Have you ever talked to someone who believed that short-term Christian mission trips were a waste of time and resources? Typically, their protests go something like this:
- There are needy people in your own city; why do you need to go all the way around the world to help other needy people?
- You may have impact while you are there, but as soon as you leave, everything you did will go back to the way it was. Why bother?
- The cost is too great to the church and/or your supporters. If you want to travel internationally, you should pay for it yourself.
In many ways, these seem like valid points. So what, exactly, is the justification for short-term mission trips?
Expanding Your Horizons
Let’s face it: Christians in America have it good. Our country was founded on Christian principles, we’re allowed to worship freely, and many people in our everyday lives are believers just like us. Sure, we have problems — but on the whole, we aren’t being persecuted and we don’t live in fear of someone finding out about our faith.
Here is a short list of places where that is not the case: China, India, Nigeria, Vietnam, Sudan, Malaysia, Somalia, and the entire Middle East.
If you’ve never experienced a society where Christianity isn’t the norm, you can easily grow stagnant in your relationship with Christ. Jesus can become about as exciting as mopping your kitchen floor. Not that Christianity should be about seeking your own personal thrillride, but allowing yourself to experience fighting for your faith — not just standing up for what you believe, but knowing why you believe it and taking a risk to spread that message — well, that’s a very different encounter with God than what you’re probably used to.
It’s More About You Than You Think It Is
Ministering. Building. Restoring. Loving.
These are the words we use to describe what we’ll do on our mission trips. They are all good things, of course; there are many places around the world that simply don’t have the resources we have here in America, and when we go to other countries to do real, tangible work, we can be the hands and feet of Christ in a very real, tangible way.
But people often miss a vital part of the whole process: while we are ministering, building, restoring, and loving the people and places we visit, God is doing the same work inside of us.
You minister to someone by providing them with food, medicine, or shelter; the Holy Spirit ministers to you by allowing you to be the vehicle for those provisions. You restore an orphanage that was in dire need of repairs; God softens the parts of your heart that have become callous. You build a relationship with someone who wonders if each new day will bring death; Christ opens your eyes to the opportunities he has given you in your relationships back home.
Short-term mission trips are about serving the people you encounter, yes — but they are also very much about God molding your heart into something new.
Those Who Cannot Go Are Called to Send
Scripture makes it clear that we should all be involved in some form of ministry to others, whether it’s on the homefront or across the ocean. But what if someone who can’t leave home due to obligations or disability feels called to support Christian mission trips in some other way? How can they be involved without getting on the plane?
They send others. They support short- and long-term missionaries with prayer, finances, and supplies. In this way, they are part of the work God is doing around the globe — even if they can’t physically go.