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Posted on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

The word 'mission' is scary to some, but it's really just about meeting people's needs

By Darcy Crain-Polly


Art Fair is a time to raise money for mission trips for one local church.

Art fair. That one week in the summer when half the locals head out of town, when its guaranteed to be the hottest week of the season, and when downtown businesses brace themselves for the madness while finding alternate routes to get to work.

Though you probably would not think of a church as one of these businesses, we are not strangers to the madness of art fair. My church sits at the corner of State and William streets, so you can be assured we keep ourselves busy.

For the past decade or so, we have sold bottled water as a fundraiser for mission trips and in more fruitful years, we dress our youth as bananas and pizza slices and dance. (What the connection is to water I don’t know, but it does tend to boost sales!)

What I’ve learned over the years is how scary the word “mission” is to folks walking by. 

They see a church selling stuff with a banner of the word “mission” and assume that the trip has the purpose of conversion. The notion is not inaccurate; for centuries Christians have been going on “missions” to third world countries with the goal of converting folks to Christianity and propagating the faith.

However, in 2011, for mainstream churches, I believe it’s time to finally take “mission” out of its quotations. The mission of our trips is to use our labors to better the lives of the population of folks we are serving. Whether that is locally in Muskegon, or an international venture, the mission stays the same; to serve.

Serving implies that you meet the people’s needs, not your own. As you do that, you realize that the people may already know about God; in fact, their faith may be more intact than your own. Their greatest need is not to hear a verbal articulation of salvation or what they need to believe.

What they really need is a working sink or a roof over their head or access to healthcare. The mission trips we take seek to fulfill those needs first. Their needs become our mission.

If the forecasts come true this week, Art Fair may be so hot that you want water or popsicles regardless of the wording or cause. But if you’ve been wary of the word mission and avoided these fundraisers with caution, don’t be afraid to reclaim the word for all the good that it does. You will not be alone.

Darcy Crain-Polly is the associate minister at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor. She can be reached directly via email.


Corey Lord

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 5 p.m.

My problem with the term "mission" and "missionaries" is that they tend to proselytize. My wife's ex-husband's family does just that on their missions. They do other good there, but the Christian message is still front and center. I think if organizations, whether religious or not, are going to do good, then call it a service trip or something like that. "Mission" has been ruined by some current missionaries and obviously the ones of the past. Its unfortunate, but people are skeptical of organized religion doing things to people who aren't of the same religion so its time religions start to just deal with it instead of fighting it.


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 4:21 p.m.

It is interesting to note that you have concern for the needs of the people. At Art Fair, on a hot day, people would need to drink cold water, and a shady place to relax for a few minutes. You could have demonstrated your desire to meet the needs of people by simply providing free chilled water and a place to rest for a while. You may not be aware of it, we do so in India during hot weather season when people establish stalls and booths to serve water to all people walking by. You are raising money taking advantage of the needs of people on a hot day with the assumption that the money would meet the needs of some other people at some other location. It is a marketing formula to sell water instead of meeting the needs that you witness and recognize without any effort.


Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 4:10 a.m.

Thanks for that response. I am speaking about the needs of people. If the mission is to meet the needs of people, I am suggesting that you could take advantage of Art Fair to meet the needs of thirsty people and many of them could be simply visiting Ann Arbor. They would have a nice experience of their visit to Ann Arbor if people provide some chilled water out of genuine concern for their need. If you needed money for some other purpose, you could have rented a booth and sold pizza and bananas.

Terry Redding

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 8:17 p.m.

Bhavana - got to admit you make a reasonable point. So that you know, there is a very nice shaded courtyard that the church does provide free of charge any and every day off of William with nice benches and a lawn for those that care to sit on it. There is also a very peaceful fountain for them (although not for drinking). As for selling the water, boy, that's just a tough one. I can tell you that we've given away more than a few water bottles for free to people who looked like they needed one and couldn't afford it but that of course is a judgement call of those working the booth. The marketing we do is not to get people to buy water, its to get them to buy it from us. The assumption we have is that they are already expecting and planning to buy something to drink so when they buy it from us they know where the profits are going. Thanks for your thoughts and the insight as to how things have been done in India. To be fair, I suspect that when India holds an art fair however, there are people there selling not just water but sodas as well, yes? Do the churches and other relief organizations just set up right next to the vendors in the middle of the art fair?

