Short-term Memory


Raise your hand if you’ve ever been on a short-term missions trip. Now keep it raised if the experience changed your worldview and/or your commitment to missions. (Okay—put it down now. People are starting to stare).

I took a short-term trip to China with three friends a few years ago. If you were to ask me about my most vivid recollection of the journey, I might recount the magnificent meal that was prepared for us by the poor, rural church people who likely sacrificed two weeks of income to make that feast possible. Or the bewildered stares of the local barber shop boys as they witnessed their first shearing of a Western noggin. Or my colleague’s detailed account of being awakened in his hotel room by a rat ransacking his Reese’s wrapper.

If these were the prime takeaways from my trek, I’d be planning a do-over—or at least some serious, mountaintop reflecting about my perspective (or lack thereof).

Thankfully, however, my short-term experience gave me a lasting love for the Chinese people. It showed me the source and depth of their spiritual hunger. It brought to light the perpetual scrape of the entrenched rural laborer, the entombed urban worker and the “enlightened” university student—each in desperate pursuit of true spiritual identity. And I emerged more intent on helping them find it.

In short, God used this trip to unsettle my worldview and alter my trajectory. In an age of relentless overstimulation, life often whisks us from one escapade to another with little opportunity to ponder where we’re going or where we’ve been. If we simply tag along for the ride, our short-term experience will never out-live our short-term memory. In reality, what happens before and after the adventure is far more momentous than the adventure itself. We must prepare by asking God for a glimpse of the world as He sees it and respond by allowing Him to fashion us into instruments of reconciliation.

A colleague often reminds me that, notwithstanding the immediate, tangible benefits and blessings a short-term team can deliver, the highest purpose of a missions trip is to turn short-term interest into long-term involvement. As George Miley, founder of the Antioch Network, further asserts, “Any short-term activity finds its greatest value when it exists, not for its own benefit, but as an integral part of a long-term process.” Raise your hand if you agree.

Annaleigh Adelgren agrees. Last fall, she and her dad hopped a plane to Mali so the teen could take a closer look at medical missions, an area where she feels God is calling her to serve. Though she knows she is young and the details may change, the experience in Africa solidiꀀed her commitment to GO (that’s Annaleigh on the cover, by the way).

In contrast, Jim Kadle, who grew up overseas, had the chance to visit a country he had never felt a burden for. Cambodia was just a place on a map. Once there, how-ever, he fell in love with her people and his perspective was forever changed.

Others you’ll read about in this issue went overseas for a specific purpose: to inoculate livestock, to work in a hospital (but really, to receive a special message) or to just look (at the invitation of the government). Each returned more fully devoted to God’s purposeful plan for this wounded world.

So here’s the long and short of it: Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple. Are you fully devoted? If you have any doubt, check it out. Jump a train. Hop a plane. (I know—sounds like Dr. Simpson meets Dr. Seuss). Do whatever it takes, for heaven’s sakes!

If you’d like more information about short-term trips with The Alliance, raise your hand (then read ENvision).

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