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Today in the Mission Yearbook

What footprints are we leaving?


Dealing with mission trips and carbon emissions

May 10, 2020

Ellen Sherby

Ellen Sherby walks with one of her sons while visiting family in Honduras. Sherby met her husband, the Rev. Elmer Zavala, while serving in a short-term mission program in Honduras in 1995. (Photo by Elmer Zavala)

“Our congregation wants to go on a short-term mission trip outside the U.S. Are there PC(USA) global partners that can host us?”

“I am planning a trip next summer for families in my church. Does the PC(USA) have a devotional guide for intergenerational trips?”

These are questions I respond to regularly. Congregational mission trip leaders often reach out to seek guidance for where to go and resource materials to help them lead short-term mission trips.

I recently exchanged emails with Jed Koball, a PC(USA) mission co-worker serving with the Joining Hands Network in Peru. Jed accompanies groups of Presbyterians from the U.S. who come to Peru to learn about causes and effects of poverty. They go back to the U.S. prepared to advocate for Peruvian brothers and sisters and to learn more about (and act on) root causes of poverty at home.

A recent email from Jed started a conversation about the impact of mission trips on our carbon footprint. Jed commented, “As I was reviewing the resources, evaluating the mission experiences we facilitate here in Peru, and obsessively fretting over the demise of the planet as the Amazon burns and the Andes ice caps melt, it occurred to me that we Presbyterians should take more responsibility for our carbon emissions … not only in support of our global partner initiatives (both advocacy and project-based) but also in relation to our personal activity.”

God calls us to do what we can to leave all kinds of good “footprints” in mission, both for Creation as well as for the well-being of all of God’s people around the world. As you prepare to participate in mission or service near or far, consider the following ways to engage in mission while also caring for the planet:

Participate in mission in ways that cause as little harm as possible, including potential environmental impacts your group may have as it travels to and lives in a host community.

Offset your carbon footprint as you travel to, serve and live in communities away from home.

Commit to deeper engagement in your own community upon your return home. One way is to engage your congregation in conversations about climate change.

Visit to download “Let’s Talk Faith & Climate” and “15 Steps.”

Ideas to help planet Earth

Mission co-worker Jed Koball has proposed a few ideas to Peruvian partners to attempt to offset carbon emissions of groups visiting Peru:

  • Charge an additional $10 to $20 per person, per mission team, to help fund an ongoing reforestation project of our partners.
  • Engage mission teams in more environmental activities (as opposed to construction).
  • Continue to address climate change as the most urgent issue of the world today.
  • Eat out less.
  • Eliminate red meat from mission team diets (and slowly move toward a culturally appropriate vegetarian diet). Take note: These are Jed’s ideas for the context of partners in Peru. If you are planning a trip, please work with the host partners to ask them about their ideas for offsetting your group’s carbon footprint. Follow their guidance to determine what kinds of activities are most appropriate in their context.

A few more ideas …

Ellen Sherby, Coordinator of Equipping for Mission Involvement in World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, May 10, 2020, the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

First Reading Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Second Reading 1 Peter 2:2-10
Gospel John 14:1-14

Today’s Focus:  Mission Trips

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Clayton Cobb, Board of Pensions
Octavia Coleman, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, we thank you for your church and its witness and ministry. Be with the ministers and servants who love you, carry their crosses, and bear witness to your love for the world. Do not let them get discouraged in their ministry. In the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church. Amen.