This summer, 41 people on five different teams will be going on a LoveWorks mission trip. Four years ago, in 2014, there were 166 people on 15 teams. The numbers have fluctuated over the 30 years Point Loma has offered LoveWorks, but according to Brian Becker, Director of International Ministries, this extreme fluctuation within a few year span is unusual and may have underlying causes, such as the current political rhetoric and living in a smartphone age.
“Every school I’ve talked to that’s a similar school to us [PLNU] said that they are similarly struggling with recruitment for missions,” said Becker. “One expert I consulted with told me that every time there’s a presidential election, there’s a decline that year in involvement in missions.”
The Trump election has brought with it a stronger decline in these missions than most presidential elections, according to Becker, and the typical pattern would be that, after the election, numbers rebound the following year. In this election however, numbers have remained suppressed. Becker also says there has also been a decline in students studying abroad. He thinks this could be related to a fear of uncertainty and risk-taking.
“I think there’s a level to which we are afraid to stick our necks out and take risks,” said Becker. “This has been the first generation that has grown up their most formative years, junior high and high school, with their smartphone. More time is being given to smartphone screens, and less time to really contemplate who we are, who we want to be, what risks we need to orient life around.”
LoveWorks requires students to step away from their phones and engage in the unfamiliar. The “neo monastic” aspect of LoveWorks is counter-cultural and asks students to slow down and think deeply about themselves and the world in which they live, which is vastly different from the day-to-day rush of life in a fast-paced, technology-driven culture.
“I still believe that LoveWorks is a powerfully formative program,” said Becker. “And yet I find there are students who sign up [for LoveWorks] and they’re not aware of all it entails because we can’t figure out how to slow things down to pay attention enough. We live more of a life that looks like channel surfing rather than tuning in to a great movie.”
Hannah Messina will be going on a LoveWorks trip to Haiti this summer and finds the “no phone” rule of the trip to be one of the more appealing aspects.
“I’m glad I won’t have that distraction so I don’t come back and say ‘wow, I missed half the culture cause I was looking at a screen the whole time,’” said Messina.
Christine Abrell, who went on a LoveWorks trip to Armenia last year, found the break from technology on her trip both a challenge and a relief.
“Not having my phone made me miss home more than I think I might’ve if I had contact,” said Abrell. “But it was nice to not have them [phones]. It made the days feel longer, the days were much less broken up by going online and I really appreciated that.”
Messina said she was surprised that there were so few students going on a LoveWorks trip this year given the number of options available. She thinks the pressure of school and jobs is a factor in the low numbers.
“Society keeps telling you to go forward and push toward your careers, and people are taking summer classes and internships,” said Messina. “They don’t even think about LoveWorks as a choice because it would just be something that would be taking up the time that they could be using to do internships, and they don’t really consider the life experiences that could be gained from it [LoveWorks].”
Abrell echoes Messina in that summer jobs and internships present a real pressure.
“No one wants to waste a summer anymore because people have jobs,” said Abrell. “Especially with how competitive job markets are now, people are like, I need to be checking off all the boxes. The hard thing about LoveWorks is that it does make it hard to get a summer job. And the cost [of LoveWorks] is also a huge factor.”
Messina said her initial fear with LoveWorks was paying for it. She’s been fundraising and working to meet the costs, and is “fully trusting in God to provide.”
Abrell said her LoveWorks trip was difficult at times and not what she expected. She said she would have liked to been able to evangelize more.
“It was overall a pretty positive experience, but there were times when it was really challenging and it was just hard,” said Abrell. “I feel like we never actually talked about Jesus to people. They’re really hands-off on that because they don’t want to be too imposing on a culture and I get that, but I think there’s a point where that is important [to preach].”
Messina said she’s excited to go to Haiti and be able to use her talents to help others.
“I am so excited to see all these kids and be immersed in their culture,” said Messina. “Just trying to stay really open minded to everything that’s gonna happen. And just having all those experiences that I’ll be able to carry with me the rest of my life.”
Becker and his team are re-evaluating how to recruit students for LoveWorks in coming years given the counter-cultural nature of these missions trips. One-and-one conversations with students to talk about whether a LoveWorks trip would be right for them was a possibility.
“It’s the risks we take, it’s the crises that we invite into our life and the relationships we have that will be the currency of meaning,” said Becker. “[LoveWorks] is a deeply relational program, a deeply formative program. I think that what’s tricky is getting people to slow down and really evaluate it and decide whether it’s for them.”