Short Term Missions: Why Do We Go?

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The summer after my freshman year in college, I went on my first short term mission trip. You could argue that, as a missionary kid, my whole life had been one big mission trip, but this particular trip was made up of all missionary kids. It had been organized to get us out of our comfort zones and show us missions outside of our home countries and without our parents. It was going to be different for me and my brother though. We were going back to the country our family had moved from seven years prior, and we were spending the week in a familiar place with beloved childhood memories. Not only was I the oldest on the trip, we were on my turf, and I was excited to minister to the people who have my heart in the place I call home.

I had expected to struggle more than usual with the language. While I understood all that was said to me, I couldn’t always come up with the words to respond. I knew it was all in my brain, but that particular file was difficult to access from lack of use. While struggling to pull that information from my head, I was eating all the local food I could get my hands on. By the middle of the week, I had one of the worst cases of food poisoning I’ve ever experienced. I was out of commission for the next two days. In the final days, I discovered that somewhere along the way, I’d also been relieved of a good amount of the cash I’d taken out at the airport. I can just see the trip leader and host (who I’d known for almost as long as I can remember) putting their faces in their palms. This was not the trip I had expected, but surprisingly, it is one of my favorite experiences on the mission field. In the middle of the chaos, I had made a friend in our local translator, watched my little brother minister to others, and built deep relationships with my fellow team members that we’ve kept going to this day. I can’t tell you any statistics on how many locals we shared with or the number of pamphlets we handed out, but I can talk for hours about how God was at work that week.

After college, I returned to the mission field for a two-year term and experienced what it was like to host short term teams from the U.S. I’ll admit it was far from my favorite part of the job. We spent much of the week acting as translators and tour guides. There was extra pressure to put on a good face and show our visitors how fulfilling our jobs were. The truth was I was tired, not at all fulfilled, and crushed with guilt over not feeling like the successful missionary I thought I was supposed to be. The people I ministered to were not responsive, our project wasn’t getting off the ground, and I had to spend a week smiling and touring everyone around. While it’s true not all missionary hosts are feeling this way, it is more common than you might think.

So why do we go? Our short term projects prioritize giving exposure to ministry overseas, encouraging our missionaries, and developing our own sense of calling in evangelism here and abroad. And all that can happen when we attend a short term trip. 

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from both of these experiences, it’s that God works in our weaknesses. God frequently will work in a way we did not expect or plan. God will use a short term trip to remind us of our dependency on him. A favorite phrase of missionaries is that “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.” No matter how prepared you think you may be for any kind of mission work at home or abroad, it’s likely that you aren’t prepared enough. If that’s discouraging, I have good news. It’s actually liberating. It’s not up to you. You are not responsible for changing someone’s life with the good news of the gospel. God is. Maybe he’s using you to do it and maybe he’s not. He is building his church across the globe and invites us to join him. One of my favorite people on earth (and coincidentally the leader of my ill fated college trip) has a mantra: “It’s not about you.” God calls us to show up and let Him do the rest.  We go because He commands us to: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  

We are compelled, as followers of Christ, to go to all the world and share the good news. When we do, it may not look like we imagine it. Maybe we are preaching to crowds or maybe we are playing games with kids. Maybe we’re sitting with our long term missionaries, giving them the encouragement and strength they need to keep going. Sometimes we’ll watch God use us to change others. More often, we’ll watch God change us.

In the summer of 2018, City Church will offer short term mission trips to visit partnering missionaries and serve in their communities. One trip will join Jenna Murphy in the country of Uganda. Another possible trip will go to the capital city of Prague, in the Czech Republic and work with Phil and Shanna Davis and Faith Community Church. These are two very different countries with very different cultures, but both share the same need: to know Jesus and learn from him. Begin praying regularly for our missionaries, for God to raise up people from our congregation to go, and for you to consider your role in going or sending. 

Details on these trips will be coming soon. Please contact Joshua Earman (joshua@citychurchrva.com) to lear more.