I am a huge fan of short-term missions…
And this summer I had the privilege of leading two separate groups: 1) Colonial Church in Edina, MN and 2) my home church, Park Street in Boston.
As I describe aspects of the trip, I’ll try to share some of the reasons for why I’m such a cheerleader of short-term team experiences.
A Tale of Two Trips
First I should mention that the two trips were pretty distinct in terms of flavor and purpose.
The first trip was comprised of eleven (11) 9th graders, five (5) staff members and four (4) parents from Colonial Church in Edina, MN. If the church sounds familiar it’s because Daniel Harrell is now their Senior Pastor after serving as a pastor of Park Street Church for 20 years.
Daniel co-lead the team along with his wife Dawn (another former long-time Park Streeter).
The occasion for the trip was the completion of a 9th grade confirmation class for the students who came. Instead of traveling to Minneapolis for their final service encounter, the group travelled to Medellin.
The purpose of the trip was twofold: 1) to have an immersive cross-cultural experience and 2) to experience the different facets of what God was doing through the church in Medellín. Thus, from the outset, we were not planning a traditional short-term team trip where we built a house, served an orphanage or otherwise had an intense service experience.
Short-Term Is About Who Goes as Well
And this brings me to the first reason why I love these outings. I believe short-term team experiences are as much about the people that go as about the people the team serves.
Too often, we look at these outings in terms of ROI.
Why don’t we just send cash. It would be a wiser use of money. But this is the wrong approach. I believe investing $2,000 in our children and parents in order for them to have a formative experience together is an incredible investment in the kingdom.
The ROI cannot always be measured. The payoff may be decades from now.
What Exactly Is God Doing in Medellín?
One of the beauties of the type of trip I organized for Colonial was how the team was able to experience a variety of ministries and to learn from their exposure to the students and staff of the Biblical Seminary of Colombia where I teach.
- We visited and served with Fresh Wind Ministries, a home for at-risk children, that feeds and educates over 300 kids every day in one of the worst drug, occult and prostitution infected sections of the city.
- We went to serve bread and water with the City of Refuge foundation. Our kids and parents huddled and prayed with people in a sea of humanity filled with drugs, desolation and darkness. We almost didn’t get out of the bus because it was that frightening.
- We went to a catholic mass, a holy roller Saturday celebration and a homeless church service and all three were different faces of the church.
- We learned about the armed conflict that has wracked Colombia from the former ambassador from Colombia and who is now a professor of New Testament at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia.
- We visited seminary students’ homes, had refreshments and heard their testimonies of how God had brought them to the seminary. Some of the stories could be a movie in themselves.
And this is the second reason I love short-term missions experiences.
You quickly realize that God’s wonderful love is there with the people who are hurting the most. And you cannot help but be inspired in your own faith when you see the passion and commitment that people have as they serve in God’s name.
To fight for people in a place that’s teeming with drugs, prostitution and the occult and see God victorious. Wow! That is something else.
Park Street Comes to Medellín
When I lead a team from Park Street Church, we had a more traditional but no less inspiring experience.
Our team was 53 people strong! Yowza. One part comprised our youth group making its fourth trip to Medellin in the last 6 years. The other was comprised of families and their children.
And this is a third reason why I like it when the church sends out its own for these trips.
It’s one thing to take a vacation with your kids. It’s quite another to teach an ESL course in another country and culture. It is an experience you will never forget, and one upon which families can build upon with their children.
Do You Speak English?
Our teams taught an intensive ESL camp to 380 students of a local public school. This public school sits right behind the Biblical Seminary of Colombia campus, so there is a great opportunity for social and ministerial interaction throughout the year.
We ran two programs. Our youth group taught 9th, 10th and 11th graders and our families taught 3rd and 4th graders.
Working with 380 students is a bit of an adrenaline rush. Teaching them every day opens up so many dynamic avenues for growth and ministry:
- It is an intensely growing experience to teach ESL in a foreign context
- Teaching the same kids every day allows many opportunities for sharing and being challenged
- Serving the same group of people for a week fills your heart with so much love for them and for the wider world
And those are reasons 4, 5 and 6 for why I’m a fan of short-term trips, especially when you mix in ESL.
There are many more, but we’ll stop there.
I had a wonderful summer in Medellín. There is much joy in being able to participate in others’ unforgettable experiences.