Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20
This is a passage known as The Great Commission. It captures some of the last words Jesus shared with his disciples.
I’m not a theologian, but I interpret part of this to mean we are supposed to share Christ and His love at home and abroad.
When people hear that my family is involved in short-term missions in Guatemala, they sometimes ask why we need to go so far away to serve others. They point to the incredible need in the United States, and they don’t understand why in the world anyone needs to travel so far away and “waste” so much money to serve people elsewhere. Some also point to the perceived inefficiency and ineffectiveness of overseas short-term missions. (I’ll try to address that in a future post.)
I can’t be everywhere at the same time, and I definitely won’t have an opportunity to serve and make disciples in all nations; however, I can do for one or for a few what I want to do for everyone. And if every Christian develops this mindset, we can actually reach all nations. Our family makes a point of serving in our local community (this is one of the reasons we started H.O.P.E.), but we also try to intentionally invest outside of our local community and around the world.
If you and your family are looking for ways to make the Great Commission a greater reality in your lives, you might want to consider these ideas:
Does the Great Commission involve more than short-term missions? Yes. The Great Commission talks about baptizing and teaching. These are other important areas for you to discuss and discover. Many people do not feel equipped to teach and baptize, and they use that feeling as an excuse not to serve others and to get involved. The Great Commission was meant for the disciples and for you if you call yourself a Christ-follower. If stepping into short-term missions scares you, remember the last sentence. Christ is with you!
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Seriously, the thought of blasting into space and exploring the “final frontier” was an amazing dream I had for a few years. Now, I’m quite content to have my feet firmly on the surface of the earth.
Over the years, I’ve had many other dreams. I’ve dreamed about the possibility of writing a book (a dream that came true with my first book – On Track). I’ve dreamed about the possibility of going to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona (a dream that did not come true).
I think there is something positive about having dreams and desires for our lives. These dreams give us reasons to live intentionally. They give us an avenue to escape from some of the realities we face in our everyday existence. Dreams can give us hope for what is yet to come.
Sometimes our dreams and desires get twisted and tangled. Maybe we let the dreams of our parents become our dreams. Or maybe we look at the “perfect” world of those on television or in the movies thinking our lives would be better if we were just like them. And sometimes we simply chase after the wrong things.
One of the things I love about going on a short-term missions trip is that they always seem to have a way of recalibrating my dreams and desires. Besides expanding your community and changing your perspective, they have a tendency to adjust the way you think about the future.
For example, my dream of building 100 houses in Guatemala for widows and their families didn’t just appear suddenly while I was working at my job in Blue Bell, PA. This dream and desire came about as a result of spending time in Guatemala serving widows and orphans. My short-term missions trip experience in Guatemala allowed me to see the impact a house could have on a family, and I wanted to replicate that for other families.
Last year while our family was coming home from Guatemala, Leanne and I made a decision to sell our house, so we could live more, save more, and give more. After an unsuccessful attempt at selling our house this spring, we remain committed to seeing how this plays out in the coming year. We believe the dream and desire to downsize was not placed on our hearts by accident, and our trips to Guatemala for short-term missions were instrumental in recalibrating our dreams and desires in this way.
When you go on a short-term missions trip, you open yourself up to the possibility of new dreams and desires that go way beyond your wildest expectations. And they go way beyond your self-centered, normal way of thinking.
Going on a short-term mission trip gives you the opportunity to see things from a totally different angle. The different angle will cause a change in your perspective.
For many people, this idea can be quite terrifying. “I’m too scared to see life from a different angle.” “I might not like what I see.” “I might even be convicted to change things in the comfortable life I live everyday.”
For many other people, this idea can be downright unnecessary. “Why do I even need a different perspective. After all, my perspective is the correct perspective.”
Regardless of where you are in life – your age, your economic status, your employment condition, your health, whatever, you need the perspective provided by putting yourself in another person’s shoes.
