I guess because summer is upon us and a lot of people are going on short term missions trips, there have been a lot of articles and blogs around the web on what short terms missions are for. I wrote this article about a blog post that I strongly disagree with, and posted this link on the Ten Eighteen Facebook page to one I strong agree with. Ten Eighteen is about to take it’s second group for a short term missions trip, so I thought I’d give an explanation of our mission and vision for those who might not have heard me talk about it.
Ten Eighteen is not an organization that specializes in short term missions trips. We did one team trip in August of 2011 to do a basketball camp in Nsambya for 44 kids from Ray of Hope. To date, that’s our only team trip.
Why? From our founding, Ten Eighteen has been about relationships. We never intended to have a “one and done” type of a ministry. We have returned to Uganda 6 times since the original visit (or, more accurately 8, since my daughter went twice by herself). On each trip, we stick with our mission, which is to continue to build relationships with the people we have met and work with there. We do not promote an atmosphere of hand-outs, which is very easily done when you are going on a one-time, short term trip. It feels good to give kids stuff, to see them smile… But in most cases, that does more harm than good. It fosters an entitlement/welfare mentality, rather than one where self-reliance is the goal.
So why not big teams? I have been able to go 7 times. I have been able to get to know the ladies of Nawezakana, the kids of Ray of Hope and Nesco, the children at the babies home, the staff of hospice. We email, we Facebook, we even Tweet. My daughter has received a dozen or more wonderful, loving, heartfelt messages of congratulations on her upcoming marriage from her Ugandan friends. Taking teams takes time. Group mentalities are what they are – when you are with a group of people you know, you naturally talk to those people. You move as a big blob through the environment, making it difficult for people to break in and talk to you. That doesn’t help our goal of relationship.
Well then, why do teams at all? First and foremost, because on both occasions, God has been very clear about doing it. The basketball camp was God’s idea, and the camp went great. We had a dozen Ugandan volunteers along with our six, and the kids had a blast. This youth camp is the same. When we were in Andros over Easter, God gave me a very clear vision of this camp. One way to know an idea is from God is if it’s something that isn’t at all in your wheelhouse. These camps aren’t. I’m an introvert that doesn’t love large groups. I find being responsible for groups stressful. I enjoy one-on-one interaction. But I am ridiculously excited about this team and this camp, and that’s how I know it’s a God thing.
Shouldn’t you do one every year, if they go so well? The typical “church” answer would be, “Of course!” We tend to try to institutionalize anything that is successful once. We were asked when we were doing another basketball camp, and my answer was (and remains), “When God tells me to do it.” He hasn’t yet. The same will be true of this youth camp in Andros in August. No matter how well it goes, unless God tells me to, I will not start planning “Youth Camp 2014″ as soon as we get home. There are times and seasons for everything. Success doesn’t mean you must duplicate. Obedience is what God’s after. Those are the principles on which we operate.
So what’s in it for me? Well… maybe nothing except a new stamp in your passport. You might get sick. You might be hot and miserable. You might find a bunch of kids annoying. You might hate the food. You might hate being with a group of people for a week. You might not cope well with a lack of power, water, or internet. If you’re going because there’s something in it for you, PLEASE reconsider spending your money (or other people’s donations). If God calls you to a missions trip, it’s for the people you’ll be serving. Your lack of ability to cope, eat, sleep, or be content and happy will be more than made up for by God’s… If you let it. Take one week (or however long your trip is), put yourself aside, and serve others to the best of your ability. Hug, laugh, talk, and show His love. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re grumpy. Give to whoever He called you to what He has given to you – uncompromising, unequivocal, unconditional love.
My family and I go to Uganda, and now Andros, as an ongoing calling. We don’t consider what we do “short term missions” even though we’re there between 2-4 weeks at a time. We are visiting friends. We are showing God’s love in the ways that He opens up for us. Maybe thinking about your short term trip in this same way will help you keep your focus on what’s ultimately important: HIM.