Earlier this week, I wrote a post outlining some of the criticisms often leveled at short-term mission projects. Click here to check out that post if you haven’t already.
While in Guatemala last week, I had an incredible time. There were a number of factors that made the trip worthwhile, in spite of the arguments I outlined earlier. I’d like to share some of the highlights of the week, and offer some responses to what I said in part 1 of this series.
1. The trip was intergenerational and cross-cultural. For one week, I saw a slice of what heaven will be like. People from all over the world joined together to serve God and others. Young worked alongside old. Poor worked with rich. Male and female. Spanish speaking and English speaking. These distinctions didn’t mean as much when we all were on the ground, getting dirty together, serving others.
Just in the group from our church we had four pairs of parents with their children present. Parents of all ages worked alongside their adult children. It was powerful to see the unity displayed through service.
2. The connections we made go beyond the week we spent in Guatemala. Throughout the week, I was privileged to spend time with a senior in high school named Walter. It was a perfect pairing. He wanted to improve his English and I wanted to improve my Spanish. So we frequently spent our time in the evenings together talking about anything and everything.
It didn’t take very long for us to discover that we both have Facebook accounts. After friend-ing each other at the end of the week, we’ve continued our conversations online. This is a wonderful tool that has only been available in recent years. It has dramatically benefited the type of impact we can have in mission work.
Throughout the week, many of the people we worked with remembered us from our time in Guatemala the year before, and they were already asking us when we planned to return. Two of the people who work with Hope Haven, Ilse and Mickey, have spoken in our church in the past. It was great to connect with them again, and see them in their element, serving others. Their continuity in the local community ensured that we weren’t duplicating the work of other groups or working in places that didn’t need our help.
Connections like these give significance to our work on a whole new level.
3. Because of these connections, we were able to work alongside people, not just for them. One of my favorite experiences of the trip was working with a gentleman named Eddie. He and I spent probably an hour together, driving back and forth in Antigua, talking about our families and our future plans, as we collected wheelchair parts for our team and Hope Haven’s team.
Our team spent a morning working alongside the Hope Haven factory workers in an Antigua hospital, refurbishing wheelchairs for the elderly. Eddie and I replaced the wheels, bearings, and breaks on a woman’s wheelchair. We had grown up in different parts of the world, spoke different languages, and because of our common love of Jesus, we worked together to serve an elderly woman we didn’t know.
Working with Eddie, learning from his expertise, humbled me and empowered him.
4. Although short-term international trips are expensive, the gain is worth the cost. Yes, it would be easier to send local organizations a large check and move on with our lives. And yes, those organizations could purchase more homes and hire local help with the money we spent to fly down to Guatemala.
However, something amazing happens when we respond to God’s calling to serve others and be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Our perspective shifts. We realize that God cares about more in life than just what we experience in our own bubble. We meet real people and hear real stories. Poverty becomes more than an issue. Suffering moves from the abstract to the concrete.
Every Christian needs to experience this transformation. The heart of every Christian needs to be broken for those who suffer in this world. The surefire way to break our hearts for others is to spend time with people.
And no amount of money can do this work in one’s heart.
5. Mission trips do have a lasting impact. Growing up in Southern California, I was a racist. I had terrible conceptions of Mexican people and felt very comfortable sharing those views with just about anybody. Yet, God began to gradually work in my heart during the spring break of my freshman year of high school.
Our senior high youth group spent the week working in an orphanage near Ensenada, Mexico. Now, God didn’t do something instantaneous or dramatic in my life after that trip.
But I went back the next year.
I returned all four years in high school and spent most of my summer before my senior year living at the orphanage, hanging out with the kids, teaching them to read.
Because of how much I enjoyed my experiences in Mexico, I studied Spanish through all four years of high school and minored in it at Seattle Pacific. Although I’ve never become fluent, I’ve always marveled at that moment when somebody from a different culture connects with me and we realize that we can communicate with each other.
Through all of these experiences, God has given me a heart for Latin America that I never had before. And it all started with a week-long trip to an orphanage near Ensenada, digging trenches for a new gym that never got built.
If our church sends people on short-term mission trips and God uses that trip to grab a hold of just one person’s heart, then the money and time spent was worth it. Because with one changed heart, God can change a generation.
So do these reasons outweigh the costs outlined in part 1? Am I leaving anything out? How have you seen God use short-term mission projects?