The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I went on a short-term missions (STM) campaign to Australia and Vanuatu for three weeks. I had never been on a mission trip before, I didn’t know much about missions and I definitely didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea that the mark left on my heart by God through others would impact my everyday life.
It was on a pebbled beach in Ulverstone, Tasmania, when I looked at the sunset with my friends next to me and realized that God is not just an “AmericanGod,”but rather the God of the whole universe.That is such a simple thought with far-reaching implications. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of a concept like that before. I had never left my small world back home to experience the vastness of God’s creation and how far and wide His love has spread.
When I got back from that experience, I longed to go back every single day and I still do. I even cried because I missed the fellowship and the friendships made there. I wanted to pursue connections similar to the ones in Australia and Vanuatu, so I prayed and asked God, “what’s next.” And sure enough, he led me to the next step.
Since that first journey that still continues in my heart to this day, I have learned more about STMs — including how they can sometimes become a burden more than a benefit.Through various mission courses here at Harding taught by wise professors, I have learned that the motivation for missions is key to navigating the beneficial side of STMs.When I took the Harding University Tahkodah course, I learned so much about how helping hurts and how good intentions don’t always equal good actions.
By definition, a STM trip lasts no more than two years. Long-term missionaries will often host a short-term mission group to help encourage the local congregations in their area, but this can go wrong if the people participating aren’t prepared to understand the seriousness involved. Those going must realize that they are there to serve and not to be served. More often than not, people go because they think they are going to “do good” without fully realizing the damage that could be done to another culture and to the missionaries without the proper preparation.
Sometimes the cost doesn’t outweigh the benefits. It takes a lot of money to send 18 to 20 campaigners to a foreign country.That’s a lot of plane tickets for only a week, which is why it’s crucial to think and ask yourself,“what’s my motivation for going?” or “could this money be better spent by the missionaries there?”
I’m opening up a can of worms when I talk about the burdens of STMs, so I encourage you to ask someone who is heavily involved or has been heavily involved with short-term missions. There are many layers with varying depths that need to be uncovered and explored.
With that being said,I wholeheartedly believe that STMs are a wonderful experience. God calls us to live missionally every day and every hour of our lives. Our mission here on earth is more than just a two-week trip in the summer. Our mission is to spread the message of the hope that is within us. I am thankful for my STM experiences, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. My heart has forever been touched by God through the relationships I made on STMs, and I am forever grateful and changed.