I can’t say I was an overwhelming blessing on my first mission trip. In fact, I can say with some certainty that I was hopeless in Spanish, susceptible to stomach problems, but completely enamored with Mexico. My habit in communicating was to nod and smile and be affirming, even if I didn’t know what was being said, or being asked. One night I discovered I had unwittingly agreed to speak to the Presbyterian women’s society on the subject of sex!
We enthusiastically led children’s programs and vacation Bible schools, but carrying out simple tasked – like laundry – was beyond us. The ladies would watch us lamely try, and then insist and take our clothes and wash them. Coming to serve, we got outserved. Royally outserved.
What is a short term mission really? What if we stripped away the need we feel to get something done, and we focused on how God is discipling us through the process?
What if short-term missions were really pilgrimages, the beginning of a life lived in mission?
Thousands of pilgrims each year walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostelle. The walkers say the crucial thing is paying attention to God and how He is shaping them through the experience. Many take with them a question they are wrestling with or a challenge they are facing in their day to day life. Walking with God doing His camino provides a spaciousness and focus to stay present to God.
Short term missions have been a camino for me of my discipleship. I have walked along the camino in the Yucatan and grown taller – literally – as I found the heavy mud added layer upon layer to the bottom of my shoes. Also, walking with friends in unfamiliar places, enjoying the hospitality of new friends, God has grown me in gratitude and perspective to be a global Christian. Through these experiences God has also challenged me, my pride and selfishness emerging in those dissonant moments, and I find, like I do on so many hikes, that I need to repent, U-TURN, and get on the right path again.
The STM experience should be a journey in our discipleship; if we are going only for what we can do, or what we can add or say, then we are susceptible to believe ourselves too important, too integral, as If God cannot do anything without us. Short-term missions opens our eyes to God’s work in another context; it is not the four weeks in which we change the world. It is the four weeks in which the God’s work in the world changes us.
The taste of God’s global work growing not only changes us, it makes us long for this food always. So walking along this STM as a camino is the beginning of our life as a mission pilgrim. The aim of the pilgrim is to keep sojourning along towards God’s kingdom, not to put up one’s feet and pack away the memories like old photos.
My camino in missions has led me back to Mexico many times, as well as many other places. I became conversant in Spanish, my stomach adjusted to the food quite well, (even now my mouth waters at the thought of my host’s cooking – que sabroso!), and yet I still find I can’t avoid getting into confusing situations (though I have not been invited back to speak on sex I’m happy to say), misunderstandings, and still find I need to keep learning, growing, and making U-turns to get back on His right path.
Next issue: What if all Caminos (and touristic travel) were more like short-term missions?
director of missions IVCF
Mission Pilgrims is the call to live all life as a mission road following Jesus, growing as disciples as we go making disciples.
I host this blog but will involve many other contributors who are walking in Jesus mission with their lives, including:
Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff and students, campers, alumni, teachers, engineers, doctors, business, social workers, bakers, and candlestick-makers. Jesus calls all in His life-long mission pilgrimage whether its across the street or across the world.
For more extraordinary stories of our short-term missions, go to Extraordinary Stories