Are Short-Term Missions Relevant For Youth Ministry?
[ym360 Note: From time to time we invite people from various ministries to sound-off on the blog. Jeff Goins is a great guy and works with a great ministry. Jeff and Adventures In Missions (AIM) are doing incredible work for the Kingdom. If you are interested in working through AIM to bring an incredible missions opportunity to your students, check out their website.]
I used to not believe in short-term missions. During a semester in college in which I studied abroad in Spain, I ran into some short-term missionaries in Barcelona. Sitting outside an old cathedral, my friends and I watched a group of British evangelists perform a 15-minute, pantomimed version of the Gospel, all set to music. It was pretty compelling. The dance-like drama captivated the passersby, attracting a crowd of 50 or more. Following the dramatic display of the Creation account of Genesis, subsequent Fall of humanity, and redemption of Christ on the Cross, a man grabbed a microphone and began preaching. His words were translated into Spanish as he spoke. We were amazed as we watched this well-intentioned preacher chase away the crowd he had just drawn. Through his cultural insensitivity and boisterous delivery, he eventually bored or offended most of his audience. After a few minutes, only a few people remained. He called them to respond in repentance. Most were confused, but one bold soul approached the "altar" . . . and cussed the preacher out. Shock and horror turned to pious indignation, and the preacher rebuked the "demon" in the angry man who eventually left, seemingly frustrated and hurt.
My friends and I looked at each other, eyes wide! We had just spent the past few months, learning the language of this culture that we had grown to really love. We were quite turned off by what we had just witnessed. We all agreed that there had to be a better way to do missions, and I personally resolved to never be like that preacher.
Fast forward a few years . . . I had the opportunity to go on a short-term mission trip with Adventures In Missions (AIM), the organization for which I now work. For 15 days, I camped out with 50 other young adults on the lawn of a church in southern Mexico. After what I had seen in Spain, I was skeptical. Convinced that in order to do missions well one had to be willing to invest years, I wasn't expecting to see any significant impact during this two-week trip.
How much good could they really do? I was wrong. In two weeks, I saw two people healed of physical illnesses (one of which was paralysis), two churches planted, several families reconciled, numerous people come to Christ, a small Latin American church strengthened, and a whole town transformed by the Spirit of God. And that's just what I saw. That trip taught me something about missions that I will never forget -- that the growth of God's kingdom is not confined by time, space, or even human expectation. That is, God can do a lot in a short amount of time.
That trip sent me back to the Bible, searching the Scriptures to find a biblical model for missions. After reading through the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, I was surprised to find that the norm for missions (at least for the early church) was not long-term, but rather short-term missions. Paul and Jesus both had ministries in which moving around from place to place was much more normal than settling down in a specific location. The longest we see someone sticking around is for a period of no more than three years, which in today's world, would be considered short- to mid-term missions, at best. I suggest that we reconsider the potential impact of a short-term mission trip.
Short-term mission trips broaden teenagers' cultural horizons, allow them to be a bigger part of God's Kingdom outside the comforts of familiar surroundings, and plant a seeds of compassion and service in students' hearts. Yet, it seems there is a lot of criticism of short-term missions. While some of it may be deserved, I've personally seen the impact that these trips can have -- both on the students that go and the lives they touch. What I saw in Mexico was not an anomaly. I've heard similar accounts from short-term missions all over the world. I've personally seen it duplicated in Florida, Tennessee, and Costa Rica just in the past few years. I've committed the last four years of my life to mobilizing people for short-term missions work with AIM. I believe so much in the work that AIMdoes that I don't have anything else right now to which I would rather give my life away.
I believe short-term missions are relevant. And that's coming from a pretty strong doubter and skeptic.
What about you? What do you think of the relevance of short-term missions?