My adult mission experience started on a short-term trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras to do evangelism with a group from the church where I was the pastor.
Every day we would go to the city market and buy local mangoes, avocados, and watermelon, along with lovely bread and tortillas. We went into neighborhoods, visiting people, praying for them, and inviting them to meetings each night.
When I arrived home, I immediately contacted the General Conference to see about going as a missionary. After one year my family and I left North America for Sri Lanka to serve as full-time missionaries.
Today many Adventist organizations help coordinate short-term mission trips for teams from supporting ministries like Maranatha and ShareHim, as well as for groups from academies and colleges.
These teams may do anything from evangelism to church building to disaster relief. Many missionaries have the chance to host short-term mission teams. They can be a lot of fun and also very time consuming.
Here are some does and don’t for missionaries working with short-term mission teams:
Do give an orientation for the short-term missionaries
Orientation can be started by email before they depart their home country and, if time permits, a day of cultural insights may be given upon arrival.
Any kind of orientation will be helpful to those coming for a short trip, but one that helps them to see the culture positively is very valuable as they arrive and try to understand and filter what they are seeing.
In your orientation include personal stories, descriptions of cultural practices, and things to avoid (for example, not to eat with your left hand in many countries).
Whenever possible, show the advantages of the local way of doing things. People from economically developed countries often have the misconception that everything in their home culture is more advanced or better than practices in traditional cultures or less developed countries.
By allowing teams to see through eyes that are more adjusted to the local culture, a short orientation by a long-term missionary can help break down some of these stereotypes.
Do work side by side with them
If you know that the group is coming to build a church, go and work with them, whenever possible.
You will build friendships, but it can also help the project go more smoothly if someone knows how to get around and make things happen in ways that are acceptable in the local culture.
If there is a group coming to do evangelism, find ways of helping, either through preaching or serving on the team.
You can be a bridge between the foreign team and the nationals to help make decisions that will benefit the long-term growth of the church.
Do encourage the short-term missionaries to team up with locals and get to know them
The stories they share when they return home will be of the relationships made in a short time. These relationships often become enduring contacts, with people staying in touch for years to come.
Do help those who come from overseas to see the positive contribution of national church leaders and members
Often when short-term missionaries come to help, they leave with the idea that they made a big difference.
That is good, but it should be kept in balance with the long and tireless efforts of local believers and long-term missionaries who have worked for years to build up the work of God in that location.
Do give feedback to the sending organization
Sending organizations need to know how the trip could have been better organized and more effective in making eternal disciples.
Mission organizations do not always have budgets for evaluation, but feedback is desperately needed to know if a program is really effective.
Missionaries can provide qualitative feedback in terms that can be understood by the sending team. In turn, this information may help in making decisions about future projects and needs in the field.
Do share the best parts of the local culture with your guests first hand
Make sure that your guests get a chance to see local landmarks, go to the markets, and are able to buy cultural outfits and curios.
You can have fun introducing them to your favorite foods and exotic fruits. It is always fun to introduce someone to the smell and taste of durian or some other local cuisine.
Don’t make short-term missionaries into overnight heroes
Be realistic, affirming, and grateful for the work or outreach they have brought to the field but beware of making short-term missionaries the solution to the problems of the mission.
Ultimately these have to be hammered on the anvil of prayer with dependence on God.
Don’t overwhelm short-term missionaries with financial requests
Some will ask what the needs are, and missionaries need to be open to share what the real needs are in the field.
In some cases, short-term missionaries become long-term supporters for projects they have seen when on a trip but that needs to happen as God works on the heart to give.
Occasionally I have seen missionaries and locals being too forward with the needs of the mission. If too much is said it can leave a bad taste in the mouth of potential long-term prayer partners.
Don’t shield them from inconvenience on their trip
One of my favorite memories from a short-term trip was learning how to take a “splash bath” with a bar of soap, basin, and a bucket near a well. I found this to be very refreshing and much more practical than a shower.
Over several years I have bathed in rivers, cooked over fires, slept in large open areas with mosquito nets, walked many miles, hauled building supplies in backpacks and on the back of motor bikes, and eaten with my fingers.
These are fond memories—and usually give much more color to the stories of returning short-term missionaries. Most short-term missionaries want to taste a bit of real life. The adventure is what sticks with them
Long-term missionaries can be a valuable bridge between nationals and short-term missionaries. And like me, those who go home having had a good experience may be the ones who sign up to be full time missionaries down the road.
by Rick McEdward