December 30, 2019

A Better Way Forward for Short-Term Mission Trips

Last week I wrote about some of the downsides of the modern phenomena that is the short-term mission trip. It is a fact that these trips take up time and money from both sides of the arrangement. Those coming can spend thousands on airfare, food, and accommodation. Those receiving can spend hundreds of hours babysitting groups, keeping them occupied, and finding ‘jobs’ for them to do. However, the payoff can be pretty amazing too. Consider the following benefits of short-term mission trips.

1. Mutual Encouragement & Edification

Of course, there are cheaper ways to be encouraged, but nothing galvanises people like face-to-face contact. In a ministry like ours, team members are often flagging in the summer months. Everybody is looking forward to a break from the strain and stresses of this full-time, all-encompassing work. There can be a lot of discouragement, and so nothing quite beats a group of eager beavers arriving with renewed energy and excitement about what is going on. It lifts people.

Team members who were feeling tired and maybe a bit low feel re-energised and hopeful that what we do here isn’t a complete loss, even though it can often feel like it. For those coming, it can be a spiritual fill-up to observe a dynamic Christian community and team in action as we serve God in difficult places. Visitors can also be renewed in their hope and confidence in the gospel as they see it in action and listen to the stories of those growing in Christ. Never underestimate the power of the growth of our faith as we engage in this kind of service for God.

2. We can establish enduring friendships.

Many people on a scheme have barely ventured into the city, let alone met somebody from another country and culture. These trips can be particularly stimulating and enlightening for people as they interact with outsiders. Friendships can very easily be established.

The danger for STMers is that they see ‘locals’ merely as people to ‘minister to’ or have their picture taken with for a nice Facebook update (this was especially prevalent when we had teams visit our work with street kids in Brazil). Yet, if STMers actually took more time and really engaged with people, they would find an openness to developing deep relationships that survive their two-week experience.

3. We can be stimulated to try new things in our communities.

New people always bring fresh perspectives and new ideas, whether they consciously mean to or not. That’s why we should be constantly questioning every practice on these trips (don’t get annoying though). The visitors should ask the hosts why they do certain things or behave in certain ways, and the hosts should ask how it is done in the visitor’s culture. This ‘iron sharpens iron’ approach can be very beneficial. All the best ideas are stolen and adapted from somewhere else. Even the most incidental thing/conversation could spark an idea or reshape a ministry in unexpected ways.

4. Our serving one another is a witness to the community.

This holds true regardless of whether we see it or not. One recent visitor commented that he had asked himself why he had spent thousands of dollars and flown thousands of miles to ‘pick up trash’. He wondered whether there was something more productive he could have been doing with his time. Maybe. But recent comments by locals have been one of amazement that people would fly in to help clean up our streets. Why would they do that? What do they get out of that?

Gospel opportunities arise, but the cementing of our standing in the community as a place that wants to serve it instead of judge it is also a huge by-product. That visitor may have just picked up rubbish from the street, but we picked up so much more. Even as our church has sent a team to another country, those who have gone have had countless opportunities to talk about it in the workplace, and it has become something of a talking point in the community as local believers have gone out. Everything we do is a witness as we do it in front of a watching world.

5. We grow in our love for God & His wider church.

This is the most important thing, surely. As we live out our life of faith, find it stretched, battle frustrations and our own heart issues, we grow more in love with Jesus and, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, we begin to appreciate and love the wider body of Christ.

Yes, there is one gospel, one Saviour, one hope for the world, but God works in many different ways, and meeting people who are like us but who operate differently to us only enriches everybody.

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