Dr. Dan Olinger
The subject of short-term missions raises a number of questions, both philosophical and logistical. What are the benefits of short-term work? What are the dangers? Who should go? Who should not?
The benefits are great. A brief experience gives the student an opportunity to experience mission work up close and reasonably realistically, at relatively low cost. It certainly makes sense for the student to find out that foreign missions is not his calling before he has gone through the effort and expense of candidate school, deputation, and language school. On the other hand, a large number of career missionaries testify that it was a mission trip that either initiated or confirmed their recognition of God’s calling for them.
A significant benefit for American students is that it attacks the insularity with which most American teens develop; they are separated from the rest of the world by two large oceans, and they really believe that trending issues in pop culture and American sports are significant news stories. They can very quickly learn otherwise if given the opportunity. The student will benefit from this exposure whether or not the Lord eventually calls him to foreign mission work.
Pretty much everyone can benefit from team-oriented activity. Sports provides most young people their primary experience with teamwork, but mission work provides a team experience that is different in many ways from what they’ll learn on the athletic field. Most obviously, the work they’re engaged in is overtly and primarily spiritual; they’re helping one another tell the story of Christ and disciple younger believers. They learn to make sacrifices, encourage one another, and share failures and successes as they go about the business of taking the message to the ends of the earth. That is precisely preparation for life in the church.
Often overlooked is the benefit to teachers of gathering foreign mission experience. It rejuvenates the jaded teacher, and it places into their toolbox a set of experiences that will both shape their teaching techniques and enrich teaching content for the rest of their life.
Any work that can be done well can also be done badly. Mission trips are no different. And the price of failure is high—waste of financial resources given in good faith by God’s people, which could have been used instead on something worthwhile, not to mention the spiritual damage that can be done both to team members and potential ministry recipients if the job is done badly.
A great danger, obviously, is that the trip becomes simply pious tourism; the members are interested primarily in experiencing something new, in gathering experiences for their own selfish purposes. There’s nothing wrong with tourism, I suppose, but there’s also no reason why the church should pay for it. Teams need to understand that they’re there to work, and they need to be held accountable both by supervisors on site and by the sending churches back home.
Another danger with short-term work is that it gives the impression that you’ve “seen missions,” but it typically isn’t long enough to provide a realistic experience. In a week or two, you don’t really have time for the adrenaline to wear off. It’s all a whirlwind and very exciting. But that’s not what missions is like. Missions is all about being faithful through drudgery, routine, and perhaps the occasional moments of terror. Lust for adventure is a lousy reason to become a missionary. My most recent mission team experience lasted 8 weeks, and intentionally; I wanted the students to have enough time to get really tired. That’s part of what they needed to learn.
My greatest fear in short-term mission work is that I or the team will turn out to be more of a burden to the missionary than a help. Most short-term “missionaries” don’t realize how much work it is for a missionary to prepare for and supervise the work of a team. I know of cases where teams ran up significant expenses for the missionary (I hope without realizing it) and then left the missionary to pay the bill. The team leader needs to discuss frankly with the host missionary whether what the team is doing is really worthwhile from the missionary’s perspective; the team needs to ensure that the missionary lets them do as much of the work as possible; and they need to pay attention to the costs they’re running up.
A very significant danger of short-term work is the fact that in a short stay, team members cannot learn to work effectively in a strange culture. They don’t have time to learn the language; they are unknowingly being strange and offensive in virtually everything they say and do; and their effectiveness at carrying out the Great Commission will be significantly hampered.
One more danger worth mentioning is the temptation to cut corners on qualified, discipling leadership. Team leaders need to know how to disciple believers, how to discern what’s happening spiritually in the lives of team members and confront them biblically. There are all kinds of leadership styles, of course; some leaders are very intense and driving (in a healthy way), while others lead with a lighter touch. But whatever their style, leaders need to lead, and they need to be proactive in spotting and addressing spiritual needs as they arise. Not everyone can do that well; knowing a lot about the country or the culture or the cuisine or the airline is simply not enough. This is a mission trip, not a cultural exchange program.
Short-term missions is not a substitute for career missions, but it is an important ingredient in an overall missions strategy when done well. Most Christians would be surprised at the positive impact it can have on the spiritual walk and effectiveness of almost any believer.
