There’s a lot of potential in short-term mission trips. I say “potential,” because sometimes they’re more about the photos and the tans and the trinkets purchased than about serving those you’re visiting.

But sometimes, especially for those who have sufficiently prepared their hearts and minds, they can change the course of a life. Including the life of the one going.

In my late teens, I went on a short-term mission project with my church to a small mountain village a couple of hours northeast of Mexico City. Our week was spent at a Christian ministry for indigenous Mexicans, building beds, working the soil, and doing other manual labor things.

I think we did some real and tangible ministry during that week in rural Mexico. And it also changed me. So much so that I sent a letter to the director, volunteering to serve for up to a year, in whatever capacity he needed.

I ended up teaching a class in music, building furniture out of wood, picking coffee beans during harvest season, traveling to remote villages for baptisms, giving a message at the village church, translating for visiting evangelists, chaufering people to and from Mexico City, painting classrooms, and spending lots of time with the students.

Because I spoke Spanish and didn’t consider myself better than those I went to serve, I think I was able to provide tangible help. And I was changed.

A couple of years later, I ended up leading a short-term project to Mexico City. Fifteen of us undergrad students spent months in advance studying the culture, learning about those we would be serving. And then we drove 55 hours to get there, spent long hot days clearing out a site for a church, and purchased and laid brick for its walls. That really encouraged and motivated the local congregation to finish what we’d started. And it affected those of us who went. At least one of the students went on to do international ministry full-time as a result of that trip.

A few years after that, I found myself in Bogotá, Colombia, working for a couple of months with Operación Bendición Internacional. I helped them streamline their newspaper publication process, build a new radio studio, organize files, move from one location to another, minister at a community outreach, conduct interviews with local pastors, and so on.

During my time there, a group from Florida came down to “minister.” My Colombian friends thought it was a flop: The leaders didn’t speak Spanish, their skit was misunderstood by the glue-sniffing gamines who had come to each lunch. Sometimes a short-term mission trip just doesn’t go as hoped. In this case, maybe they just weren’t sufficiently prepared.

My week in Mexico during my teen years changed my life. My priorities and educational interests changed, for example: One of my undergrad degrees ended up being in Spanish, and one of my master’s degrees ended up being in international communication, with ESL certification.

And that week in Mexico has changed more than just me. My friend Pablo in Mexico has benefited from my having gone; my friend Melqui in Bogotá has benefited from my having gone; my friend Pam in Michigan has benefited from my having gone. As well as numerous others whose names now escape me.

If you’re invited to go on a short-term mission project, I’d encourage you to seriously consider doing it. In my opinion, the more “foreign” the destination, the better; that’ll knock you out of your comfort zone and drive you to trust the Lord amid your discomfort. The money you spend on it is minor in the big scheme of things; you’ll spend more on a TV in a few years than you would on travel and expenses.

My strong counsel: Sacrifice and just do it. If you’re prepared in heart and mind, it may very well be life-changing: for others and for you.

I just have to include some photos from the time I was in the little village in Mexico; click on an image to see it larger. You’re free to ridicule my late-80s attire.

Mexico_002 Mexico_008 Mexico_029 Mexico_014 Mexico_012 Mexico_034 Mexico_018 Mexico_038 Mexico_028 Mexico_011 Mexico_013

From the BoundlessLine blog.
Copyright 2009, Focus on the Family.
Used by permission.

Ted Slater
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