At the end of a trip, one of the students uttered the words every leader hopes to hear: “This was the best short-term mission experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a bunch.” I’ve led my fair share of teams, so what made this one so good? Was it my amazing, charismatic leadership? … Actually, no! Perhaps ironically, it’s because we didn’t follow the typical approaches for short-term mission trips.
In many cases, short-term teams want to maximize the opportunity by visiting as many places, people and projects as they can. Instead, we decided to stay in one location and work with one church. And typically, short-term teams pack as much into the schedule as possible. In our case, it wasn’t long before our contact ran out of things for us to do! He’d even dismiss the team after morning Bible studies, telling us to “just take rest today.” We were in a bustling South Asian city, so once the contact left I’d whisper to the team: “we’re not taking rest today.” Instead we’d break into groups, ask God what we should do, and then go do it. We’d end up encountering new people, finding and meeting needs, and sharing life with various folk. It’s hard to summarise just how fruitful this actually was!
So why did my student think this was the best mission experience he’d had? “Because what we’ve done here is precisely what we can do back home.” Normally we run around doing so much, meaning there’s no way we can replicate it in our normal lives. But here, we were integrating mission and regular life. We were learning how to be open to the opportunities God was opening up in front of us.
FINDING A BETTER WAY
This experience left me wondering: are there approaches and models for short-term teams that will help people integrate what they learn into their ‘normal lives.’ I’m not interested in people creating nice memories. There needs to be something of ongoing value from the experience for both the team and those we’re seeking to serve. How can we be making disciples (Matthew 28:19) not just good trips?
Many short-term teams go out with very little solid training – but good intentions are simply not enough! Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions (Moody Publishers, 2014) is a new biblically grounded training package designed to help short-term teams prepare, process and maximise their experience. It also helps teams avoid attitudes and practices that actually harm the communities we’re seeking to bless. Though it focuses on teams going to poorer communities, we think it’s beneficial for almost any team crossing cultures.
It’s made up of eight 90 minute sessions that include reflections, discussion questions and short video teachings. Each team member receives a Participants Guide to help them process all they’re learning, and the Leader’s Guide is designed to give the team leader(s) all they need to know to facilitate the training, preparation and debrief. We hope this package will assist many Kiwis put together, implement and process short-term mission encounters.
If you’re interested in finding out more or discussing your ideas for a short-term Encounter Team experience with NZCMS, email email@example.com
In what ways do teams need to prepare and train well – whether for a cross-cultural trip or local mission?
If you want to explore in your small group how these concepts apply to local (and global) mission, I can’t recommend enough the free online video series ‘Helping Without Hurting’
Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.