You’ve Been Served
by Mary Hamilton
Short-term mission trips offer first-hand experience in serving others, exposure to new cultures and languages, and a limited time commitment without the lifestyle changes required of long-term missionaries. But they can be expensive, and an argument can be made that the money might be better spent on needed supplies distributed to the affected people groups. In addition, local short-term missions often involve putting a new coat of paint on rundown homes, mowing overgrown lots and pulling weeds. It makes us feel like we’re doing something, but we know the weeds will be back in a month, the lot will need mowing again long after we’re gone, and the residents don’t have the funds to maintain their homes. Are we really accomplishing anything? How important are short-term mission trips?
Churches that avidly support short-term missions often establish a relationship with organizations and missions at home and abroad, enabling them to return for ministry annually, if not more often. In this way, mission teams can work together with the local citizens, training and teaching them how to change their world for the better. Affection and trust grow when people see these teams coming back again and again, demonstrating that they are not forgotten when the team leaves.
Such a pattern communicates the character of God in a tangible way. But even teams that respond to crises like earthquakes and floods find their physical presence means much to the people they are helping. God knit into us the desire and need to interact, and though supplies are welcome in a time of crisis, we all find it more meaningful to have someone walking beside us. Short-term missionaries report that when the local citizens learn they’ve come a long distance at great expense, the response is often, “Now I know you care, because you’ve come all this way to help us.”
Christina Olivier saw the benefits of short-term missionaries from the other side when she spent six months in a country that is officially closed to the gospel. Living in a culture and language far beyond her comfort zone, she found her faith stretched and strengthened. She says the short-term mission groups brought encouragement as they partnered in sharing the good news. “They brought energy and excitement that was needed when we got weary.”
But the people served aren’t the only ones who benefit from short-term mission trips. In fact, most who participate in these trips affirm that they receive much more than they give. For students especially, a short-term mission trip can broaden their perspective when they see people living without the luxuries they and their peers take for granted. For this reason, Jeannie Gossett Kirkpatrick believes short-term mission trips are as important as Sunday school and church. As a teenager, she says, it opened her eyes to the world outside her own church and school. She learned that life circumstances shape our beliefs and values, and not everyone thinks the way Americans do. She also discovered first-hand how the Enemy is at work, trying to prevent the spread of the gospel. The trip made such an impression that now, more than 50 years later, Jeannie still prays for the country where she served.
Rachel Phillips went on several short-term mission trips while in high school and says they taught her how to serve others. The dire needs of people in other situations quickly drove home the fact that life isn’t all about her. “It’s probably one of the few times students are truly ‘second.’” Short-term missionaries must learn to be flexible when plans change or don’t work out. They also learn to cope with discomforts like lack of air conditioning, water shortages and insects. Everyone returns with a greater appreciation for the comforts of home.
Short-term mission trips widen our view of the world and soften our heart for others. They also make us realize we are extravagantly blessed. Karen Watson spent two weeks in Guatemala fitting local residents with eyeglasses. But it wasn’t the needs of the people that impressed her as much as their helper/translator’s obvious pride in her home. It had a dirt floor, a pit toilet, sheets of aluminum for walls and a wood-burning stove for cooking. “While I was there, all I could think of was how I don’t invite guests over because my house isn’t clean enough or good enough. Very humbling experience.”
We are blessed in order to be a blessing, which means our extravagance carries with it a responsibility. And what better way to show the love of God in Christ Jesus than to walk side-by-side with those in need? Maybe that’s why, before He left the earth, Jesus told His followers to go and make disciples of all the nations. And maybe the best reason of all to engage in short-term mission trips is because our Lord didn’t specify a length of time. He simply said, “Go…”
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