Short-Term Mission Trip = Long-Term Impact

September 4, 2013 — 14 Comments

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Why should anyone go on a short-term mission trip?

This is a question that I’ve heard in one form or another.  People often imply that a short-term mission trip has little impact on those being served.  And they typically assume that a short-term mission trip has minimal impact on those serving other than to make them feel good about themselves for a few weeks.

I’d like to say that this doesn’t have to be the case.  My recent experience is proof that short-term mission trips can have a huge impact.

Let me explain.

Missions has surrounded me in one form or another since I was a young child.  In elementary school, my parents hosted a missionary in our home for a few months.  In junior high, I remember my dad traveling to Haiti for a short-term missions trip with other members of our church.  When I got to high school, I attended five short-term mission trips with our high school youth group.  I also was the missions coordinator for our church’s vacation Bible school on summer.  In college, I traveled to Chicago twice to serve with Habitat for Humanity during my Easter vacation.  And I was privileged to go twice to Urbana, an InterVarsity missions conference for college students.  Each one of these experiences has had an impact on me, and I know these experiences have helped to bring housing, help, and hope to those in need.

When I graduated from college, I wrestled with a mission minded decision.  Should I go into full-time missions as a missionary, or should I go to work in the world of engineering?  The more I grappled with the decision, the more it became clear that God calls people to the “normal” working world just like He calls people to the mission field.  As I began to explore and experience the construction industry, it became more and more obvious to me the construction industry is a BIG mission field.  God can use Christ followers to make a difference in the corporate world, in schools, in hospitals, and in so many arenas of every day life in America.

After nearly twenty years in the industry, I remain convinced of this.  I work in a mission field today.

But there is still a place in my heart for serving others outside my company.  There has been a passion in my heart to serve others in strange places.  Three years ago, I nearly experienced that dream and passion as my wife and I were preparing to go to Nairobi, Kenya to serve in the slums of Mathare.  Some unexpected circumstances caused us to cancel these plans, and I began to wonder and even resolve myself to the fact that this dream would never be actualized.

Fast forward to last spring.

Many of you know the story, I was asked by the high school youth pastor at my church to consider going to Guatemala with the youth group.  It was a decision I didn’t take lightly.  I prayed.  I sought godly council from friends and family members.  And I analyzed the reasons to go and not go on this trip.  When it came down to it, I had to take a leap of faith.

This initial trip changed my life.

I developed a passion for the people of Guatemala.  I started dreaming about going back again.  And I began to understand that God could use me at home AND in strange places.

This trip changed other people’s lives.

While we were in Guatemala, our team built a house for a family (thanks to The Stretched Community for funding this project).  We installed stoves in the homes of widows in Xenacoj, the community where we served.  And we played with children and taught them about the love of Christ.

Many people would naturally wonder if these efforts really made any difference.

I can tell you with certainty that they did!  When our family returned to Guatemala last month.  We saw how the house we built last year propelled this family forward financially and also spiritually.  We saw hope in the eyes of widows we had served last summer.  And we even ran into children we had served last year who remembered the “gringos” who came and played with them last summer.

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Our short-term mission trip was not a waste.  It may have had some short-term impact, but I know it also had long-term impact.

Our family is planning to return to Guatemala to serve again.  We think about the people we interacted with last month, and we pray for them constantly.  We are strategically thinking about how we can continue to have an impact in Guatemala – even while we’re here at home.  And we are sharing our story.  We hope we will inspire others to consider similar short-term mission trips.  We pray that we might be able to encourage others to find ways to help others in distant lands.  And we know that our short-term mission trip will have a long-term impact.

How have you seen small actions result in large outcomes?  What small step can you take this week to have a large impact in the future?

Have you ever been on a short-term mission trip?  What was the impact of this trip?

What’s stopping you from going on a short-term mission trip?

Would you ever consider going to Guatemala with me on a short-term mission trip?

