Up till five years ago, I was cynical on the purpose of mission trips.
I knew it was a commandment in Scripture that spanned as far back as the account of Jonah in the Old Testament, and was even able to quote the parts where the Bible’s call to missions was clear (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:18–20). Yet, l struggled to see the place for missions displayed in practical terms – weren’t they no more than a platform for the sending organisation to assert superiority?
After my trip with Cru in late 2012, I moved to my present church. I hadn’t moved for missions-related reasons, but unlike the church where I had grown up, there was a greater focus on missions work here.
The first time I attended Mission Sunday service in early 2013, it was strange to hear the missions committee share with fervour about a community of people in a Chinese town whose name I had not heard of until that day.
As they updated the congregation with photographs of new gospel partners in the ministry, I was intrigued – for the first time, there was a name and face to missions, which had earlier been an abstract ideal.
That first Mission Sunday was insufficient to convince me of the full value of missions, but it sparked the curiosity to find out more about church’s mission work in China – where was this place, who were these people? As the year progressed, I watched as my friends made trips to China for various programmes such as English teaching, discipleship, and Christmas outreach.
Without exception, every team that came back shared how the members of the local church stood firm in faith (2 Corinthians 1:24). This was even more remarkable given the difficulties of being in a small church where members’ attendance were not always regular.
The teams also recounted the local believers’ desire for, and growth in spiritual maturity from since they first believed (Colossians 1:28, 4:12). Over time, God softened my cynical heart and by the end of 2013, I resolved to join a team for a trip when the opportunity availed.
This materialised in late 2014, where I had the opportunity to go for winter missions. In the course of a week, we attended a Chinese church service, conducted Christmas parties, and spent time in mutual encouragement and prayer with the local believers in the evenings.
As I wrote my reflections post-trip, I realised that the trip didn’t even feel like missions in the sense I had understood. Instead, it felt more like returning home to friends, since my interactions with the locals warmed my heart – they were hospitable and welcoming.
Short-term missions may not have significant immediate impact, they can serve as stepping stones to which God may call us to serve as longer-term missionaries.
Following this, I availed myself for winter missions again in 2015. By then, it was a commitment I made out of the desire to remain connected to our community of gospel partners abroad.
2015 was also the time my friends affirmed their desire to enter full-time missions through a ministry apprenticeship scheme in church. This is a two-year ministry training programme which culminates in being sent abroad for a term in the mission field. As they shared with me their motivations behind this decision, I realised that their decision to serve in missions was not a sudden, overnight one.
Instead, God had shaped their hearts through numerous short-term trips over the years, aligning their hearts to heed His call of proclaiming the gospel into all the world. This helped me see that while short-term missions may not have significant immediate impact, they can serve as stepping stones to which God may call us to serve as longer-term missionaries.
However, the opportunities to go on mission trips did not diminish my cynicism towards short-term mission trips either. While I now see the value that cumulative short-term mission trips have on their recipients, I am also mindful when helping to plan for these trips that the programmes should meet the needs of the recipients and not push the agenda of the sending team.
While not everyone may have the chance or be suited to participate in a mission trip, I think on accurate understanding of the heart of missions is crucial. As God commands the church to be His witnesses worldwide, our hearts receive this command in obedience (Acts 1:8).
Nonetheless, in seasons when we are not in the frontline of the mission field, we can pray for the people who have been sent as we remain behind. In such seasons, may we then be missional to meet the needs of our local communities as we are placed.