so. remember that time i went to kenya?
what some of you may not know about kenya is that it was my sixth mission trip and my fifth overseas. i’ve done door-to-door evangelism in the bahamas, taught ESL in venezuela, helped put on VBS and done yard projects in michigan, helped facilitate a kids’ camp and lead worship at a missionary conference in poland, taught ESL in spain, and now done what feels like all the things in the kenya.
and by all the things in kenya i mean VBS, market evangelism, and prison ministry.
i’ve occasionally heard chatter from all sorts of people that they’d love to go on a mission trip but don’t really know how to make it happen. and i thought, since i have experience in short-term missions, that i would lend my experience out to answer any questions y’all might have. so here we go!
sarah: “what are some ways that international missions are different from a mission trip within the united states, other than the obvious?”
i think, although this seems really obvious, one of the most critical aspects to remember is that you’re going not only to a different country, but you’re immersing yourself into a completely different culture. (this is not saying you’re going to mexico and then going to cancún.) in most of the countries, i’ve been to, the people have a culture and a history far older than that of the united states, and in order to bear witness to Christ well, you have to meet them where they are (just as He does with all of us). in spain, this meant not talking about Jesus or church or anything until we had established rapport with our ESL students, because spanish history is filled with examples of the catholic church using God’s name in defense of, for instance, genocide and racism. in kenya, however, we were able to talk to strangers about Christ without thinking twice about it. kenya has a high christian population, so to bring God up often drew us together, whereas in spain, it would have put up a wall.
one of my favorite things to remember, too, when it comes to this, is when paul says he became all things to all people that he might save some. he does this skillfully in athens, where he used their altar to the unknown god to tell them about the only true God. he uses greek pantheism to explain christian monotheism, because their beliefs, their culture, is what they understand. it’s so difficult to let our culturally preconceived notions go, but for the sake of the gospel, it is critical that we do so.
ameera: “what do you feel are the pros and cons for short term as opposed to long term?”
pros: the experience will change your life. radically. there is every reason for going on a short-term mission trip if the Lord puts that call on your life. it’s also an amazing way for Him to put, clarify, or confirm a desire on your heart. because you’re so much more closely entwined in community with believers, and because you’re so much more reliant on His guidance, you’re able to discern His leading so much better. it’s remarkable.
cons: you meet people with whom you make amazing friendships, and then you come home knowing you may never see these people again. it’s heartbreaking, but i wouldn’t sacrifice that communion for an unbroken heart.
long-term trips are different because you invest more significantly in the community, but you’re living there, so you’re not ripping your heart out the same way you do with a short-term trip. you also face fiercer, more frequent spiritual warfare than you would on a short-term trip.
laila: “i’d love to know how/if people bring their children along.”
they do! but not often. i’ve seen five instances in which grown adults or teenagers take trips with their parents, and of those five, i’ve been the teenager (in venezuela) or grown adult (in spain) in question. (my mom went on both those trips with me.)
when i was in poland, our team leader and his wife brought their five-year-old daughter, and she was our team sunshine. she traveled well and had a great time. i loved having her along.
i would advise, though, for people who are thinking this over, consider what kind of trip you’re taking. because we were running a kids’ camp in poland, this was a perfect trip for E to come on, because she was a kid. but for teaching or evangelism, like the other four international trips i’ve taken, kids wouldn’t have been a good choice, since we adults were teaching all day.
for teenagers, almost any trip can work really well, which is great, but you also want to gauge where they are spiritually. mission trips require so much sacrifice that you can’t anticipate and won’t know about until you get there, and to drag along someone of any age who isn’t willing or ready for that will be ultimately more damaging than helpful to them and anyone else involved.
if you have any other questions, i’d love to answer them! drop me a comment here and i’ll answer your questions in another installment of short-term q&a. i’ll also be doing a general post on short-term missions for those of you who have all the questions and just don’t know where to start.