the first Christian Church in Ireland in A.D. 432.

This post has become somewhat of an annual tradition for me as I write about the story behind the celebration . . . the man called Patrick.

Kidnapped into slavery at age 16 and taken from his home in England to the land of savages in Ireland, Patrick had visions from God that gave him strength and led to his escape. So inspired and moved by God, once home in England he felt compelled to return as a missionary to preach the gospel in a land that had never heard the message of Christ before. The story continues and his writings are full of profound insights, theology, prayers, and confessions that challenge and inspire me deeply. I have included a portion of a hymn written by, or least attributed to, Patrick from around 430 A.D.

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It should be noted that Patrick was not recognized as a “saint” until decades later, did not drive snakes out since there were none in Ireland at the time, did not use the three-leaf clover to describe the Trinity, and was basically kicked out of the priesthood for failure to submit to authority. He was, however, a great contextual theologian and missionary who reached an entire people for the Kingdom of God!

We have much to learn and celebrate from the rich and diverse history of our faith.           The traditions of past and present, while different from our own, provide a wonderful opportunity for our faith to increase. This national “holiday” of sorts, Saint Patrick’s Day, has given me an opportunity to learn to appreciate what God has been doing through servants like Patrick through- out the centuries. Of course, we can also expand our food and spirits horizons at our local Irish pub!

While last year I was in Dublin for the festivities, I will be in NYC, which may even have more revelers than the famed Irish city itself.  As I join in the cultural festivities today and in the years to come, I will always be reminded of my time in Patrick’s land.

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So, as you listen to U2, thee Cranberries or DropKick Murphies (depending on your style) and raise a pint of Guinness, thank God for examples like Patrick, and may we all follow the example of a life of obedience, sacrifice, servant-hood, faith, prayer, and mission.

 

Prayer of Saint Patrick

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

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Are short-term missions shortsighted?

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“Short-term” mission trips.  It is a relatively new venture that works well for Western churches.  There has been much argument over the past few decades as to the importance or impact of these trips.

Who benefits more?  Those we go to serve or the groups going?

It can be helpful to ask long-term missionaries their views on incoming summer teams.

Is there presence helpful or hurtful?  Do these strangers visiting a strange land require extra time, effort and resources for the locals, or do groups bring a much-need blessing?

Another demographic to ask similar questions are the local charitable organizations or churches.

I have been on, or lead, over thirty of these trips during my time in youth ministry.  I do believe much good has come from these experiences.  I certainly know the impact these trips have had on my students.  Like our actual time-serving, some of the impact was very short-lived.  However, over the years I have witnessed profound changes in hearts and lives and, perhaps most importantly, a genuine and lasting passion for missions in many people.

Sadly though, too often these trips become glamorize cultural experiences that have little long-term effect on either side of the equation.

A recent piece from The Onion (satire news source) highlights a very real and growing concern for short-term mission trips.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/6day-visit-to-rural-african-village-completely-cha,35083/

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I am just as guilty of this as anyone…I will admit that.  Following any of my trips, I am eager to post pictures and share stories that will last until the next adventure.

What we often fail to realize is that the people we intend to serve need much, much more than our presence and some photo op’s for two weeks.

Their lives, struggles and needs continue well past our “work vacation” and sometimes actually increase because of our time there.

I know of local organizations who actually lost money because of incoming groups.

I also know of groups raising close to $40,000 simply to travel some exotic country and virtually zero dollars remained in that country.

I have experienced both of these situations personally as well.

Knowing what the real needs and estimated costs to meet those needs would be, sometimes I shudder to think how much good could be given for the cost of one plane ticket.

But..we want the personal experience.

I have begun to ask this very honest question upon my travels:

What do you need the most?  How can we support and serve you the most effectively?

Do you know what their honest answers are?

Resources.

The truth is that every single place I have been and situation I have encountered, I have met amazing women and men who have inspiring vision, uncanny ability and ample time to really help their community.  What they lack is perhaps the one thing that my group possesses in abundance.  Money.

While I am still in favor on traveling to these places to visit people, hear their stories, encourage them and hopefully help in a practical way, I think it is essential that we bring more than just our smiles and “selfies”.

I recently asked on of my students to reflect and share his thoughts on past experiences and what he believes would be the best type of service trip.

Here is his response:

“Humanitarian work is different from tourism, as the purpose of the trip is serving the interests of the local population. Of course, those who leave benefit from the trip as well. But today mission trips are somewhat growing into some sort of “sustainable tourism”, a “to do” thing, offering wonderful cultural experiences to people from developed countries but only impacting the local situation superficially.
Many people today want to go on mission trips. The chief question in order for their trip to be helpful is to seriously ask yourself what you have to offer. Will your teaching of english in this school be of substantial help to the local population? For most fluent english speakers the answer is yes, provided that the kids focused on are attending a medium to long-term educational program.
Indeed the missions with the most impact are not the amateur ones but those of professional NGOs such as Médecins sans frontières for example. Partnering with that  type of organisms could probably be an efficient way to go about saving poor regions of the world – although i’ve never looked into it.
To me, an efficient trip would also imply spending at least three weeks to a month on spot – there is not much you can do efficiently in two weeks even if you are relayed by another group afterwards. Sadly most people, and I too for the moment, are not ready to leave a whole month in the summer vacations.
Of course, as discussed, I think it is also important to bring a cheque. A lot of places do not really need a hand, but are cruelly strapped for money.”
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Do you agree or disagree?
For those of you leading summer mission trips this summer, I would love to hear your thoughts either in preparation or reflection.
I will post various comments this summer and also create a list to think through before planning or leading your next short-term trip.
Perhaps these trips must continue  but perhaps we can do a better job being a blessing to those we go to serve.