Traditionally, a missionary’s work required tremendous commitment—many years or even a lifetime away from home, living in remote areas in primitive conditions, battling disease, paganism and hostility—and maybe even a martyr’s death—with no guarantee of results.
To swoop in on a jet for a few days of hard work and fun, working with friendly people in simple but safe surroundings—is that really a mission?
It can be. Or it can be a waste of time and of money that could be better used in other ways. The keys to success are preparation, mutual respect and ongoing commitment.
Even a short mission trip requires a lot of advance work. The planning cannot all be done from the home, or sending country. It requires some personnel in the host country who know where work is already being done, who can arrange the details of where meetings can be held, where local believers can help, and where visitors will be most useful. The visitors should be willing to go where they are wanted and do what is needed.
It is most important that an organization will remain in that country to follow up on whatever success there is. We asked the denominational office in the Philippines to help connect with activities that their churches were already involved in. The visiting group explained the kinds of work they had done before, what they might like to do, how much time they had, what their budget was, and what their concerns were.
Their Filipino partners explained what was happening in different churches in the Philippines, arranged a travel plan, and supplied vehicles and drivers. They listed the supplies the group would need to bring, and what would be best to purchase locally.
It is important that the short-term mission group have realistic expectations. You are going to learn as well as teach. The biggest change may not be to the local people, but to you. To live and work alongside people of another culture, even for a few days, can be life-changing.
Mike’s group listed the following benefits:
- encourage us by seeing God at work,
- reinforce our faith in Christ as our Savior,
- force us to pray and rely on God in difficulties,
- promote unity among different nationalities,
- help us be more content, less materialistic,
- expand our view of the church and the world,
- strengthen a willingness to serve, and
- encourage participants to become full-time missionaries.
The Filipino co-workers offered these points:
- Going to exposure trips will broaden a person’s horizons about what the Lord is doing in our denomination and in the Body of Christ
- Through these experiences people may gain principles to understanding cross-cultural missions and evangelism that may be applied to their home situations.
- Trips like these could also promote networking among churches that would benefit other mission areas of the world. For example, U.S. churches can partner with the Philippine national church to do missions work in countries like Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and other countries where Filipino missionaries are already deployed.
- We encourage people to take cross-cultural missions-exposure trips because of the educational and spiritual benefits.
- Short-term missionaries can also encourage the members in the host nation, and prompt it to do ministry that it wouldn’t otherwise do.
- A mission trip can raise the awareness level of Christians back home, both in sponsoring the trip and maybe establishing an ongoing relationship with the host congregations.
Short-term mission is not just about tasks being accomplished; it is about building relationships. Sometimes volunteers go to an area, establish meaningful contacts, then leave and are never heard from again. That can be hard for the local people.
Ministry and mission are about remembering—they are not just a one-off “Been there, done that and got the T-shirt” experience.
Finally, remember that it is not necessary to travel to the ends of the earth. There are many short-term mission projects close to home. A search on the Internet (type in “short-term mission” in the search line) will provide links to many websites with details of short-term missions. There are also many books available offering practical and spiritual advice.
Author: Michael Morrison