What Makes Short-Term Missions So Valuable

How do you justify the exorbitant price tag of a short-term mission trip? When 80% or more of what’s raised goes towards flight and lodging?

That money directly invested towards fighting poverty or training and supporting the local pastors would have a much greater impact than our spending a week smiling, holding kids, doing crafts and playing sports.

In light of that, is it worth it to do short-term missions?

I still say yes. First, the significance and impact of us being there is greater than we realize. We are relational beings, and we bring love, hope, respect and dignity with us that even a blank check cannot provide.

Second, something happens to us that cannot be replicated here. It is hard to explain what this is or how it works, so let’s turn to the Chronicles of Narnia for help.

In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe four children from our world find themselves in the land of Narnia and play a small role in saving Narnia. (Aslan, a lion, is the Christ-figure in these stories, and he is the one who actually saves Narnia.) The four children are crowned Kings and Queens and reign for many years. They grow up in Narnia.

Then one day they stumble back into our world and discover no time has passed here, and they are once again children.

In the second book, Prince Caspian, the four children are pulled back into Narnia to help save the country again. The more time they spend there, the more they become who they once were. The very air of Narnia has a magical effect on them, and they are becoming Kings and Queens again.

At the end of this book Aslan tells the two oldest children, Peter and Susan, they will not be coming back to Narnia.

In the third book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the two younger children, Edmund and Lucy, return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace and have more adventures.

As this story ends, Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy they will not be returning to Narnia. They are upset mainly because they think this means they will never see Aslan again. But he says this is not so.

Edmund asks, “Are you there too, Sir?”

“I am,” replies Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

This is the simple reason why short-term mission trips are worth every penny and more. Something happens to us while we are there. Our eyes are opened wider to God, to His world, and His heart for the world. It is not just so we can have a great week we will never forget, but so we can be different here.

So we may know God better here.

One of the Wonderful Things About God

We were spoiled rotten on this mission trip.

The mission organization we worked with in the Dominican did not have adequate housing, so teams stay at a nearby hotel. It is not necessarily the nicest hotel on the island, but it was the nicest place I’ve ever stayed on a mission trip!

It was clean, the rooms were nice, the water was usually warm and sometimes hot, the food was great, and the view was spectacular.

We were right on the ocean. Literally thirty feet away from the waves crashing on the shore.

We were spoiled rotten.

They also had a very nice pool, which was greatly enjoyed and used by all. But by the end of the day, it was a bit messy.

By the end of the day, bugs had found their way to the pool. Sand had been tracked into the pool. And plenty of leaves, twigs, and flowers were not only in the pool, but by nightfall the whole area around the pool was covered. You could hardly take a step without landing on something. It wasn’t a big deal; it was just the way it was.

One of the first mornings there, as I was walking past the pool on my way to breakfast, some of the workers were just putting the finishing touches on the pool and the area around it. The work they were doing was nothing short of a miracle; they were making the pool brand new again.

Each day this was the routine. We dirtied the pool, the wind dirtied the pool, but by morning it was brand new again.

It struck me that this is what God does for us.

Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us God’s mercies are new every morning. We dirty up our lives during the day, and then while we are sleeping, God is at work cleaning us up. Extending his mercy to us so when we wake up, God says to us, “You and I are alright. Things are good between us. Let’s spend the day together.”

We inevitably mess things up, but it’s not a big deal. God is faithful despite our unfaithfulness, and He says to us again (and again and again and again), “You and I are alright. I’ve taken care of it. I’ve made things good between us again. Let’s spend today together.”

That’s amazing grace. Grace that can change our perspective, change our understanding of how we relate to God, change how we live our lives.

Are you trusting in God’s daily mercies? Are you able to lean into and embrace this gift God brings to the table? This gift that does not depend on you or I in any way? Can you believe it is true? And that it is for you?

Pictures of Grace

I recently got back from a missions trip to the Dominican Republic with a group of students and adults from my church. The experience impacted us greatly: seeing the widespread poverty, interacting with the people there, those living with joy and hope and those not, doing our best to love the Haitian and Dominican children we met, getting to know each other better, worshipping God in another culture. It is hard to articulate all we experienced or what we are processing or how we are different, but here are some snapshots that have stayed with me.

The first snapshot is Pastor Joe sharing his story of growing up in Mexico and being sponsored so he could attend school as a young child, and then leading the schoolchildren in a prayer asking God for help to be the best students they can be, that their story might take a similar path as his did.

Twice a day, we spent time playing with kids and their families, holding babies, doing crafts, blowing bubbles, playing baseball and soccer and frisbee. And sweating… a lot. At one of these neighborhoods, a Dominican pastor walked up trying to get our attention, trying to gather all “the missionaries” around him. He did not speak any English, but with the help of Pastor Joe he prayed for us and shared Psalm 121 with us:

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

One of the most unique things we did was go in groups into homes, visit with a family, and actually pray for them with the help of a translator. These were, in essence, pastoral visits that our students got to experience. One student later shared with us about visiting the home of a woman with 10 kids who was a former prostitute. She had a picture of Jesus hanging on her wall and pointed to it and said, “Jesus is the only man for me now.”

A couple other impacting statements from students included one sharing how she hoped when she went back home she could continue to be who she had become here. What a great prayer!

Another student said he learned everyone just wants to be loved. What an insight for a 16-year-old to grasp!

And one student wanted to bring home one of the Haitians he met, a boy his age with great basketball talent. He recognized that basketball was this young man’s ticket out, and he also recognized that the only difference between the two of them was where they were born. He desperately wanted this new friend to have the same opportunities and privileges he had always enjoyed.

Not only did we have these holy moments in the Dominican, but a holy moment also broke out on our way home, in Miami International Airport of all places. We had two hours to make our connecting flight. Two hours to get 43 people through all the hoops amidst the chaos and confusion of customs and security checkpoints and needed bathroom breaks and long lines to get food for dinner. We all did get onto the plane in time to sit down, get our seat belts on, and be told by the pilot we wouldn’t be leaving for two more hours because of bad weather in Chicago.

But before that, on our way to the plane, myself and a small group were bringing up the rear, weaving our way through the airport, when I looked ahead and made eye contact with a very large, intimidating TSA agent. He waved us over to him, and I’m just thinking, “Perfect! What’d we do wrong now?”

He walked right over to us and said, “Thank you. Thank you for being missionaries and doing what you did.”

He shared with us that he’s unable to go on mission trips himself, but he always has an eye out for large groups all wearing the same T-shirt and makes a point of personally thanking each group on their way through the airport.

What an unexpected blessing! And what a blessed trip!