I have been receiving and hosting short-term mission teams in Baja Mexico for almost twenty-five years. Between the two organizations I lead we hosted 325 groups in 2016. Short-term missions are important but not for the reasons and justifications everyone gives for short-term missions. You think you’re going to put up a building, distribute food, or most importantly share the gospel. God has an entirely different agenda.
God works in ways beyond the ways this world works, His ways don’t make any sense in the eyes of the world: “the first shall be last, whoever would be great must learn to serve, to save our lives we must give it away.” When we raise funds, make plans, sacrifice our time to go and serve others, God has a very different objective than we do. God is always thinking of us and seeking ways to bless us, to shape us, to cause growth in us, to help us take on His image. We might screw it up, but God rejoices when we try, just as any loving parent rejoices when they see their child grow and try new things.
Short-term missions work because it changes the lives of the people who go. God is faithful and unchanging. Almost every individual or group we’ve hosted over the last two decades has the same reaction at some level: “I’m leaving with so much more than I came with.” When we take a chance and step out of our comfort zone, we grow. When we interact and serve with people from other cultures, it expands our world view. When we see how people live in other countries, it gives us, a deeper perspective on the conditions in our own country and humanity as a whole.
When we go and serve others, we’re putting our faith into practice. Jesus was a man of active faith. Jesus encouraged those He encountered, He spent time sharing His heart, He fed, He healed, He focused on those around Him. If we say we are a follower of Christ and we’re not actively serving others, we are hypocrites. Taking the time and resources to go and serve people in other countries changes us as we exercise our faith. People exercise to feel better, look better, and to be healthy. We need to be actively working out, stretching, and exercising our faith.
It is the very rare exception to find a full-time missionary who did not start out in short-term missions. We need to try walking before we run. Not everyone is called into full-time international missions, but some are. Is that calling on your life? Until we go and experience serving at a different level, it’s very hard to hear that voice calling us into something deeper. Today, there are missionaries around the world who got their start with a week serving in Mexico. THIS is why we host short-term missions.
At one point I had been living and serving in Baja for over fifteen years and thought I had a pretty good handle on what it meant to serve in the missions field. I was wrong. A few years ago my wife and I were asked to go with a small team to Malawi, a tiny, very impoverished country in the middle of Africa. Although I live in Mexico, I had never seen that level of poverty. It changed me. My hope is that we had an impact on the orphanage where we were serving, but I left with a greater understanding of what financial poverty looked like and the effect it has on people. At one point a desperate mother begged my wife and me to take her three-year-old child. She knew her child had no future in that country and no chance in life where they were. How scared and hurting must a mother be to give away her child? My life, my walk, my ministry was changed profoundly by my short experiences in Africa.
Short-term missions matter. Send your team, lead your team, go yourself. You will be better for it as you walk in the footsteps of Jesus and allow God to use you and to change you.