it’s that season of the year! so here’s to all of you considering whether to participate in a short-term mission trip this coming summer.
if you asked my mother what the three dark lords of the cereal world are, she’d probably say Lucky Charms, Cookie Crisp and Apple Jacks, though she really had it out for Lucky Charms.
But as a child, that was all i wanted for breakfast. It was colorful, it was sweet, and i was certain there was some nutritional value in it; why would they make it if it didn’t? i’d eat it for all three meals if i could. and did i mention the marshmallows?? Oh. Em. Gee. what kid says no to colored, sugary, crunchy, shrunken marshmallows? none that i know of.
short-term mission trips are similar in that sense. they’re packaged nicely, appealing-ly (look at all the great things you get to do!), they have a sweet taste going down, they make us happy and make us feel good because…well, a variety of reasons. besides, what kind of christian says no to “loving and serving the poor and forgotten” or “sharing about Jesus with people who have never heard”?? i’d be an idiot not to go on an STM trip. just like i’d always felt like i was missing out because i didn’t get to eat any Lucky Charms! but herein lies the problem.
this is not at all what we should be thinking when considering whether or not to go on a short-term mission trip. so i’ve put together 3 things to consider when deciding if you should apply to go on a STM trip this summer:
EXPECTATIONS – what are yours going in? are you going in with the mentality that you want to know how this can shape your long-term goals/plans or are you going with the idea that this is indeed just a “short”-term trip with no long-term effects? are you wanting to go and understand first-hand (culture, people, needs, ministries & what God is doing there) how you can be involved in mission with them in the future or are you simply trying to see how you can fulfill your temporary summer tour of duty of “missions”? do you see the people of that country as projects and results to report to your home church or souls you can mobilize people to be praying for even after you’re home? these are just a few things to consider. having the right expectations going in can really help shape what kind of trip you end up having.
don’t sign up for a STM just because it’s packaged nicely. STMs have to be promoted that way because, well, how many people would be sign up for “Hey! Come sweat nonstop all day!”? or “Come and have fun smiling and nodding because you don’t know the local language!” or “All you’ll be doing is walking around and praying!”
i kid…though part of me really wonders if there’s any missio organizations out there who would dare to throw a trip promo like this out there? 🙂
but this isn’t just about how the trip is packaged. all trips are done so, nicely. no, this is about your expectations before signing up for it. are you expecting God to use this trip to help affirm/lead you to involvement in missions in the future (in whatever form)? if not, perhaps you should ask God to give you a willing heart first. otherwise the effects of you going on this temporary-high STM will fade and you’ll be back where you started. you’ll become one of those CSST’s (chronic summer short-termers) who feel the need to have to go fulfill their mission duties each year but not during the off-seasons. ask God to help you understand His heart for the _____ people/country, or even just a simple heart for missions in general (you can work out specifics later!) ask Him to use you in the future for His global purposes in whichever way He leads. and pray for yourself to be obedient when He does.
PURPOSE – hey, let me let you in on a big not-so-secret secret. you’re not jesus. never was, never will be. is that a surprise to you at all? most likely not.
what is our purpose in going on an STM trip? hopefully not this (now common) constant need to “save the homeless out of homelessness or poor & hungry out of poverty or women out of prostitution**” that kind of agenda goes back to the same problem: you are not jesus. you cannot save people in 2 weeks or 1 month. surely you know that, right? yes, you might be able to temporarily be of some help, but what many christian authors have written about are how teams go away feeling like they’ve done something significant and life-changing for people, whereas that isn’t necessarily the case for the receivers.
please don’t use short-term mission trips as a way to feel good about yourself. that’s not what STMs are for. that’s what growing up is for.
**(just a note: i am not saying that we should not help/address those social injustice issues as a church, but we need to make sure we are not going about them in the wrong way. please see the chapter about STMs in When Helping Hurts or What is the Mission of the Church for help about those topics).
STM trips do not exist to let you fulfill your savior complex. no, you don’t need to fly around the world to do that. that is not the nutritional value of STM trips. while Lucky Charms may be fun to eat, be all sugary and sweet going down, and make us happy while we eat it, we can only expect the nutrition to go so far. if feeling good about ourselves because we’ve “done” something is all we’re expecting, in the end, the very-high-in-sugar component takes over and guess what, that’s all we have left is the “high” of a trip. but when our purpose for these trips are about what God does (and not what we can do there), allowing Him to open our eyes and also what He wants us to do for the long run, the nutritional value of going on simply one short-term mission can be great.
OPENNESS – to hearing from God, to learning about the culture/people/needs/ministries, and how to follow through when it’s all over. in preparation for my first “real” mission trip as a mature christian (this is after multiple STMs where i just went because it was what i “did” every summer), my pastor said to us something i remember to this day: you serve with eyes wide open (which i’ve now realized is actually a book title!!! hooray!)
you observe. you ask questions. you don’t judge. you learn. you make yourself available.
but ultimately, what did that phrase really mean to me? it’s this: you don’t go to “do” mission. you go because you want to learn to be it. you go because you’re ready to live it. your eyes have been opened.
once i told God that i was ready and available for Him to use me for the long-haul, guess what He did? yeah. the third word of the name of this blog tells you what He did. i don’t even understand how it happened, actually. not everyone will end up being a long-term missionary. but imagine if someone ended up a long-term prayer-y for the mission field. or a long-term supporter-y of a missionary? or a long-term mobilizer-y? (not actual words, i know). this is what that pastor said to me and i know this now – “being ready and available for God to use you is a dangerous thing because He will always take you up on your offer.” so the question is really – are you open to it and ready to be obedient? be honest with yourself. if you’re not, perhaps you’re not ready to be going on this trip. your eyes have been opened. don’t shut them again.
our involvement in the Great Commission should not be contained to a 2 week or 1 month trip. that’s really short-changing Matthew 28. it’s like eating Lucky Charms and assuming it’s all the nutrition you need for the day. please don’t let going on short-term mission trips turn into your Lucky Charms! STM trips have so much more nutrition than that if you’re willing to take the bite.
churches & leaders – do your part in helping your people understand that pushing them to simply sign up for a mission trip each year isn’t the point of short-term mission. i’m convinced that all it takes is one good trip (including good orientation/debrief) to help someone start on the road to a lifetime of mission involvement. but they have to be ready for it, or no amount of STM-going will ever change their view of mission. encourage them not to have an attitude of “doing our duty” as christians, but instead, to be ready for God to use before, during and most importantly, after the trip. and be ready to walk alongside them through this.
the point of this post is not to discourage you from STM, or give you an excuse to not go on one because you feel you “aren’t ready.” rather it’s to challenge you to think about why you’re going on this trip and how you can prepare for it. short-term mission for a long-term vision.
we need to learn to stop seeing short-term missions as nicely packaged, high in sugary sweets cereal used to make us happy. instead, we need to see them as (just as nicely packaged) Mueslix, Total or Cheerios that actually change us for the better in the long run.
…or some other cereal you deem healthy. i wouldn’t know since i’m a toast and eggs kinda person.