Part 3: What benefit does short term missions have for nationals and our long-term staff?

One of the biggest questions people often wrestle with in doing short-term missions is “What benefit to these trips have for nationals (people who are native to the country you’re visiting), as well as for missionaries who are serving long-term?”  This question seems to be the most difficult for me to work through personally, the biggest reason being that I’ve never been on the receiving end of short-term teams myself. Having not walked in their shoes, it’s hard to know if short-term teams are worth their time, energy, exhaustion, frustration and joy, but I hope and pray that it’s worth it.

(This is the third post of our series on short-term missions. If you haven’t read the first two, click here and here to get caught up.)

A long term missionary (and national staff) and an outreach participant work together with a student at our creative arts ministry site in Guatemala

What I can relay are stories I’ve heard from the field. Long-term missionaries are often tired and are constantly pouring themselves out both in ministry and for incoming short-term teams. In my experience, we as short-termers can either be an encouragement or a burden to them. I do know that when a short-term team comes to a country and invests in our staff and in nationals, serves without complaining, asks good questions and builds lasting relationships, our staff are grateful for the time they’ve spent. With proper training, attitudes and expectations, teams don’t seem to be a burden but instead, a huge asset to our ministries. If we spend time getting to know them, investing in their families, helping them feel loved, praying for their day to day life and ministry, they are blessed by our time there. If we spend our time making demands of them, being ungrateful, complaining or trying to push boundaries, I would imagine it would not be worth their time to have us there. We’ve seen leaders model these relationships well and encourage their students to see them as life-long, not week-long friendships.

We’ve also seen the love of short-term teams change the lives of nationals and our staff. We have heard the testimonies of Mario and Ingrid in Guatemala who have said that they came to the Lord because of the presence and obedience of short-term missionaries in their own country and they are now on full-time staff with SI, and have been for 20 years! God uses the courage and obedience of outreach participants, even when short-termers don’t know all of what God is doing at the moment. One of our staff in the DR made a decision for Christ because of relationships with a short-term team, and their invitation to follow Christ. The team wasn’t even aware of this; he told someone about his decision after they’d left, but he has used that story to encourage short-term teams that coming down to serve was worth it, even if we don’t get to see the immediate results. We also hear stories of short-term missionaries truly coming to Christ for the first time and finding their calling in life because of how the Lord works through our long-term staff. It brings
great purpose to their long-term work to see the Lord use them in unique ways to change the lives of outreach participants. We never know who will see our obedience and witness our love for Christ and be profoundly altered. Our job is to serve and to love, God will do the rest.

Long-term missionary Nineth Alquijay with her students and some outreach participants at the special education site in Guatemala.

We here at SI also believe that there is strong biblical justification for short-term missions. While we recognize that our long-term missionaries and nationals are the experts on their culture, we also know that God calls us to bring encouragement to the Church, to be the hands and feet of Christ and to spread the gospel.  Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” When we are obediently going in to a country, meeting people where they are, serving them and sharing our lives and our faith, we are doing what Jesus asked of us – spreading his great news and living out the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20.  There is much encouragement in the New Testament for us as believers in Jesus to spend our lives sharing about the One who has changed us and brought us freedom – whether in our own culture or abroad.

Richard Stearns in The Hole in our Gospel says: “When we become involved in people’s lives, work to build relationships, walk with them through their sorrows and their joys, live with generosity toward others, love and care for them unconditionally, stand up for the defenseless, and pay particular attention to the poorest and most vulnerable, we are showing Christ’s love to those around us, not just talking about it. These are the things that plant the seeds of the gospel in the human heart.” This is exactly what every staff person, every intern and every outreach participant aims to do when serving with SI.

The disciples and followers of Jesus were often seen “on the road” – headed to other cultures: hearing stories, telling stories, encouraging the Church and sharing their faith.  Some of the last words Jesus spoke to his people in Mark 16 were, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” We believe that commandment is not just for his disciples then, but also for us, his disciples now.

I love the way Stearns words this, “This was God’s plan to change the world – He chose followers to be the change – He chose you, and He chose me. We are the ones who will bring the good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted and stand up for justice in a fallen world. We are the revolution. We are God’s Plan A… and He doesn’t have a Plan B.” (The Hole in Our Gospel, pg. 277)

We stand by the belief that life is best done in relationships, so we always approach missions with that as our first priority, just like Jesus did during his time here on earth. We are his plan to bring change and we have to believe that serving both our long-term missionaries and nationals is worth it. Because of this, we will continue to go for whatever length of time we feel called and pray that we will bring courage, love and grace to our friends across the globe.

Further Reading:

The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns