I’m a huge advocate of short-term missions. There is something about traveling to another country to share, serve, and experience life with others that is life-changing. Short-term mission trips are incredible for all involved when they are done in a healthy, reciprocal way. The best way to become a great short-term missionary is to be a great missionary to your community at home. Missions and Christian service should flow out of us all the time, wherever we are.
Several years ago, after I had been living in Mexico for a while, I was on the phone venting to a friend of mine after an exceptionally difficult week. I shared that I was involved in so many mission activities that I didn’t know where the line was between my missions life and my private life. He paused for a minute, and then responded with a few words that, although obvious, kind of shook my world, “Isn’t that the whole point? Our faith, our testimony, NEEDS to be our whole lives.”
The idea of anyone being a “missionary” for just a short trip is very odd when you step back and examine it. If we believe in the Gospel, and all that the Gospel is, it needs to be flowing out of us whenever and wherever we are. We can not compartmentalize our faith to a week-long trip or just a few activities to be checked off our “to-do” list. It needs to be who we are.
For many youth groups and churches, the short-term mission trip has become a staple of their annual activity, and this is a great thing. The important thing is to also be developing the heart of a missionary throughout the year and not just leading up to the week-long trip to Mexico, Africa, or Haiti. Why can’t any activity a youth group does be seen as missions? Throughout the year, we should be looking at any activity we do as part of our missions field. To compartmentalize missions into one or two weeks misses the whole point. We are called to serve others, build a relationship with others, and share the gospel through every part of our lives.
Even when a team is serving with us here in Mexico, we often see the compartmentalization of missions. “This is our schedule: work on these days, and then a fun day.” “We’re working for the morning, but then we’re going to the beach.” It’s like a switch gets flipped back and forth: “Christian / just a person / Christian again.” Fun days and beach days are great; we’re called to have a day of rest. But we need to be aware of those divine appointments that God has set up for us wherever we are, not just when the planned activities are taking place. We also need to be keenly aware that we represent the Gospel, for good or bad, wherever we are. We’ve seen way too many teams put on great programs with polished dramas, then turn around and destroy their testimony by going into our community and being rude and obnoxious in stores, restaurants, and with their general interactions with others.
It’s hard to imagine the early apostles compartmentalizing their evangelistic efforts. “Next week I’m traveling to Ephesus, planning some great activities.” “We’re practicing a really great drama for Corinth.” Yes, they traveled to all those locations, but I’m sure they were sharing the Gospel with their immediate neighbors, people in the market place, and people they just met along the road. Jesus had set that example. He obviously spoke with large crowds and presented very focused teachings, but He also shined at small gatherings, with the woman at the well, and whenever and wherever He interacted with others. This needs to be our goal as Christians.
The best training for short-term missions is becoming a missionary to your community. If you’re planning on building a home for someone in Mexico, practice by volunteering to do home repairs for someone in your church. If you’re going to do food distribution in Haiti, volunteer at a local food bank in your home town for a few hours a week. If you want to reach the broken or lonely in Africa, visit a retirement home and build some relationships down the block from where you are now. If you’re going to serve the world, start with washing the dishes for others in your own home.
At no time in history has it been so easy or cheap to travel around the world, this gives us incredible opportunities to share and serve with others. But, if we’re not sharing and helping with others who we live with and interact with every day, why should our lives be different because we’ve traveled to another country and are living out of a backpack?
Take a mission trip, go into the world and experience the profound joy of serving with others and representing Christ well. But practice at home first. Your walk with Christ will be better, your life will be better, and you’ll be a better missionary, wherever you are.
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