The countdown is on... Less then a week until I board a plane destined for a far off exotic land. I am soon to embark on a short- term mission trip and with only five days until we leave the excitement in our team is palpable.
I have visited the travel doctor who jabbed me with three too many needles for my liking, I have scoured the stores for culturally appropriate clothing (much harder then you would think) and have exchanged my cash to the (previously) almighty US dollar.
Each year there are hundreds of thousands of people, just like me, who take part and serve on a short-term mission trip in nearly every earthly location imaginable. Yet I have to admit, even as I stuff my mosquito net into my backpack, there is a small part of me wondering if the rapid rise of popularity for these short-term ventures are for many little more then a noble way to spend their holidays.
This adventure of going to a country for a few weeks to check out God's work around the world is a relatively new, somewhat post-modern phenomenon. Today we can practically traverse the globe in relative affordability and comfort. Yet in past times, the words 'short' and 'mission' rarely appeared together.
Those in by-gone eras, called by God to share the message of Jesus with other cultures, were known to pack all their belongings, not into a suitcase but rather a coffin, their coffin, with no guarantee that they would ever return to their homeland. Theirs was a life-long mission, one of language learning, culture, living and sharing with people.
Today, some would say that the landscape of mission has changed forever, that long-term cross-cultural mission (where people spend at least seven years in a country) is gradually falling into extinction.
Our attention spans have grown too short and our careers too important. And yet it is clear that truly effective cross-cultural mission is based on a foundation of strong relationships, a common language and discipleship, all of which take years.
Despite the downward trend, there are still many who are raising their hands to serve overseas long-term as they follow God’s call to be witnesses for Him in all the world. These people who are willing to go the long haul, to spend years learning the culture of the people and sharing Jesus as they go about every day life are certainly not relics of the past. Rather they are the key to the future of Jesus’ life changing message reaching all corners of the globe.
So with this in mind, what role does short-term mission have to play? Not long ago, I was sitting in a seminar exploring this very topic. And while there were a number of opinions bandied around, there was one wise man who described these taste-and-see visits as an ‘investment of hope’.
An investment of hope not so much for the unreached people, but for us.
Short-term mission, when done with a focus on cultural learning and reflection can change us, open our eyes to see how God is moving in and through people and culture to bring them back into relationship with Him.
Through short-term mission our world becomes bigger and God’s love even greater and if we allow it, the few weeks that we spend in someone else’s land can forever move us.
National Young Adults Consultant