WYSIWYG on Short-Term Missions—NOT!
As summer draws near, plans, months in the making, come to fruition. Summer is that time of year that many churches embark on their annual overseas missions trip, performing a part to support missions in a global context. As it draws nearer, we have been asked what is one piece of advice we have for those embarking on a short-term missions trip this year. Such a question opens up an array of topics worth exploring, but as a full-time missionary now and a previous leader of many short-term trips, one theme stands out: what you see is not what you get.
Your time on the field is limited by time, space, and opportunity. Therefore, the picture that you receive may be incomplete and the conclusions you draw inaccurate. Such observations and conclusions include the following:
- Missions: Life is different overseas and it can be easy to romanticize the missionary lifestyle (and ministry in general) as one that is fabled, fantastical, and fabulous. What you don’t see is the intensity that comes with agonizing over the catastrophes of sin and the lostness of souls.
- Missionaries: Not only do we often elevate missions, but the missionaries as well. However, they are just like everyone else. Furthermore, studies have shown that those who move overseas for ministry elevate the stress levels to three times what is considered an acceptable level of tolerance.
- Mission Fields: Finally, many will return home with the impression that the people were ready and many people were ‘saved.’ Don’t be surprised if the majority of those don’t end up attending the church after you leave. They were likely being polite when they listened, engaged, and accepted what you had to say. In our culture in South America, it has taken lots of time to get people to trust us and it’s culturally acceptable for them to say one thing to you and another thing about you.
The reality is that ministry is hard and ministry takes time. There are challenges that those on the field face that require nothing less than God’s grace and work.
Knowing that what you see is not what you get when entering a foreign mission field, how could you respond? Such an answer is easily found when we consider God’s character calls on the life of the believers. We could turn to Galatians and read the fruit of the spirit, or turn to Romans and read Paul’s call to Christlikeness and conclude that we should act like Christians. However, there are some specific mannerisms that would serve you well as you serve the Lord:
- Be Humble
- Be Loving
- Be Graceful
- Be Thoughtful
- Be Serving
- Be Qualitative (focus on quality)
No doubt decisions will be made that you don’t agree with or understand. People may respond in unexpected ways. These characteristics will help you both in being able to serve and grow. Look at it as an opportunity rejoice in the differences of people and cultures.
Certainly, missions is difficult, but it is also very rewarding and the benefits that come from such a trip should be savored. Furthermore, the same descriptions above can be used to describe ministry in the United States. So upon returning, the same responses apply when serving in your local church: be humble, loving, graceful, thoughtful, serving, and qualitative. Use what you learn overseas to serve at home. As the Lord works through your short-term missions experience cultivate and continue that growth.