One of the other blessings I’ve had in my life is to go on several short-term mission trips to other countries. In the past sixteen years, I have been on mission to four other countries (Panama, Honduras, South Africa, and Ghana) on a total of 9 trips. This does not include several mission trips I have been able to take within the United States, and ongoing mission efforts and projects in the community. I look forward to leading a team from my church to Panama again in July, in partnership with the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Panama Baptist Convention.
Each time I go on mission to another part of the world, someone will ask (in some form or another), “Why do you go?” Why would I want to pay money and take time away from my home, my family, my job, and my comfortable life to travel somewhere else to do work for God?
When I began going on mission trips, my answer would have been much different than it is now. I went to Panama for the first time when I was 15, and I went for a variety of reasons: I had seen my father go on mission trips, and wanted to emulate him; I was excited for the opportunity to travel and see another country; I was looking forward to getting out of school for two weeks(!); and I thought that going on a mission trip was what God would want me to do.
Now, as I look back on 16 years of short-term mission experiences, and contemplate another trip in a couple of weeks, I have some different thoughts. I’ve had more time to consider the benefits and costs of short-term mission work, both to myself and to those I go to serve amongst. I’ve also had conversations with other ministers who I respect and admire, classes in seminary on what the meaning of mission is, and friendships with Christians in other nations and cultures. Some of those conversations and encounters have called the efficacy of short-term mission work into question, while others have confirmed that it is a vital part of God’s kingdom plan. After considering all of this, I feel better prepared to answer the question, “Why do you go on short-term mission trips?”
1. The Great Commission/Acts 1:8 – In both the Gospel of Matthew and the book of Acts, Jesus leaves his disciples with marching orders. In Matthew, he tells his disciples to make more disciples as they go in life – disciples of all nations. Acts records Jesus telling his disciples to be his witnesses everywhere – even to the utter ends of the earth. If I believe that I have received the same charge that the first disciples did (and I do believe that), then I have to take his command seriously to go forth into the entire world and bear witness to Christ.
2. Personal faith – I have heard it said over and over by people who return from short-term mission experiences: “I received the blessing,” or some variation of that statement. That has been my experience, as well. Going out on mission increases my faith in God, exposes me to new understandings of Christ, and gives me the opportunity to see the Spirit at work in different ways. I always return rejuvenated and challenged to be more committed to my Lord.
3. Making a difference – On every short-term mission trip I have been on, I felt like I was doing my best to make a difference. Whether that difference was helping with a medical clinic, passing out mosquito nets, preaching a sermon about Jesus and salvation, or building a relationship with a local pastor or family, I tried my hardest to do my part to help. Not only that, I tried to help in a way that respected the dignity of the individuals I met and honored the work and commitment of the local church I was working with.
4. Bearing witness to Christ’s kingdom work – It is far too easy for any church to get self-centered, only aware of its own work and witness. Yet Jesus didn’t call a church, he called the church. All around the globe, God’s people are doing amazing things as they proclaim the Gospel and work to make this world more like what God wants it to be. An important part of my mission, then, is to bear witness when I return home: to share what God is doing in other places, to relate how our Christian brothers and sisters in other cultures are connecting with God, and to challenge myself and my church to learn from the work of others.
There are probably additional reasons that I go on short-term mission trips, including those I held as a 15-year old. However, these four reasons are how I would answer the question, “Why do you go on short-term mission trips?” I believe they are reasons that honor Christ and respect my Christian brothers and sisters as partners in the kingdom mission of God...and they are the reasons I will continue going on short-term mission trips whenever the Lord calls me to go.