Summers provide great opportunities for short-term mission teams to serve the cause of Christ around the globe. At the same time, missionaries in cross-cultural settings are anticipating the arrival of those teams—a process that can bring joy and excitement, but sometimes fear. Short-term summer mission teams can provide much needed help for missionaries, but for both the missionary team and the volunteer team to profit, each side needs to prepare well.
I’ve been on both sides and benefited greatly from the other. The Lord used short-term opportunities to speak to me about my call to missions fourteen years ago, and I’ve also received great help from summer teams during my time on the field as a career missionary. I rejoice that the Lord will use experiences this summer to call short-term volunteers into lifelong service and real needs will be met at the same time. Although this is true and exciting, volunteers who aren’t careful can hinder the work of the missionaries and cause more harm than good.
As I look back on my time as a short-term volunteer, I am reminded of the help, hospitality, and grace that was abundantly and repeatedly given to me by the missionaries on the field. I was, like most volunteers, highly motivated. But while I had much energy, I did not understand how to best serve the missionary team, which is the role of the short-term worker. In light of this, here are five encouragements I could have benefitted from as a short-term summer volunteer. I hope that they will encourage you too as you serve the Lord this summer.
Press into Christ
Short-term trips provide a great opportunity to refocus and recommit to pursuing a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Go into this summer with a plan for spiritual growth—a plan that relies on God’s Spirit to speak to you and God’s Word to transform you, and that also leads you to a recommitted resolve to actively participate in a spiritual journey. I encourage you to sit down with a parent, pastor, or mentor before you depart and ask that person to help you map out goals that point you to Christ-centered spiritual growth.
Prepare for Your New Context
Packing for an international trip is a lot of fun. I remember falling victim to the hypothetical scenario syndrome, carefully thinking through every potential scenario and trying to pack accordingly. I didn’t know what I was going to face in a foreign country, but I knew I would be prepared for everything. Everything, of course, except for what really mattered. Take this opportunity to learn everything you can about the culture where you will serve. A quick Google search on the city or peoples will help you get started. Don’t be afraid to ask the missionary for good resources related to their context. The missionaries will fill in the gaps concerning relevant issues when you arrive, but you should do your part to prepare first.
Follow the Lead of the Missionary
Missionaries are on the field because God has given them a vision for reaching that city or peoples with the gospel. Missionaries don’t study just the language of the people; they study the cultural values, historical setting, and religious strongholds of the people too. They will be your best source of information for understanding the religious worldview of that context and explaining how to share the gospel in a culturally relevant way. Ask good questions and listen well. They want to see your team make a meaningful contribution. Remember, the more effective your team is, the more it benefits the missionary. Make it your goal to be a blessing to the missionary team by following their lead and contributing in a significant way.
Volunteers who aren’t careful can hinder the work of the missionaries and cause more harm than good.
Detach from Home
Detaching from social media, academic studies, and jobs allows you to narrow your gaze to a laser-focus that is much needed on the field. Social media is a helpful tool that informs supporters how to be praying for you, but oftentimes it becomes a distraction rather than an instrument for good. You have limited time. Use every opportunity to maximize your impact. You can’t do that if your mind is somewhere else. Even on days when plans fall through—and they will—use that time to prayer walk, or check in with the missionary team and ask for simple ways you can help make their life easier.
Preach the Gospel with Grace and Boldness
Regardless of the context to which God has called you to serve, the needs are ultimately the same: people need the hope of the gospel. The sovereign, holy Creator of the universe has purposed a way to redeem disgraced sinners of every nation, tribe, people, and language to himself in the life, death, resurrection, and power of Jesus Christ. And God is calling you to share that message of hope with faith, boldness, and a spirit of grace. Therefore, seek to communicate the hope of Christ to every man, woman, and child the Lord places in your path.
Short-term mission trips are a wonderful blessing to the missionaries on the field, and they have the potential to be life-changing experiences for the volunteers, too. This summer, may the Lord bless you and your team, and use you to declare the glory of God and the majesty of Christ among those who have and have not yet heard the name of our Lord Jesus.
Jack Swift is an IMB missionary in East Asia where he serves on the student strategies team developing training resources for short, mid, and long-term student and young adult missionaries.