Kerry Weigand, Office Administrator
When was the last time you put together a puzzle? Not the last time you helped a child complete one, but you yourself worked an honest-to-goodness 500 piece puzzle? It’s probably been a while. What makes puzzles so difficult? For starters, they require ample time, intense concentration, and extreme patience. Many pieces look similar, so puzzles can be frustrating. And until completed, we can’t see how individual pieces fit into the overall scheme. So we plod along, placing piece after piece together.
I’ve found that my short-term teaching experience in China was rather like a puzzle.
Difficult pieces were present. The interactions with students that didn’t produce visible, spiritual fruit; periods of waiting for prayers to be answered, uncertainty in such a different culture, etc.
There were big pieces that made life and ministry easier. Times of refreshment with my Chinese and American co-workers; random acts of kindness from strangers; the ability to travel and see my former roommates in Singapore and Taiwan; the ability to connect cross-culturally with students both in and out of the classroom; and the ability to experience a beautiful culture first-hand.
No one piece tells the entire story. China was one piece of my life, a big piece as I lived there for two years, but nevertheless a piece that is now in the past.
Puzzles take patience and time. You can’t just throw together a 500 piece puzzle. While I was teaching in China, I didn’t know how long that “piece” or period was going to last. There were days that seemed like they would never end, but then there were days that I didn’t want to end.
Puzzles follow a plan. The pieces of a landscape wouldn’t fit into the overall design of a portrait puzzle. Isn’t it an awesome thought that God has a specific plan for each of us? Part of God’s specific plan for me was to lead me to China for two years to teach English. He prepared me for that starting early on in my life. My parents had me take piano lessons starting in elementary school. Little did I know then that I would be able to use those skills in our Sunday meetings in China. I had several international friends in high school as well as several international roommates in college: two from Korea, one from Taiwan, and Singapore. God used each of those people to influence me because He knew China was in my future. There is a plan for each of our lives, despite the chaos that we see in the world. And the One in charge of the plan knows how to best arrange the pieces, how to balance good times with challenging times.
So what does this mean?
I have to trust the One who is in control. I don’t have the benefit of seeing the overall complete plan for my life all at once, so I have to believe that whatever comes into my life has been purposefully allowed from a loving, sovereign Father.
I have to realize that there will be challenging times, and each of those challenging times have a purpose. According to Romans 5:3-4, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Endurance, character, and hope are beautiful qualities.
I have to submit to the plan as it unfolds. Different puzzles look different on purpose. The pieces in someone else’s life might not be what God has in mind for me. Remember what Elisabeth Elliot said, “the secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”
Can you see God masterfully piecing people, places, and experiences together right now in your life?
We just finished a week of our Summer Ministry Conference where camps and other summer ministries came to recruit students to help their ministries. At Bob Jones University, we emphasize students getting involved in some type of ministry with at least one of their summers - whether missions trips, camps, or other opportunities.
We encourage each student to pray about spending summer 2017 for ministry.
But you don't just need to hear that from us. Your fellow students are excited about what God has done through their summers of ministry. Here's a few quotes from BJU students - current and former - who've worked at a camp:
Why work at camp?
"Because it puts you in a place to take in God's Word everyday and give it back out everyday. Because it is naturally challenging - it breaks you to rely on God and crave to know Him more." -Alexis Shoemaker, Camp Kanesatake
"It helps us to look past ourselves, taking us to a new understanding of the need that is around. It's so good to get out of our own comfort zone to serve the Lord in new ways. It's a very humbling experience!" -Charlotte Matthews, WILDS
"Luke 2:52 teaches us that Christ grew physically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. I have found that a summer at camp stretched me in all those areas. I was pushed physically to give out and give out for others even when I was exhausted. I learned so much through a well-prepared staff training program, special services for the staff, and sitting with the campers under strong preaching week after week. I grew socially as I was challenged to interact with teens and juniors that I wouldn't normally have befriended and as I was put on a team that I needed to work with, full of different people, again some of whom I wouldn't have chosen to hang out with at college. Most importantly, God did things in my life all three summers I worked at camp. He taught humility, dependence, faithfulness, surrender, and devotion to him in a more highly concentrated time than any other I can remember. While you certainly don't need to work at a camp to be an effective Christian, I am so thankful that I counseled three summers because the person I am today is shaped in so many ways by my time at camp!" -Ben Hicks, WILDS
We've also put together a short video highlighting the benefits they've received. Check it out below!
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.