We’re reviewing the ways a student’s thinking matures as he progresses through a short-term missions experience. I have a couple more to finish the series.
I’m Called to Be a Missionary to This Place!
Short-term mission trips are reliable producers of adrenaline. Everything is new and exciting, on multiple levels—physical, emotional, social, spiritual. For many students, this is the most exciting experience they’ve ever had. And riding that hormonal and emotional wave, they interpret the emotional high as a divine call to be a missionary, and of course to wherever in the world they’re visiting. They want the high to last a lifetime.
One of my objectives for my teams was to give the students as realistic a picture of missionary life as was possible. For that reason I much preferred trips that lasted as long as possible; my standard timespan was 8 weeks.
Now, that’s difficult. You need to find a missionary who’s willing to host a team for that long—or several missionaries who can host the team for two or three weeks each. That’s asking a lot. And of course the cost of a longer trip is proportionately higher.
But the longer experience changes the outcomes significantly.
Eight weeks is long enough for the adrenaline to wear off. It’s long enough to get really, really tired. And to miss your loved ones. And cheeseburgers. In many cases, it’s long enough to get just sick of the whole thing and to want to go home.
That’s an important part of the experience. Missionaries don’t run on adrenaline; they run on faithfulness, commitment, and the grace of God. And much of what they do isn’t at all glamorous; it’s trying to get the water pump working and standing in line for paperwork that seems completely unnecessary and killing snakes and driving over bumpy roads that make your back hurt.
Often God’s call doesn’t involve a life-changing experience or intense emotion. Often it’s a simple calculation of one’s gifting and a determination to use it in the most sensible way that presents itself.
My Friends Back Home Are So Shallow!
It’s fairly common for a student to return from a short-term experience still feeling the adrenaline rush of the new cultural experience, the spiritual high of being part of something bigger than himself, and the joy of seeing someone come to Christ. He wants to tell that story. And he should.
But the people back home haven’t had the cultural experience and the spiritual high and the joy first-hand. They’re interested in the story at first, but after a while their eyes start to glaze over, especially if the team member isn’t a particularly good storyteller, or if he keeps telling the same story over and over again.
Now that student is tempted to snap out a judgment about his friends.
They don’t care about missions. They’re not as spiritual as I am.
Well, that might be true. Though if he’s comparing his spiritual fervor with that of others, he’s got his own set of problems (2Co 10.12).
But it might not be true. This is normal human behavior; our personal experiences are more vivid, and more exciting to us, than the experiences of others that we’re hearing only second-hand. It’s hard to make the case biblically that someone’s reaction to, or fascination with, somebody else’s experience is a reliable measure of their love for God, others, or the Mission.
My friend Mark Vowels suggests that students coming back from a short-term experience have a 2-minute response ready for when they’re asked about the trip. If the questioner asks for more information, give it to him.
But no judgment.
Now, a closing thought to the closing thought.
Jesus commanded us to go. We should. And we should steward that opportunity, gleaning wisdom from those with more experience, and learning to love people who are different from us. We should nurture the character traits of wisdom, and patience, and love. And we should gather all the learning from the experience that we can.