I went on my first mission trip when I was 12. About to enter 8th grade, the mission trip was the highlight of our summer youth activities every year and there is no doubt those experiences made an indelible impression on me that affected much of my future life path.
In the many years since then I have been on at least one mission trip every year and I have led more than 30 trips myself. I am a believer in the value of the short term mission trip.
I believe in them for these reasons:
1. A good mission trip puts the believer in a new environment, challenging their faith and their preconceptions about the life others lead. Whether it is a foreign country or a different culture or just a different life environment, we need to see how others live, how their faith is incarnated every day and how the gospel is applied in a situation unfamiliar to us. It is too easy for us to think that how we live is how everybody lives or to think that our problems are the worst, when the reality is that many go through much more difficult life situations every day.
It’s impossible to not be affected when we see kids without homes and families, or refugees without representation or those raised in areas where there has never been a gospel witness. It is also very powerful to meet believers who live under threat of persecution in countries closed to the gospel. It is important for the Christian to see these situations and find a way to bring encouragement, mercy, grace and the gospel.
2. A good mission trip challenges our spiritual disciplines by forcing us to trust the Lord in ways that go beyond the normal day to day life of home. I first learned to share my faith during preparation for a mission trip and the first time I did so was as a high school student on that trip to Pittsburgh, doing home visits for a church.
Mission trips bring some urgency to our faith and the application of it that is needed. Some of my best worship experiences have been with a group getting ready to go on mission. Just recently we were at the University of Texas Baptist Student Ministry commissioning service for their summer missionaries. As we sang worship songs and prayed for the students who were going around the world on mission the intensity of the worship was much different that the typical worship service. The words of the songs had a stronger meaning to all of us. Everyone knew that the challenges of faith would be great and the need for trust in the Lord was paramount.
3. A good mission trip encourages those who are serving on the field, whether they are missionaries or indigenous church members. When possible we love to take trips that are connected to a local church. No matter where that church is or how big that church is, when a group comes to stand alongside them and assist them in their efforts to reach their community, it is an encouragement.
Sometimes we are more involved with missionaries, especially in foreign countries. As much trouble as short term mission groups can be, when a group comes with the goal of encouraging and assisting, not correcting or patronizing, it serves as a great encouragement to the vocational missionaries. Those who give their lives. and the lives of their families, need to know that there are others praying for them, thankful for them, supporting them and eager to help them.
4. A good mission trip makes the team members better church members and better Christians when the trip is over. Those who take on spiritual challenges with faith responses grow in their walk and become better disciples when they get home. It is the natural pattern of growth and the natural result of seeing life differently. Students gain a greater appreciation of what they have had all along. Adults often come home to see ways they can apply new skills learned on the field to their home mission field. Mission team members become better financial supporters of all mission work and of church budgets. A church will never regret sending people to the mission field.
5. A good mission trip program results in more people responding to vocational ministry and mission calls. Short term trips open the door for us to consider long term mission work. Countless thousands over the years point back to a mission trip where they clearly heard the call of the Lord on their lives. By making sure we send this generation to the field, we plant seeds of faith that will bring a harvest of missionaries to the world.
I believe in mission trips. We began ETC Ministries with the goal of helping churches get on the mission field, connect to new opportunities and become more mission minded. My hope is that we see many more Christians begin to plan, prepare and go. “We can, if we will!”