It doesn’t take a lengthy internet search to quickly come across stories of well-meaning people who go to other countries determined to “make a difference”, but instead cause more problems than they solve. The kind-hearted Christian women’s group who turn up to serve at an orphanage, forming significant attachments with children who are heartbroken when the well-meaning but naïve ladies leave after a few short weeks. The church group who arrives in a hurricane-damaged nation to rebuild houses, feeling satisfied that they’ve done their bit toward saving the world…but leave behind dwellings that are poorly-constructed and unsafe; good for nothing but to be torn down after the group departs. There are sad-but-true stories of communities left hurt by visitors who have lofty intentions, but no understanding of the long-term impact of their efforts.
Surely that’s a compelling argument to abandon short-term mission trips altogether. So why does OMF still invite people to go to Asia on a short-term (up to 12 months) basis via the Serve Asia programme? Here are just a few reasons why there’s still a place for short-term go-ers.
IT CHANGES YOU.
12 years ago, I went on a two week trip to South Africa with a Christian women’s soccer team. My time in this new environment helped shape my worldview during a formative age, and there are lessons that I learned about life on that trip that still inform my thoughts and decisions today. As a 20-year-old, I quietly thought I was going to South Africa to have an influence. Two weeks later, I returned knowing that the person who’d been truly influenced was…me. It gave me an appreciation for the dignity inherent in everyone, whether they live behind guarded gates, or in the poverty of a city slum. In a similar fashion, my husband went to Tanzania with a short-term team. Within a group of new people, he found himself open to opportunities that he would never have considered in New Zealand. His faith grew as he reached outside his comfort zone with preaching, praying and travelling to new places. He came back home changed.
IT’S A TASTER.
Going overseas for a short time is an excellent way of getting a taste for life as a missionary. How many people decided to commit to a lengthy term of mission after gaining an understanding of the needs of a country during a short-term trip? Seeing the life that a missionary lives, staying in their house, and interacting with those whom they serve is a great opportunity to explore if God is calling you to invest your time and life in a cross-cultural setting. God’s call is often caught or clarified in a context. A number of NZ OMF members are now serving longer term because of their short-term trip. Others were inspired to make a missional contribution in their churches and local communities in New Zealand.
IT CAN MAKE A GENUINE DIFFERENCE.
Sometimes, a short-term worker can be exactly what a situation needs. A person with IT know-how can be a gift to a group of missionaries living with slow computers or old technology; business people can provide knowledge and support to missional business; childcare workers are an essential role at our international field conferences and Orientation courses. There are Serve Asia workers who are able to spend two weeks using their everyday skills in a way that will have an impact months and years into the future of a full-time missionary. Can you fix things, help with building, balance a financial spreadsheet, teach English, or take beautiful photos? You have useful skills that can be utilised and appreciated “out there”.
Through the Serve Asia programme, we train people and journey with them, sending people in a mindful, useful way. Going for a short amount of time gives a glimpse into another world, learning what it means to follow God, even if it means going to hard places. Through the trip, you will change and grow in your understanding of God’s love for humanity, and you can be a genuine help to those living locally. Ultimately, a short-term missions programme is not just about the short-term, it’s about gaining long-term vision of God’s heart for the nations.
By Jess Lawrence
OMF New Zealand