Friday, February 11, 2011

Do Short-Term Mission Trips Really Matter?

On a short-term mission trip in
Soweto, South Africa - 2002
In our ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ and The Impact Movement, I have participated in countless numbers of what would be considered short-term mission trips or outreach programs. Whether they be for half a day, a week or two months long, our students and staff actively share the gospel of Christ in word and deed in communities in which they don't reside and, potentially, will never return.

There are some that fault this approach to ministry and claim that it demonstrates more of a tourist mindset than of one who is truly seeking to make a difference in peoples' lives.  And, to some extent, I agree with them.  In most cases, true life change will happen in the context of relationships.  Those that will be most struck by the Christian are those that not only hear it, but see it lived out before their eyes.

However, I'm also convinced that taking the time to share the greatest message ever told with a stranger is not only good, but carries with it the potential to alter eternity.  Don't believe me?  Check out the following story from Michael Oh, a seminary president who recounts an encounter he had while he was a college student. Dr. Oh shares about a time when he was on a spring break missions trip to Daytona Beach with an unnamed Christian organization (my guess is that the group was Campus Crusade) and tells of a young man that he met:
"One day I was paired with a friend Janet (an upperclassman). It was about time to call it a day, and I was ready to slink back into being inconspicuous again after a long day of being stared at and laughed at by the hundreds. I don't remember who it was who suggested that we try just one more time, but I'm guessing that it was Janet.

So we walked the beach and Janet (who is Korean-American like me) says to me, "It would be nice to talk with some Asians." Nodding, I added bravely, "And it would be nice to talk with people who are away from the crowd and by themselves." "If it were two people that would be nice," Janet remarked. "And two guys," I said.

A few moments later we both looked up on the horizon and there by the edge of the water were two Asian guys sitting by themselves. Janet and I looked at each other and took the opportunity that God had given.

We shared the Gospel with two exchange students, Caleb and Henky, from Indonesia studying in Canada. Both were very friendly but also uninterested in the Christian faith, almost hostile to it. One had recently lost thousands of dollars at an Atlantic City casino and was at a loss for what to do.

Despite the spiritual gap, we hit it off relationally and eventually Janet and I followed up with them visiting them in Toronto that summer.

During that visit God opened up Caleb's heart to the Gospel. Life had become tough for him, and he even showed me the roof of his apartment where he almost took his own life. From hopelessness to hope, God rescued Caleb that day.

20 years later I received an email from a man named Caleb from Indonesia with the subject line, "Greetings from an old friend."

He wrote,

I wonder if you still remember me. You shared about Christ to me on the beach of Daytona, FL. Few months after that, you drove to Toronto, Ontario with your friend Janet, with a message from God that He loves me and wants to use me. That's the turning point of my walk with God, the moment that I consider myself born again.

God has done many wonderful things in my life and through my life since then. Praise be to His glory!

Caleb had been invited to represent Indonesia at the 2010 Lausanne Congress in Cape Town and found my name and picture on the Lausanne website.

Today he serves as executive pastor of a church of 10,000 people in Surabaya City, Indonesia."
When we step out in faith to share the message of Christ's love and forgiveness, we do not know what will happen. Most may ignore what we have to say but, sometimes, God uses us to see someone's life change. And when God really gets a hold of someone's heart, you can be sure that other lives will be affected as well.

To take the initiative to share the gospel in a short-term situation may not seem like it will matter much, but it certainly matters to people like Caleb.  When we make ourselves to be used by God, we never know what he might do.  As the late founder of Campus Crusade, Bill Bright, used to say, "Successful witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God."  As Christ's ambassadors, our jobs are to represent Him well to all those we encounter and let Him do the rest.

To read the rest of Michael Oh's story please click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great story! I love it!