In This Edition: Assessing and Processing a Mission Trip
- On Summer Mission Trips and Other Worthless Things
- From Mission Trip to Missional
Missions Catalyst is a free, weekly electronic digest of mission news and resources designed to inspire and equip Christians worldwide for global ministry. Use it to fuel your prayers, find tips and opportunities, and stay in touch with how God is building his kingdom all over the world. Please forward it freely!
Have you ever looked back on a mission trip or other ministry experience and wondered whether it was worth the time and money? One of our readers did. He shares his story in this edition of Missions Catalyst. I hope that as we help participants process such experiences we can give them freedom to voice their questions, frustrations, and disappointments. Honesty and integrity require as much. But let us also turn to God with our definitions and descriptions of success. He may be working in ways we cannot see. I think you’ll find the story below an encouraging one.
We’re also passing along an article from DELTA Ministries with ideas for helping short-term mission participants process their experience in small-group settings. For additional help with resources for debriefing, click through on the links Tory provides or see our 2009 article, Sorting It Out: Simple Questions for Debriefing Short-termers.
On Summer Mission Trips and Other Worthless Things
Returning from a summer abroad we short-term, college-aged missionaries were required to attend a weekend debriefing which included time to craft a written analysis of our team’s impact. I felt then that the trip had been a costly investment for my supporters, not to mention those of the rest of our team, and we had little to show for it. Personally, I like to accomplish tangible things, and there was no evidence we could point to that in my mind justified what we did with all that time and all that money. Bible correspondence course invitations we had crammed into thousands of mailboxes during our first couple of weeks apparently were all destroyed or ignored. Most of the summer we just hung out with a handful of college students, a few members of a struggling Pentecostal congregation, and the grocer who lived next door.
Last month my wife and I stopped in the European town where decades earlier I had served with that college student team. I was able to locate the duplex we rented for our two-month mission. The small grocery store that had been next door was now an apartment building. I saw the name of our old neighbor, the grocer, rang his bell, introduced myself over the intercom and was invited to come up. Even though he and his wife had just returned from their own vacation, they graciously welcomed us and visited with us over a cup of tea.
He shared his testimony. At first he had thought we were members of a cult. But he recalled being intrigued by the worship music floating down from our flat that long ago summer. The way we interacted with him and with each other was attractive. He sensed something real – the aroma of Christ? – and he wanted it. Two months after we left he gave his life to Jesus. His wife soon joined him. Then he started his own church. He was arrested, beaten, and jailed half a dozen times in the early days of his volunteer ministry. Several years later he felt the Lord leading him to go into ministry full-time, so he sold his business. The congregation he pastors today includes people from a dozen nations. Additionally, he told us of numerous trips he has led to North Africa to distribute Christian literature.
When I returned from the debriefing weekend, I had found waiting in my mailbox a postcard from a teammate who had stayed a little longer than I had. He told me that the students we had made friends with wept when the first group of us boarded our flight home. It opened my mind to the possibility that the impact of our brief sojourn, though intangible, may still have been real.
Only this past month, thirty years later, did I begin to grasp more of the truth. God put us next door to the one person who was going to respond to the gospel and lead others to faith. Our fun little game of sending small gifts up a bucket-on-a-rope to his daughter was part of God’s larger design. The grocer’s entire family now serves the Lord. And according to our former neighbor, it was not what we did or said that led him to faith. It was who we were in Christ.
>> Share your response to this story by leaving a comment below.
From Mission Trip to Missional
Perhaps one of the loneliest feelings I have ever felt was upon coming home from a short-term mission trip. Sure there are friends and family who welcome you home, but you are suddenly aware of how little they understand about your trip. You feel all alone in some of the struggles of American excess in light of your recent experience. On top of it, you want to continue serving as Jesus served, but life seems to always get in the way.
So how do we, as mission leaders and experienced travelers, help those who are coming home from a mission trip with this “fish out of water” feeling? Regardless of the size of your church, it is likely that you alone cannot be each person’s mentor, teacher, and counselor.
What if we used small groups to see people along their spiritual journey? You can use your participant’s current small group with a little coaching, or you can organize a small group specifically for returning short-term missionaries. It is not God’s desire for any of us to be alone on our spiritual journey. Unfortunately we sometimes think no one can relate and so we push others away just when we should be drawing closer to them.
What a Small Group Offers
I’m a big believer in small groups of believers meeting together and walking their spiritual journey together for a few reasons:
1. Accountability. When you are living life with others, you can’t get away with anything. If you tell your small group how you think God is calling you to change, then you have a group of people to hold you accountable.
2. Diversity. You probably found out what a great thing diversity is while on your trip. The same is true of small groups. In any group, you will find people with different ideas, strengths, and weaknesses. A good small group emphasizes the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses.
3. Resource pooling. Small groups are able to do things an individual cannot.
4. Synergy. A small group working together will keep you going even when the fire starts to dim.
What a Small Group Can Do
Now that we know small groups are a good thing, what do we do with them? Your focus should be on coaching the group to spend specific time on prayer, education, and action. Here are some ideas of how to do that:
1. Pray for the world. Get the book Operation World and make a prayer schedule. Pray for the countries of the world in a systematic order. You can do this alphabetically or by region.
2. Learn a little about everything and everything about something. Begin expanding your understanding of the world by learning something about everywhere, but pick a place and focus in on it by learning everything about it. The country, region, or people group you choose to focus on will be the focus of your action. Also look for and provide opportunities for educating people at your church. This could be through a weekly bulletin insert that follows your prayer schedule, a slide during announcements in your church’s PowerPoint, or a display somewhere in the church.
3. Take action. Look for ways to reach and serve people from your focus group. Don’t just think overseas, but look for those people where you are. College campuses and refugee relocation offices are good places to look.
Change and growth are rarely easy. As we become dangerous in the spiritual realm, we can expect Satan to try to stop us, which is all the more reason for being involved in a strong spiritual community.
Tory Ruark is the Short-term Missions Director for DELTA Ministries. This article appeared in the August 2011 edition of The Missions Moment. You should subscribe! You can also find help in The Next Mile curriculum or at one of DELTA’s regional team leader trainings.