By Greg Herriford
After 18 years of organizing and participating in hundreds of short-term mission trips, I feel like I’ve seen a little of everything—the good and the bad, but nearly all good.
When carried out with excellence and the proper motivation, a short-term mission trip can be a beautiful thing that brings joy to our Lord and blesses everyone and everything involved.
The primary motivation of any mission trip must be to obey Christ’s commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20). In following Christ’s example, short-termers go to serve others (not be served) and make themselves available to be used by God to honor him.
When this occurs I see amazing things take place.
• I see people in places all over the world blessed by Christians (short-term missionaries) who came to serve with them.
• I see host missionaries encouraged by visiting groups. (I’ve seen some missionaries on the brink of frustration and exhaustion given a second wind and enough encouragement to continue serving).
• I see powerful change take place in the lives of short-term missionaries. (When some saw how God used them, they were inspired to become more active Christ followers at home and even to become full-time missionaries.)
• I see Christ’s kingdom advanced by the construction of church buildings, Christian colleges, and camps. These new facilities pave the way for critical teaching and training sessions and the start of new ministries.
• And ultimately, I see the Lord glorified and honored.
We can add to the list the positive effect that these trips, and those who participate in them, have on the local church. Through the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some great churches and have seen God do some extraordinary things. Here are some of my favorite stories.
Seeing Both Sides
The Huntsville (Alabama) Christian Church has had the unique opportunity not only to send many of its members on short-term mission trips but also to serve as a host site for mission groups. The church has been blessed by serving in both roles.
In May 2011, several deadly tornadoes broke out across the state of Alabama. In looking to help with some of the recovery, the mission I serve partnered with the Huntsville Christian Church. Since that time, Huntsville Christian Church members have traveled to eastern Kentucky to assist in tornado recovery there (the fall of 2012). This year church members are traveling with us to New York to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
Tonya Williams, a member of the Huntsville congregation and point person for the Huntsville area recovery, says, “Some of the people who participated in these trips were motivated by the generous help they received from others in their time of need.”
Williams adds, “I wouldn’t say that the tornadoes were the catalyst for our involvement in missions, because we were already pretty active. However, after we were hit with the tornadoes in May 2011, we had the opportunity to be on the other side of short-term trips. We became the ones organizing groups to come in and assist us in the cleanup, rebuilding, and working with the kids in the neighboring city of Harvest (one of the hardest hit areas). As a result of hosting the mission trips, we have been focusing more on sending workers and on outreach in our own community.”
New Paradigms for the Church
Sometimes God shows us things on mission trips that not only change our lives, but the course of the church as well. In 2002, we took the Mt. Olivet Christian Church (Williamstown, Kentucky) on their first mission trip, a weeklong service trip to eastern Kentucky. Elder and mission trip leader Rodney Edmondson said their first mission trip had a tremendous impact on those who participated. He notes, “That trip truly showed us how God works. We were able to help reunite a family that was not speaking. When the son saw us building a porch for his mother, he wanted to be part of it. By the time we left, they were a family once again.”
On another mission trip in 2008, members of the Mt. Olivet church worked with Gateway Christian Church in St. Albans, West Virginia. During the week, Mt. Olivet members were exposed to many outreach ministries supported by Gateway. One such ministry was a Christian day-care service provided by the church.
Shortly thereafter, a Mt. Olivet church member—who was the assistant director of a day-care facility in nearby Dry Ridge, Kentucky—brought a prayer request before the congregation. The facility was on the brink of closing, which would cause a loss of jobs and possibly displace more than 60 children. Upon hearing this, a few of the mission trip members remembered their mission trip experience in West Virginia. The church took the inspiration they received while on the mission trip and purchased the day care in June 2010.
Since the church purchased the day-care service, a valuable resource to the community has been able to stay open, providing service to nearly 100 children. In addition, three families have become part of the Mt. Olivet church through the program. The church will begin construction on a new building in July 2013, making the day-care facility a part of the church campus.
In recent years, attendance at the Mt. Olivet church has grown from 80 to nearly 250. “We are truly an active church and on the increase. I believe much of that is due to our involvement in missions and outreach,” said Edmondson.
A Bigger Picture
For years our mission organization has enjoyed a dynamic partnership with the Hillview Christian Church in Marengo, Indiana. In more than a decade of partnering in mission trips and service projects, we’ve seen Hillview grow both spiritually and numerically. We’ve also seen them send several of their own people into full-time Christian service.
Elder Jeff Roll says, “Many of our members who have gone on mission trips have later entered areas of Christian service (full-time and part-time). While not the only factor, the mission trip experience has been a big factor.”
Our work with Hillview spans from mission projects and trips in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, to Tanzania, East Africa. The results have been evident as seen in the growth and maturation of this relatively young church (founded in 1996). “We have a broader perspective and definitely look beyond our four walls,” says Roll.
Coming Together to Serve
In 2008 Chuck Perry (an adviser and volunteer for Mission Journeys/Teen Mission) helped develop a partnership between our organization and Kendell and Yvrose Johnson in the village of Dufailly, located 40 miles from Port-au-Prince in central Haiti. Kendell was part of our first short-term mission trip (a trip to Haiti) in 1985. He fell in love with Haiti, married a Haitian (Yvrose), and later returned as a full-time missionary. Kendell and Yvrose began the Dufailly Christian Church in May 2004. They continued to pray for assistance from short-term mission teams. When Kendell’s health declined in 2010, it was agreed, with Kendell’s blessing, that the work in Dufailly would become part of Mission Journeys/Teen Mission.
Although Kendell passed away in September 2010, the work in Dufailly continues through Yvrose and an alliance of midsize to smaller churches (average attendance under 300) in central Kentucky. Fox Creek Christian Church (Lawrenceburg), Peyton’s Lick Christian Church (Paris), Mt. Pleasant Christian Church (Richmond), New Life Church of Christ (Flemingsburg), and others have poured their time and talent into helping build up the mission in Dufailly, Haiti.
Short-term missionaries from these churches helped in the construction of a block church building in February 2009. Attendance at the Dufailly church has more than doubled since that time (from 40 to nearly 100), with several baptisms.
As a result of the new building, a Christian school was started at the church in the fall of 2009. An oversight team made up of several past short-term mission team members continues to help the school develop an organized biblical and doctrinal curriculum along with Scripture text, work sheets, visuals, and learning activities. The Christian school is overseen by Yvrose Johnson. All school staff members are Haitians. Short-term mission teams finished a classroom expansion in the summer of 2012 that allowed for nearly 200 students to be enrolled last fall.
Fox Creek Christian Church member Lisa Floyd has been an active participant in the ongoing work in Dufailly. She sees the work in Haiti having a unifying effect within the Fox Creek church. “Asking church members to help in the preparation of the trip by giving and praying is very important. This not only allows our mission team to travel to the area of service; it helps others in the church see God’s plan accomplished,” she says.
Greg Herriford is the executive director of Mission Journeys / Teen Mission, USA in Lexington, Kentucky.
Mission Trip Journals and Devotions
Disrupted: Cultivating a Mission-Focused Life
by Gayla Cooper Congdon
(Standard Publishing, 2013)
Called, Challenged, and Changed
by Jenna Lusby
Items 25011, 25012, and 25013
(Standard Publishing, 2008)
Anticipate, Experience, and Reflect
by Christ in Youth
Items 42187, 42188, and 42189
(Standard Publishing, 2007)