During my early years on the mission field, before others came alongside me to work as a team, the task of saturating my city with the gospel seemed daunting. The addition of coworkers was elusive and responsiveness to the gospel slow.
My work in this restricted-access country needed a boost, a breakthrough, a shot in the arm. And just when it felt overwhelming, when packing a bag to return home seemed like a reasonable course of action, relief showed up in the form of a short-term missions team.
You entered my world as an English-teaching camp staff, a basketball team, and a student-exchange team. Each group brought unique talents and personalities, but you all bolstered the local ministry in six significant ways:
You Proved to the People of My City that I am not the Only Christian on the Planet
At the university where I worked, not one person I’d talked to had ever met a Christian, seen a Bible, or attended a church. When I described myself as a follower of Christ, their eyes narrowed and heads tilted as they tried to comprehend the foreigner who seemed to have arrived from another galaxy.
But when you came and professed that you also are believers, they began to understand that Christianity was for everyone: college students, people with tattoos, widows, cancer survivors, housewives, air-traffic controllers, and all races. The people in my city took note of this, realizing the invitation to follow Christ was not limited to white, middle-class American teachers. Your diversity led them to consider that God has a place for them in his family.
You Multiplied the Outreach
You interacted with hundreds of people in the days you were here, swiftly identifying ones who had an interest in Christ. Then you introduced them to me, saving me months—even years—of work that might have been required to produce similar results.
You also met with new Christians and motivated them to grow in their faith, to take it to the next level. And, because you did things I couldn’t do and brought skills I didn’t have, you reached those I’d likely not have known otherwise.
You Improved My Profile in the Community
You taught professionally, played with good sportsmanship, and respected the culture by doing simple things like dressing modestly and eating unfamiliar foods without complaint.
Together we met the needs of the local people instead of just fulfilling our own agendas. You were not merely looking for a new overseas adventure to check off your bucket list or seeking to add a professional experience to your resume. Instead, you intentionally focused on building relationships as the foundation for sharing the gospel. As it turned out, some people weren’t interested in the gospel. Nonetheless, you nurtured relationships with them, met their needs for friendship and acceptance, and helped them improve their English or sports skills. You built bridges between our two cultures and dispelled negative stereotypes they had about Americans and Christians.
When you left, both municipal and university leaders asked me to send more teams like yours in the future. They encouraged me to stay in the city long term because the groups I brought in added value to their lives.
You Helped Me Connect with Home
I’d been away from the United States for a while, and I wondered how far I’d drifted from my native lifestyle and language. I’d kept up with the news on the internet, but I wondered if I could keep up socially. After years of feeling like a misfit, the banter and laughter we shared reaffirmed my sense of belonging to my home culture.
You Invested in My World
Due to complicated travel logistics, I previously didn’t get many visitors, so your arrival was the highlight of my year. I treasured having people from my home culture experience my world and be able to identify and empathize with me. After you left, I could communicate with you about certain places and people, and you knew them from personal experience.
Before you came along, I feared that no one cared about the people in my city, those precious ones who had never heard of Christ, but you proved me wrong. Together we forged paths through rugged spiritual terrain. You helped me see I’m not in this alone.
You also helped me see how far I’ve come. My lack of language, culture, and adjustment skills constantly discouraged me. But when some of the strange smells, sounds, cultural behaviors, and communication struggles unnerved you, but no longer fazed me, I realized I’d made progress. God showed me how well I had adjusted since I first arrived overseas.
You Inspired Me
I respected you when you ate foods you didn’t recognize, sweated more than you ever thought possible, and even pretended to like the dirty hotel because it afforded you a prime location for ministry. Getting overseas was not only cumbersome for you, but it was also expensive. You sacrificed your annual vacation time to be here. Your example inspired me to look past my hardships and persevere.
Honestly, preparing for your arrival took months of my time and was hard on me too. I was even concerned that if you didn’t understand the security needs here, you might end the ministry I’d given my life to. But God unified us in purpose and used your short-term trip to strengthen the ministry for years to come.
When you boarded that rickety, hot bus and waved goodbye as you left town, a flood of satisfaction washed over me. I went back to my muggy apartment, plopped on my bed in exhaustion, and noticed a tear trickling down the side of my face.
Your short-term trip was over, and it was beautiful.
Thank you for coming.
Emily Stockton established an urban ministry team and hosted dozens of short-term teams in a large city in Asia you’ve likely never heard of. She now writes for IMB.