This isn’t really mission, is it?
After all, mission is telling people about Jesus, and seeing them respond to that isn’t it? Surely this is just a bit of building, with some holiday mixed in for fun, right?
Ultimately, seeing people accept Christ into their lives has to be the goal of all mission, but people who haven’t heard of him don’t usually get there in one bound. There is often a lot of groundwork going into preparing their hearts and minds before they finally make their decision.
Realistically, we don’t expect to see many responses on a short-term mission, particularly in countries where we don’t speak their language. But we can contribute to it. Nearly 40 years ago James Engel pointed out that people’s journey to faith is seldom revolutionary, like St Paul’s road-toDamascus experience. It’s more frequently incremental, as regular Christian influences move them closer to a decision. Mission is helping people along that journey, not merely helping them cross the final threshold.
Each of us engaged in short-term mission has the opportunity to share the love of God with people by demonstrating our interest in them, doing practical work that will improve their lives, and showing by our attitudes that God loves them. While we may not be able to explain it verbally, there are ways in which we can communicate by drawing, by living, and by caring. As a great saint once told his followers “Preach the good news. If all else fails, use words.”
He meant that the gospel has to be lived out, not merely preached. So by doing short-term mission, we live out what we believe. By building, or teaching, or whatever activity we have to do, we demonstrate the good news by serving those who don’t yet know Christ, and we help those who are already being a witness to him by raising their profile in the community in which they work.
And the real joy of doing short-term is you get three opportunities to share your faith. Before you go, people will ask ‘why are you going?’, when you’re there, people ask ‘why are you here?’ and when you get back, they’ll ask ‘why did you go?’. So the very act of going gives you an opportunity to explain the nature of your faith.
So short-term trips really are mission, just as much as preaching tours, outreaches and evangelistic events. It is simply a different way in which Christians communicate the love of God by caring for the needy.