Missions -

Changing the conversation about missions —

By Chris Roberts

Most Christians know that the call to missions is a command from Christ. Before He ascended into Heaven He commanded His disciples – and by extension all of His followers – to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). For some this means a full-time career in another country ministering in ways that brings the Gospel of Christ to new people groups all over the world.

Christ In Youth partners with many of those cross-cultural Kingdom workers every year. But for an even larger group of Christians that mission is answered by participating in short-term trips – which for the past 50 years have traditionally been thought of as 10-to-20-day excursions to “Third World” countries to care for widows or build houses for the poor or conduct Vacation Bible School lessons for children. That traditional view of short-term missions – the idea that a mission trip consists of going and doing something – has slowly been changing in recent years. Put simply, the idea of a mission trip is shifting away from the intention of “doing” and more toward the attitude of “being.” “Short-term mission trips give people an opportunity to go and be a part of the Church – the Kingdom – in an entirely new way,” said Brittany Shoemake, director of CIY’s Engage international trips. “They get to see how God is working all over the world. The ‘doing’ – how we participate in Kingdom work – should flow out of our ‘being’ – being the Church, being with people, being connected to the heart of Jesus. What we do on a mission trip pales in comparison to who we get to be. There’s a work that God does in the lives of those participating in a missions experience that happens naturally as they’re joining in the work that God is already doing in that place. When you join with ministry that’s already happening, there’s a mutually beneficial thing that happens between those who live in that culture and those from the U.S. who are visiting.” In essence, the missions experience becomes a training ground for Kingdom work. Young people who join Engage on international trips learn how to develop relationships in a cross-cultural experience. They learn how to develop soft skills – such as boldness in sharing their testimony or hospitality to strangers – while also appreciating that there are gifts and talents that those already living in that place have that far exceed their own. It’s from this idea that CIY’s Engage program – which offers nearly 20 international short-term mission trips every year – has developed its mission statement, “Training for a life of Kingdom work.” “Without the key element of training, we believe short-term mission trips aren’t as beneficial as they could be – on both sides,” Shoemake said. “We do things with people – we join in the work that God is already doing. We get to be a part of that during the trip, but also realize it should go way beyond the trip. We’re trained to join in on what God is doing in our hometowns, or wherever He calls us next. That’s part of the reason we’ve found ourselves using the word ‘experience’ a lot more, because it encompasses more of Engage’s purpose. It gives you a different perspective when you talk about an ‘experience’ versus a ‘trip.’ A trip has a beginning and an end. An experience is much more than that. An experience speaks to immersing yourself into something bigger and engaging it with your mind, heart and hands. It’s way more of a grand picture of God’s Kingdom, and that’s what we’ve wanted to create.” Shoemake went on to say that the key in any type of cross-cultural experience is relationships. If investing in relationships isn’t at the top of the list when it comes to the purpose of a short-term trip, Shoemake suggests that a huge value of the experience is lost ... for everyone. “We have to get rid of this idea that a short-term mission trip means you’re going to another country as the ‘Great American Savior,’” she said. “When there’s a relationship it means there’s a partnership and a benefit on both sides. That’s why I think short-term mission experiences are beneficial. There can be mutual encouragement that’s edifying to the Church. When you’re encouraged by someone who isn’t in your regular circle, there’s a weight that comes with that. If your only goal or purpose is to go and encourage other believers in the work they’re doing, that’s fantastic! That’s what we’re called to do as part of the Church. It’s beautiful when we serve alongside one another and learn from each other. I think ‘relationship’ is the biggest word you have to talk about in regard to mission trips.
Yes, you may do work projects, and as long as they’re coming from a need brought up within the local community that’s beneficial – it is Kingdom work. But ultimately the relationship is the most important part of a mission experience – and that comes through doing things with people, not for them.” Students who join Engage get to experience that side-by-side learning first-hand. And through that process they discover so much about other cultures and how other people experience God. They get to serve alongside people doing Kingdom work in their own context, which often serves as inspiration for them to do Kingdom work in their own contexts back home. “I think God blew open some big ideas I have about Church,” said Katelyn Adams, who brought her youth group from Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church on an Engage International trip to Honduras in March. “As I’ve reflected back over (our experience), I can’t help but think of Matthew 11:28-30 in the Message. ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’ That’s what this trip was to me – watching how they do it. Church. Evangelism. Loving one another. Serving. Watch how they do it.” That kind of eye-opening discovery into new depths of God’s Kingdom is why CIY is intent on changing the narrative around short-term missions. Trips to other countries can be beneficial – lives are often changed, in fact. But if trips are solely based on just going and doing, a huge opportunity is missed. “Learning more about the Church is something that no amount of money can buy,” Shoemake said. “Just writing a check or swinging a hammer doesn’t build a relationship. That’s only done when you spend time with people and get to know them and learn from them. It’s a little taste of Heaven when you get to join up with the work God is already doing and serve alongside people who you’re going to be spending eternity with.”

Find this article and more in the latest issue of the Kingdom Worker Connection magazine – here