Our theme this year is “The Life.” Today we explore that theme with….

The Life on the air mattress


Glenn Maddox is the Missions Mobilizer for the Baptist General Association of Virginia. He’s a graduate of the University of Virginia and the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He and his wife Jen met in the Baptist Student Union, and they have two boys – Graham and Dalton.

This summer I spent five weeks at five different sites with Impact Mission Camps – a youth mission camp for students and ministry of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. I’ve been the coordinator for Impact for the last several years, and if there’s one thing I have reluctantly come to love, it’s my air mattresses. I use the plural because it turns out that air mattresses really are designed for occasional use, so I tend to need to replace them more frequently than most people probably do. But having a decent quality air mattress, I find that I have actually learned to sleep pretty well on them. In fact, this summer I was in two places where there were actual beds for us, and I found myself missing the air mattress during those weeks. That may have had a bit to do with the fairly low quality of college dorm mattresses, but I think I’ve really come to like sleeping on the mattress that becomes my summer bed.
I spent some time this summer questioning why I like going away for so much of the summer – to air mattresses, school and church classrooms, and a diet that isn’t always as healthy as it would be at home. The air mattress is definitely not more comfortable than my bed at home. As much as I love the staff and people I work with, I don’t prefer their company to that of my family, whom I miss a lot while I’m gone. But I think to some extent my air mattress has come in a strange way to represent my weeks at Impact. While I’d have to force myself not to react if someone called Impact a vacation, I do have to admit that in a few ways it’s a lot easier than regular life. And I think that can be true from both my perspective as the coordinator and from the participant’s perspective. And I think the better a job you’re doing – the more true that is of a short-term mission experience.
First, for a short-term mission experience to be successful (and I’m looking at more than just a task successfully accomplished) there has to be investment on the front end. That’s just as true when you’re the one in charge as it is when you’re a participant. If I want the short term mission experience I’m part of to really do its job – for the community where we serve as well as for the people who are going to serve – there is necessarily a lot of work to do to get ready. The ministry has to be part of a larger, ongoing relationship. Then the people who are serving come in with credibility because they represent someone the community already trusts. Those people can serve better when they come prepared – prepared spiritually to serve and with an understanding of who the people are they are serving and what strengths and gifts each side brings to the relationship. Once you arrive, the hard work has already been done and you can really enjoy the experience – knowing that it doesn’t have to end when the week does.
Second, a short-term mission experience is an opportunity to put everything else away and focus on one task (even if that one task involves lots of little tasks). There’s a lot of clarity that comes from putting everything else aside for a week – where everything you do is about building community, developing faith, serving others, and worshiping God. It’s not where we go to do mission – it’s where we go to get energy for the mission that God has called us to back home. And a week spent engaged in that kind of ministry gives us a preview into the Kingdom of God.
So yeah, I like my air mattress. It feels more comfortable than it probably is because when my air mattress is where I sleep, I’m waking up to a chance to be directly engaged in exciting ministry. It feels more comfortable than it should because I have to (and have the luxury of being able to) put aside any worries that aren’t directly related to that opportunity for ministry. But in the end, as my list of replacement air mattresses grows, it’s a comfort that is by design temporary. Living out our faith on a mission trip is also a comfort that is by design temporary, but if we approach it intentionally, it will help us grow our faith when we return home as well.