Back But Better
"Now I have you, and I have God. I will never be alone again. I have so much happiness bubbling inside I cannot say in English!" the young woman exclaimed.
That was one week after our arrival in a country closed to the Gospel. Two days later, the new convert received the first Bible she had ever seen. One week later, she was asking such probing questions as, "How can we keep from sinning when we have such great forgiveness?"
The Holy Spirit can work fast with a deadline looming.
Days later, the short-term mission trip (STMT) was over, and the fledgling Christian was left with only God's Word and her inner Comforter to be her Teacher, Guardian, and Guide.
As a mission participant, I also experienced indescribable joy. A carefree attitude carried me across the ocean, over a perilous commute, and through three weeks of the most taxing ministry I have ever attempted.
That calm and cared-for confidence brought me back home and lasted for many months but, unfortunately, has started to fade. Somehow my "do the dishes" and "carpool the kids" life doesn't seem as God-ordained as sharing Christ's love with someone who has never heard the name of Jesus.
It's the time of year when short-term mission participants are coming back from the field energized. They are longing to invigorate our churches, not merely assimilate.
This is the season to cultivate that newfound excitement in the body of Christ, as mission participants and supporters.
How can we hold onto the spiritual "high" that accompanies mission work amongst the cares and commitments of life? It is imperative that we incorporate the short-term mission mindset for a lifetime of ministry.
A STMT is a microcosm of what the Christian life should be. It is a focused example of "redeeming the times" because you are painfully aware of the fleeting days of opportunity (Ephesians 5:16). It's hard to continuously live with such intensity, but with effort we can integrate that attitude into daily life if we keep in mind the following:
On a STMT, you are certain of your purpose. The leader of the trip gives you an assignment. If you are asked to distribute medicine or teach an English class, it seems important to the cause of Christ. Your efforts support your intent to share the gospel, and it is easy to draw a direct correlation to building God's Kingdom.
Back home, it's not so clear. It's harder to trace the finger of God hidden behind the requirements of daily chores and a secular job.
We know we are to glorify God in whatever He calls us to do. It's less dramatic doing that standing behind a sink instead of a pulpit, but it does not need to be less effective. Most of us will spend more time in the mundane than the extraordinary, and so God gave us the familiar admonition, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Completing a small job with excellence is of eternal value. Keeping this in mind will lend worth to the most trivial task.
Focusing on God's purpose also keeps us out of trouble. When time is limited, we tend to let minor conflicts slide in deference to our goals. We take seriously Philippians 2:2 which says, "be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind"
Let's live together in the motivating light of our purpose! In this way we can better fulfill our commission to make disciples.
On a STMT you believe each step or misstep has been ordained by God. If your flight is canceled, you know God wants you in the airport. You may need to witness to the ticket agent. If you get sick while on the trip, you have assurance there is divine intent. You might need to concentrate on praying for your teammates.
If you miss a flight or get sick while on vacation, it just feels like dumb luck.
We are programmed for self-reliance. In typical American fashion, we want to do it all—formulate the plan and then put in the effort to make it happen.
A mission trip humbles you into remembering it is God who works in us for His purpose (Philippians 2:13). Since you are totally out of your element, it's easier to embrace that comforting truth.
What sweet relief Proverbs 16:9 provides when it tells us that, "A man's heart devises his way: but the LORD directs his steps." God has the master plan for our lives and we are not big enough to spoil it.
Just a few dollars in my pocket for three weeks, and I was not worried at all. If I was hungry or thirsty, I knew someone had a plan. It might not be pizza and a diet, caffeine-free soda, but I knew the need would be met.
On a STMT you choose to be content with however God provides. It is sufficient because you are content with whatever we have: for he has said He would never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
As a born-again creation, the former desires no longer fulfill. Our spirits have been reprogrammed to long for the spiritual. Second Timothy 2:22 reminds us to "follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
Our nationally approved right to the "pursuit of happiness" sometimes gets in the way of realizing we have enough. In the midst of the chase we fail to be still and relish God's presence.
We do not recognize it is not the "capturing" but "being captured" that counts. "Christ is all I need" resounds in the heart of the mission-minded. It is one treasure we can cherish from this life to the next!
On a STMT, you recognize that trials might mean you're on the right track. You are satisfied and even gratified when trouble comes because, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).
When things go wrong on a STMT, you expectantly watch for God to make it right. Since the time is condensed, you often don't need to wait the years or even decades required for God to fulfill His promise to work all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Our microwave impatience appreciates that.
On a STMT, you also are on the offensive prayer-wise. You realize you need God's protection and are hypersensitive to attacks because the opponent is obvious (Ephesians 6:12).
In everyday life it's common to be lulled into security, comforted by cautious behavior. American life comes with built-in safeguards. From the "do not eat" label on the baggie in a shoebox to the zealous instructions on a child's car seat, we have surrounded ourselves with supposed sanctuary.
When you're bumping along in a van with no seatbelts and 50,000 miles overdue for a tune-up, you remember where your security truly lies.
It's also easier to relish the security of the soul instead of the body while on a STMT. When you are concentrating on sharing the gift of heaven, the ethereal materializes into a glorious future instead of just the final rest stop.
In truth, it is hard to keep a short-term mission mindset. The greater truth is we were born modern-day Americans not as a blessing of prosperity but because God knows we can glorify Him in our culture. God wants us to live effectively even amidst the ever-present distractions of ease.
Would I personally rather be on the front lines reaching the unchurched for Christ? Yes, mission work is addictive in a good way. But if that is not my current calling, I'd better get back to my assigned post.
We must also keep in mind that, "No man that wars entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who chose him to be a soldier" (2 Timothy 2:4).
As committed followers of Christ, we never meant to become entangled in the cares of this world, but out of necessity we've had to confront the urgent. There is a difference, however, between attending to and being entangled by the cares of this world.
I am trying to live today as I did across the ocean—with the knowledge that God has a purpose and plan for me each day. In this confidence I can rely on His provision and protection wherever His will leads.
So remember, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we stow our suitcases, don't put away the passion. Save that short-term mission mindset for a life-time of ministry!
Lauralyn Davis is a wife and mother of three living in the Memphis, TN area. She is grateful to belong to a mission-minded church that offers many ministry opportunities both in community and abroad.