One of the reasons I value my short-term mission trips is that I always come home with an adjusted perspective. For one, I have learned to appreciate the material blessings in my life, and I’ve learned to hang on to them much more loosely. This comes from seeing how many people live on so little. Secondly, I’ve learned that contentment in life can truly come without the hurried pace of life that seems to exist in many parts of the United States. The mission trips I have experienced have also taught me that I actually have more to give. Life is not just about me. It’s about giving; it’s about sharing; it’s about spreading God’s love through words and actions.
Since I’ve been home, I’ve found it easy to slip back into the rat race of life. One of the reasons I write so frequently about short-term missions and about my experiences in Guatemala is to make sure the perspective changes stick. I do not want the positive perspective changes that have come as a result of going on a short-term missions trip to be a short-term thing in my life.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about short-term missions. They ask me why I think mission trips are important. And sometimes they even tell me I’m crazy for thinking short-term mission trips are worthwhile at all. This week, I’ll share with you some of the reasons I believe short-term mission trips are worthwhile and important.
Before I start, I think it’s important for you to know my history with short-term mission trips. I’ve been on more than a few trips. When I was in high school, I went on five mission trips with my high school youth group. We went to Bellefonte (Pennsylvania), Cherryfield (Maine), Coatesville (Pennsylvania), Rochester (New York), and Syracuse (New York). Each of these trips gave me the opportunity to serve with my fellow students building houses and doing other handyman projects. As I look back on these trips, I remember how much we accomplished, and I also remember the fun we had together working hard and playing.
When I was a college at Grove City College, I had the privilege of going on two Inner City Outreach (ICO) trips to Chicago where we worked with Habitat for Humanity providing housing to people in need in the Irving Park area of Chicago. I’ll always remember playing softball across the street from the Irving Park Methodist Church with Hunter Boyd, Erik Anderson, and Mike Black. These trips gave me an unbelievable opportunity to bond with students from Grove City College while we served during our Easter break.
More recently, I’ve been to Guatemala five times in the past six years where I’ve had opportunities to serve in the villages of Santo Domingo Xenacoj and San Raymundo. These trips have included house construction, feeding programs, and ministry to orphans and widows.
I’ve helped to plan several of these trips, and I’ve attended as a participant. The experiences have all been very valuable. I share this to let you know that I’ve gone on multiple mission trips (and I hope to go on many more). While I still have a lot to learn about short-term missions, I believe I have some experience that has served me well and will hopefully cause you to think about going on a short-term missions trip of your own.
On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by putting you in a foreign place. Whether you serve overseas or domestically, you are likely to find yourself outside your normal community. Thanks to my short-term mission trips, I’ve connected with people from across the country and around the world that I normally would not have met – people like German Espana in Santo Domingo, Guatemala. He’s a man who had tried to provide for his family by working in the United States. His heart for widows and orphans expanded when he moved back to his own village and deepened his relationship with Jesus. I also count as blessings the families we have served – people like Lydia, Betty, Angela, Maria, Dolores, and Carmen. These women and their stories have touched my heart and expanded my understanding of community.
On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by drawing you closer to your team members. This summer when I traveled to Guatemala with a group of 33 people from my church, my community expanded tremendously as I connected with each of the team members and learned many of their stories. The trip gave us an intense and intentional time together where we were able to share together, pray together, eat together, serve together, and even play together. I laughed, cried, and huddled with people I may never have really known outside the missions trip.
On a short-term missions trip, your community expands by opening your eyes to what others are doing to serve. I have connected with so many great people from organizations like Casas por Cristo, Habitat for Humanity, Adventures in Missions (AIM), and GO Ministries as a result of these trips. My community expanded to include people like Tyler Miller (Casas por Cristo), Pete Dockery (Casas por Cristo), Joshua Crabbs (Casas por Cristo), Dave Sgro (GO Ministries), and Seth Barnes (AIM). I’m thankful for these ministries and missionaries who have showed me what it looks like to expand your community with the intention of sharing God’s love.
That community should be happening right where you live, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Now is a great time to consider expanding your community outside your neighborhood through a short-term missions trip.