The Value of Short Term Missions
My wife and I went on our first short term mission trip back in 1978. (Becky, of course, had grown up on the mission field and had also attended Practical Missionary Training in Latin America while in college.) During that summer of ’78 we served in Germany with “Eurocorps,” a ministry of Greater Europe Mission. We were based in the quiet village of Seeheim, where we worked on various projects at the German Bible Institute. In addition, I played trumpet on a brass octet that held evangelistic concerts in various towns and cities.
Later, in the early ’80s, we lived in Basel, Switzerland, while I was working on my doctorate. We were deeply involved in the church there – not the English-speaking congregation, but the local German-speaking Baptist church.
Last October and November, while I was on sabbatical, Becky and I traveled to Ethiopia for five weeks. This was my first visit to the land of Becky’s childhood. While there my wife fulfilled her life-long dream of working in a down country medical clinic, while I taught at various schools. More recently, we spent several weeks this summer in Ethiopia.
What are the benefits of such short term ministry? Our short term experiences have effected several positive changes. Our missions giving has significantly increased, as has our prayer time for missions and missionaries. Our mission-related activities have increased a hundredfold, and being personally acquainted with missions has significantly increased our awareness of both the joys and difficulties of mission life.
How does a short term trip work? Many short termers are sponsored by sending agencies such as Greater Europe Mission (GEM) or Serving in Mission (SIM, formerly Sudan Interior Mission). A partial list of sending agencies may be found here. Becky and I work as “missionaries-at-large,” attaching ourselves to various ministries as the Lord Jesus directs us. For example, this summer in Ethiopia Becky launched a new ministry sponsored by her father’s foundation, which recently produced a CD Library containing 100 different Bible study helps in both Amharic (the national language of Ethiopia) and English. The CD has received an enthusiastic response, and Becky and her dad are now working on a second CD that will contain the textbooks used in Ethiopian Bible schools. For my part, I preached every Sunday in various churches (Baptist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Reformed Orthodox, etc.), taught Beginning and Intermediate Greek, and ministered to the persecuted believers. Together, Becky and I did leadership training for a new denomination and visited Gonder to visit one of our Ethiopian “sons.”
During our stay in Ethiopia we were constantly reminded of the importance of maintaining a humble, servant’s heart. A short term mission requires a measure of flexibility and the giving up of comfort and conveniences. But if you are willing to serve unselfishly, opportunities to advance the cause of Christ abound. Some projects, of course, lend themselves to short term participation more than others. I see short term missions primarily as an investment in the lives of people. Focus on people, show empathy for their circumstances and needs, and be yielded to the Lord as He directs your schedule and contacts, and then stand back and watch Him accomplish some awesome things!
But is short term service valid? Are we short termers doing any good? I know of few career missionaries who would question the importance and validity of short term missions. In the first place, short termers sometimes end up in career service (although this is becoming rarer and rarer). More importantly, almost all short termers begin to shape a “missions” lifestyle. They become, in essence, “world Christians.” In his book In the Gap, David Bryant has an excellent definition of “world Christians”:
World Christians are day to day disciples for whom Christ’s global cause has become the integrating, overriding priority for all that He is for them. As disciples should, they actively investigate all that their Master’s Great Commission means. Then they act on what they learn…. World Christians are Christians whose life directions have been solidly transformed by a world vision.
Finally, if properly teamed with veteran missionaries, short termers can provide valuable respite for career workers. But the focus must be on ministry and not on sightseeing. As veteran OM missionary George Verwer has put it, “Some people still misunderstand short-term work. They can’t discern between serious short-term programs where people are being stretched, trained and discipled, and glorified overseas sightseeing trips.”
So my question for you is: Would you prayerfully consider a short term mission trip for yourself or your family?
A student once asked Charles Spurgeon if the heathen who had never heard the gospel could be saved. Spurgeon replied, “It is more a question with me whether we who hear the gospel, and fail to give it to those who have not, can be saved.” Until the Lord’s Great Commission is fulfilled, short term missionaries will be needed to assist nationals and career missionaries with the great task of world evangelization. When the Master asks, “Who will go for Me?”, believing hearts will answer, “Here am I, Lord, send me.”
August 7, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.