by LL Davis
“Now I have you, and I have God. I will never be alone again. I have so much happiness bubbling inside I cannot say in English!” the young woman exclaimed.
That was one week after our arrival in a country closed to the gospel. Two days later the new convert received the first Bible she had ever seen. One week later she was asking such probing questions as, “How can we keep from sinning when we have such great forgiveness?”
The Holy Spirit can work fast with a deadline looming.
Days later the short-term mission trip was over and the fledgling Christian was left with God’s Word and his Holy Spirit, her teacher, guardian, and guide.
As a mission participant I also experienced indescribable joy. A carefree attitude carried me across the ocean, over a perilous commute, and through three weeks of the most taxing ministry I have ever attempted.
The calm and confidence brought me back home and lasted many months, but unfortunately it started to fade. Somehow my daily to-do list doesn’t seem as God-ordained as sharing Christ’s love with someone who has never heard about Jesus.
Many short-term mission participants come back from the field energized. They long to invigorate their churches, not merely assimilate back into them. Opportunities abound to capitalize on their enthusiasm as mission participants and supporters.
How can we hold onto the spiritual high that accompanies mission work amid the cares and commitments of life? We can learn to incorporate the short-term mission mindset into a lifetime of ministry. A short-term mission trip is a microcosm of what the Christian life should be. It is a focused example of “redeeming the time,” reminding us of the fleeting days of opportunity (Ephesians 5:16, New King James Version). It’s hard to live continually with such intensity, but we can integrate that attitude into daily life if we keep in mind the following.
During a short-term mission trip you are certain of your purpose. The leader of the trip gives you an assignment. If you are asked to distribute medicine or teach an English class, it seems important to the cause of Christ. Your efforts support your intent to share the gospel and it is easy to draw a direct correlation to building God’s kingdom.
Back home it’s not so clear. It’s harder to trace the finger of God hidden behind the requirements of daily chores and a secular job. We know we are to glorify God in whatever he calls us to do (1 Corinthians 10:31). It’s less dramatic to do it standing behind a sink instead of a pulpit; but it does not need to be less effective. Most of us will spend more time in the mundane than the extraordinary, but completing a small job with excellence is of eternal value. Keeping this in mind will lend worth to the most trivial task.
Focusing on God’s purpose also keeps us out of trouble. When time is limited, we tend to let minor conflicts slide in deference to our goals. We take seriously Philippians 2:2 that says, “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (New International Version).
Let’s live together in the motivating light of our purpose. In this way we can better fulfill our commission to make disciples.
On a short-term mission trip you believe each step has been ordained by God. If your flight is canceled, you assume God wants you in the airport. You may need to witness to the ticket agent. If you get sick while on the trip, you believe there is divine intent. You might need to concentrate on praying for your teammates.
If you miss a flight or get sick while on vacation, it just feels like dumb luck.
We are programmed for self-reliance. In typical American fashion, we want to do it all—formulate the plan and then put forth the effort to make it happen. With all the carefully positioned details of our busy schedules, it can feel like we have more control over life than we actually do.
A mission trip humbles you, reminding you it is “God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Since you are totally out of your element, it’s easier to embrace that comforting truth.
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). God sees the big picture of our lives and we are not big enough to override it or spoil it. What sweet relief to surrender into the protective borders of his will.
I carried only a few dollars in my pocket for three weeks and I was not worried at all. If I was hungry or thirsty, I knew someone had a plan. It might not be pizza and a diet caffeine-free soda, but I knew the need would be met.
On a short-term mission trip you choose to be content with what God provides. It is sufficient because you are “content with what you have because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
As Christians, our former desires no longer fulfill us. Our spirits long for the spiritual, and on a short-term mission trip we are constantly challenged to feed and exercise the spirit. We are living out the biblical admonition to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). And it is abundantly satisfying!
Our self-proclaimed right to the “pursuit of happiness” sometimes gets in the way of realizing we have enough. In the midst of the chase we fail to be still and relish God’s presence.
“Christ is all I need,” resounds in the heart of the mission minded. It is a treasure we can cherish from this life to the next.
On a short-term mission trip you recognize that trials might mean you’re on the right track. You are satisfied and even gratified when trouble comes because you know this is when you best exhibit Christ’s strength (2 Corinthians 12:10). When things go wrong, you expectantly watch for God to make it right. Since the time is condensed, you often don’t need to wait the years or even decades required for God to fulfill his promise to work all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
On a short-term mission trip you are on the offensive regarding prayer. You realize you need God’s protection and are hypersensitive to spiritual attacks because the opponent’s actions seem obvious (Ephesians 6:12).
In everyday life it’s common to be lulled into security, comforted by cautious behavior. American life comes with built-in safeguards. From the “do not eat” label on the moisture control packet in a shoebox to the zealous instructions on a child’s car seat, we have surrounded ourselves with supposed sanctuary. When you’re bumping along without seatbelts in a van that is 50,000 miles overdue for a tune-up, you remember where your security truly lies.
It’s also easier to relish the security of the soul instead of the body while on a short-term mission trip. When you are concentrating on sharing the gift of Heaven, the ethereal materializes into a glorious destination instead of just the final rest stop.
In truth, it is hard to maintain a short-term mission mindset once you return home. The greater truth is we were born modern-day Americans not as a blessing of prosperity, but because God knows we can glorify him in our culture. God wants us to live effectively even amid the ever-present distractions of ease.
Would I rather be on the front lines reaching the unchurched for Christ? Yes! Mission work is addictive in a good way. But if that is not my current calling, I’d better get back to my assigned post, keeping in mind that “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:4).
As committed followers of Christ, we never mean to become entangled in the cares of this world. But when the lawn needs mowed, you have to mow it. Out of necessity we confront the urgent, and that can lead us to confuse it with what is important. There is a difference, however, between attending to and being entangled by the cares of this world.
I am trying to live today as I did across the ocean, with the knowledge that God has a purpose and plan for me each day. In this confidence I can rely on his provision and protection wherever his will leads.
As we stow our suitcases, let’s not put away our passion. Save that short-term mission mindset for a lifetime of ministry.
LL Davis is a freelance writer in Memphis, Tennessee.
Praying for Long-Term Missionaries
In this article, the author discussed the “spiritual high” that can be experienced on a short-term mission trip—and then the leveling out that can happen upon return, when life gets back to normal and complacency sets in.
But what about long-term missionaries who live on the mission field? Perhaps the beginning of their ministry felt like a short-term mission trip—full of excitement as they were ready to win the world for Christ. And then the day-to-day hard work set in. They may not see big changes weekly but must continue to serve and share Christ in their culture.
Just as we hope to keep up our passion for Christ when we return from a short-term trip, pray for missionaries to serve, pray, and evangelize for the long haul.