No one knows what short-term mission will look like over the next six months or six years. Predicting the future is always a perilous task, even more so with the world changing at a faster pace each day. The only thing everyone is sure of is the needs addressed by short-term mission teams are increasing around the world at a startling rate. Poverty, hunger, lack of education, and the need for people to experience the Gospel are growing. When short-term missions do come back in any meaningful way, what might they look like?
Smaller, more focused groups will be the norm. For many reasons, the large teams might be a thing of the past. People, if they choose to travel at all, will want to go with fewer people. The same reasons that avoiding large indoor groups helps us avoid infection; by traveling in smaller groups, it’s easier to avoid unnecessary contact. We have already seen VERY small groups start to come back, but it’s four or five people in a van instead of fifteen, and most are wearing masks. This might be part of the new look of short-term missions. The other reason groups will be smaller is the economy. With more people out of work and struggling to get by, travel costs become harder to cover for many people. Unfortunately, the fear of travel will also keep many people at home, even after things open up and travel becomes safer.
Smaller groups are not a bad thing. It’s sad that more people won’t be able to serve in this way and participate in these life-changing experiences, but those who go will have a better and more impactful trip. Short-term missions are all about building relationships within the team and with the people you’re traveling to serve. It’s always easier and more effective to build relationships in small group settings. Four or five people can have a meaningful conversation. If not done carefully, a trip with forty or fifty people could easily shift into nothing more than a cold program or crowd control.
As short-term missions start back up, local will be first, long before distant international trips. Right now, even if people wanted to travel from the US, they can’t. Most of the world has shut the door to travelers from the US, and no one knows how soon they will open up again. As things open up locally, there is a massive need for service in our own communities. Food banks, homeless shelters, and other benevolent organizations are overrun with needs that we can address. There are countless ways small teams can impact lives in our own backyard. Helping the elderly in your community is just one way to serve others, fill a need, and make a difference. Right now, so many people are uncomfortable shopping or going out in public. This gives us huge opportunities to help them where they are by running errands or just giving them (contactless) human connection. We are called to serve wherever we are; it starts at home.
Once international short-term missions do start up again, I believe Mexico will be the first country people visit to serve. The needs are everywhere, but people will feel more comfortable taking a short drive to Mexico instead of a long flight to Africa or South America. As I mentioned earlier, we already see very small groups coming back. It’s been great to see people serving again.
The focus of missions will shift. Over the last couple of decades, there has been a general shift towards long-term projects: home building, church construction projects, etc. As countries and economies became more stable, this made sense. In the hierarchy of needs, in much of the world, the basics were covered, so long-term was the bigger need. With the current increase in extreme poverty, starvation, and medical issues, teams will need to focus on immediate needs. If someone is not eating, they are not concerned about a new church building. Food programs, farming programs, and finding ways to meet urgent needs will have to become a much bigger focus in most countries. Jesus fed the multitude before He shared His message. We need to do the same.
Missions are always about the Gospel, even more so now. As the world becomes more unstable, and people’s perceived security is stripped away, the need and the openness to the Gospel increases. We’ve all heard the saying, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” When you believe your life is coming to an end, trivia is stripped away, and we consider what is essential. The need to “put your affairs in order” becomes a focus. This crisis allows us to help people do just that. In all of our service to others, we need to remember the end game is leading people to Jesus and helping them find the peace that passes all understanding. God can and does use all circumstances. He is using this pandemic in more profound ways than we can understand in this life. We need to be aware of the tremendous opportunities around us and take advantage of the doors opening.
Only God knows what the next days, weeks, or years will bring. This has always been the case. Our job is to move forward, knowing that the current state of the world doesn’t change our status in the big picture. We are not of this world. Our job is to serve God in whatever way we can during our short time on earth. We can do that only by doing the will of our Father. Serving widows and orphans, helping those suffering around us, should always be our priority.
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