Terry Redding

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 9:45 a.m.

ps. You won't have to wait for your just rewards in heaven on this one. I suspect you will get a big smile and a thank you on the spot ;-)

Terry Redding

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 9:14 a.m.

Wow, what a lonely (and mean?) world some people must live in. I'll say it up front, I'm a member of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor. Note that I don't hide behind some stupid pen name (how's that for dating myself). Thanks Jack for having the courage to have your comments associated with your real name. To provide a few facts easily available on the Church's website. Our missions are at home. Provided you consider home to be Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, or in the case of the greater American home, Louisiana. These kids and the church in general spend their mission time helping elderly people get their home up to snuff to deal with wheel chairs (you know, the people who use the ramp cuts on our city corners), getting houses in shape for the less fortunate via Habitat for Humanity, refurbishing houses damaged by Katrina (yes, there are STILL people living in government trailers in Louisiana), buying backpacks and school supplies for children of all ages entering AA and Ypsi schools each fall, hosting the men's shelter right in that beautiful church on a rotating basis year round so that they have a place to get in off the street for a night, and so on. I didn't read Darci trying to twist anyone's arm to come join FCC, she's just doing her job (and calling) and trying to spread a bit of the good word. Educate yourself on the church before you start to throw stones. Congregationalists are probably one of the LEAST dogmatic of the Christian denominations. Sure, every movement has it's dark history and splinters that have gone awry, stuff happens. To remain ignorant of the good however seems to be equally absurd. I'd ask everyone to chill out, despite the heat, and buy a bottle of water from the kids!

Terry Redding

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

My purpose for NOT using a screen name is to bring back some civility that has been lost on the web. My general sense is that some (definitely not all) posters are over the top, rude, uninformed, etc. saying things that they wouldn't say out loud to their neighbor face to face and that they hide in annonymity. There are lot's of opinions on this site that i disagree with. The only ones I have bothered to block are those that comment on EVERYTHING, and are rude to any and all commers, AND hide behind their screen names. Anyone who is prolific and I generally disagree with (David Cahill for example) but uses their real name, I don't block.


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 11:02 a.m.

My general sense is that folks who don't use screennames when they are allowed are sort of arrogant ( and also oblivious to the abuses that can come from too much internet self- promotion) ... the former being a proper concern of a number of posters here re.religious proselytizing


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 3:23 a.m.

Darcy, I commend you and those like you for your efforts at bettering the world. I believe the main issue some people may take with this involves the long term, seriously questionable, and often violent history of your organization, coupled with questions regarding the ability of this organization's upper infrastructure to improve their views and opinions on various human rights issues. Sorry, not sure why I felt compelled to write this, and I don't mean offense, simply giving an outside perspective.


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 1:39 a.m.

Sorry. For me and many god is a myth. Keep the word "mission" to yourself and just do good without putting a label on it. If there is a heaven, take comfort in the fact that the good you do will help you get there. If there isn't, then why mention the word other than an inherent insecurity that it doesn't. Opiate: meet masses.


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 12:42 a.m.

Too often the "mission" includes imposing your religious beliefs on people who are vulnerable. If the "mission" is to serve and do so without the religious backdrop, I say Amen!!

Jack Gladney

Wed, Jul 20, 2011 : 7:38 p.m.

I am not a religious person and have never found the word 'misson' to be scary. I do however take issue with locally based organizations (faith-based or otherwise) who take upon themselves 'international' ventures. There are so many nationally based organizations (i.e. Red Cross, Salvation Army) who have the expertise and infrastructure to take on such misssions. There is plenty of need and ministry (and I don't just mean witnessing the Gospel) needed right here in southeast Michigan (See the story about the local Builders Association this past weekend). I commend your efforts. I suggest you see that those dollars raised be made use of in the most efficient way by expending them and helping those in need right in our own backyard. God bless.

Terry Redding

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 9:18 a.m.

Jack - check out my info below. You'll be happy to know that we do put our money back into the city/county.


Wed, Jul 20, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

I agree that the word "mission" does have offputting connotations of proselytizing one (arbitrary) faith on another, rather than concrete good/useful works. How about "service delegation"??