David P. Nakhla
When someone asks you to consider a short-term mission trip, you may immediately think of the reasons not to go. “I don’t have anything to offer,” you may respond. Or perhaps, “There are others much more qualified to go.” Maybe you have limited vacation time, or maybe you just don’t think you’re the adventurous type. Perhaps you’re not sure that a short-term mission trip would be the best use of your funds.
The many reasons not to participate come readily to our minds. And they certainly may be legitimate. However, if you have never actually participated in a short-term mission trip, you may not be aware of the reasons why you should go. In an attempt to allow you to weigh both sides of such a decision, let me make the case for participating in a short-term mission trip.
Short-term missions will stretch you in good and healthy ways. You are likely to make friends both on your team and on the field.
If the believers you meet on your short-term mission trip speak a different language, you might be given the rich opportunity of hearing in worship the doxology, Gloria Patri, or Apostle’s Creed resound in your ears in Czech, Japanese, or Luganda—giving you a glimpse of the day when “a great multitude ... from all tribes and people and languages” join together in worship of the Lamb (Rev. 7:9).
You might discover gifts and interests that you didn’t previously realize you had. Who knew you would love working with children so much? Who knew you were gifted with the ability to quickly pick up everyday phrases in a new language?
Many short-term missions opportunities are evangelistic in nature; you may be challenged in the defense of your faith or be required to articulate it. You may also see the Lord grab hold of someone’s heart and change his or her life. I saw this first-hand in Ukraine in 2014 when I served as a part of the English Camp team. My teammates and I witnessed the Lord work in one participant’s life and were able to hear her profess a credible testimony of faith by the end of our time there.
Be careful: short-term missions can also have the effect of planting seeds for future missionaries. A number of OP pastors and foreign missionaries sensed a call to service or the pastorate while on a short-term trip. Could it be that the Lord would use this time to give you a taste for full-time ministry?
Here’s another reason to consider a short-term trip. Although I’m always cautious about putting hopes too high on this one, it might just be that the Lord would use a short-term mission trip to introduce you to the love of your life as you spend weeks with other like-minded individuals. I know that some of our mission fields have a running list of the couples who met on that field. And, I’ll share with you a little-known secret: I met my wife on a short-term mission trip to Mexico in 1992!
Sometimes short-term missionaries are criticized as being just “vacationaries.” While I don’t promote participation in short-term missions for the primary purpose of seeing new places, it can be a wonderful blessing to see a part of the world that you might not otherwise choose to visit. I doubt that Uganda or Haiti are at the top of the list of tourist destinations for most people, for example, but these countries have a wonderful beauty that is unique to their land and people, enhancing the rich memories of time spent there.
Finally, short-term missions offer an opportunity to use gifts and abilities in ways that are much more kingdom-oriented than our common daily work. A short-term mission trip offers a refreshing opportunity to focus, with your spouse, your children, or your friends, on what we profess to believe but can quickly overlook in the busy-ness of our everyday activities: the call to love neighbors as ourselves. Similarly, skilled volunteers, who may not think twice about the “ordinary” skills and tools that they lend to rebuilding homes after a disaster, are truly a tremendous witness and blessing to traumatized homeowners and their neighbors.
When you return, you may find your prayers and ministry enriched. Maybe the Lord will grow you in zeal and concern for the labors of those on the front lines—OP church planters laboring long and hard to gather and grow a core group, or OP foreign missionaries struggling with the challenges of life in a foreign land.
Let’s not forget that we only send short-term workers to places where they are specifically requested. So, to serve in a short-term capacity is to fill a need raised by those working on the front lines. Those who serve short-term go as reinforcements to augment the long-term efforts of our full-time laborers. Short-term missions are a unique opportunity to respond, as Isaiah did, “Here I am, send me!” (Is. 6:8).
Short-term missionaries sprinkled throughout our denomination are also a wonderful encouragement to our missionaries when they are home on furlough visiting churches. One familiar face in the crowd can be such a sight for sore eyes.
While on the field, you might also become aware of a specific need that you could assist in filling once you are back home. For example, one short-termer to Haiti noticed that the difficult terrain on the island of La Gonâve demands a durable vehicle. Knowing of a Kawasaki Mule stateside that was not in use, the short-termer later facilitated its donation to the Hopp family. For the past ten years, the Hopps have been driving the vehicle around La Gonâve. This gift was a wonderful by-product of a short-term mission trip!
When you come across short-term mission opportunities and think of the many reasons why they might not be right for you, please also try to remember some of the many reasons to participate. While it is true that short-term missions don’t fit into every person’s life—maybe you’re reading this with a baby on your lap, or while recuperating from an injury—I do hope that those of you who have only considered them lightly will now feel challenged to consider them more seriously in the years ahead.
The author is Short-Term Missions and Disaster Response Coordinator for the OPC. New Horizons, February 2019.