Jon Stolpe


Christ-follower, husband, dad, engineer, manager, runner, blogger, sax player, group life fan, freelance writer, and the list goes on...
  • David Paul Stolpe

    I suppose I am one of the people who is at times skeptical about the impact of short term missions. And really my belief is that God impacted me far more than I could have possibly impacted them. But you challenge my assumption Jon through your experience. Also Facebook has allowed me to start reconnecting with the students I worked with during my year in Zambia. First off I never would have believed that would be possible for them to have that kind of technology access when I worked with them back in 94. But this recent flood of reconnections has given me Ann opportunity to realize that maybe I left more of a mark than I thought was possible, as it has been them who have found me twenty years later. I didn’t think they would even remember me. Anyway, yes I would go to Guatemala with you Jon.

    • Jon Stolpe

      That would be pretty wild. We’re definitely considering our next trip.

  • Steve Y

    You asked a lot of questions. I can think of many times in our lives, where somebody, a stranger, has said something to make an impact in our life. So, I guess, in essence, is that a “short term mission”? That one comment changed, maybe, the way we looked at things. To answer the question, yes, short term mission is an important stepping stone to greater things. Keep in mind the other lives changed, too, not just those you served. It changed your kids lives, you and Leanne’s, us as we read about your travels, not to mention your church community. Remember the starfish story about making a change in one’s life even though all the starfish couldn’t be saved?

    • Jon Stolpe

      There’s definitely a ripple effect when we take steps of faith. Many times we don’t know how far the ripples will reach.

  • Leah Adams

    I’ve never been on a mission trip. Why? I’ve never felt the Lord saying to me, Go Now! I would love to go on one, but I want it to be God’s design and plan. I’m listening for His voice on this. Thanks for the challenge.

    • Jon Stolpe

      Go Now!

      To up the challenge a bit…I don’t think the Great Commission says “Go Now!”, but I think it’s implied. The statement isn’t a future tense the way I read it. It’s more present tense.

      Keep me in the loop as you consider this type of adventure.

    • David Paul Stolpe

      I remember Ravi Zacharias saying at an Urbana conference, “people stay until they hear God say go, when we should go unless we hear God say stay.”

      • Jon Stolpe

        That’s a great quote!

  • Diane Karchner

    Jon, you know I support short-term missions. No matter if it’s Guatemala, or my love, Kenya. I would encourage anyone who is wondering…to go!

    Prayerfully wonder. Wonder what God has in store, and how your heart will react. Wonder what strange and different cultures will do for your appreciation for the needy here among us. Wonder what a God who loves without question can teach you about loving the unloveable, accepting the unknown. And when you come back from your first trip, you will wonder what took you so long!!

    I encourage all to do it, at least once. You will never regret it. And neither will those who you serve.

    And I would strongly recommend reading the book When Helping Hurts. You will go knowing exactly what God thinks of helping the ‘least of these.’

    • Jon Stolpe

      Great input, Diane.

      Prayerfully wonder…sounds like a great title for a book or future blog post!

  • Larry Carter

    I haven’t had the right opportunity. I see it coming soon.

    • Jon Stolpe

      Keep me in the loop. I’d love to pray and know about this opportunity.

  • Caleb

    Jon, it’s really great to hear your story and how God has used short trips for his glory in your life!

    I have been on a number of short term mission trips (from 1 month to 6 months) and now for the last 6 years I have been full time as a missionary.

    Certainly there is a right way and a wrong way to do short term missions. One thing that is important is expectations. People who go on short term missions and think they’re going to convert the whole country are wrong. In general I think one of the greatest impacts of a short trip is the testimony it provides to the locals. Trips that are connected with a local missionary and a local church have much great effect in the long run too.

    Ultimately God called me to missions through a few short term trips that I went on, so God can use them in that fashion too.

    • Jon Stolpe

      Great points, Caleb. That is exactly what happened to the missionary we worked with in Guatemala.