The Springboard of Short-term Missions

Short-term missions can lead to a lifetime of ministry

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was obvious by the suction cups that they were octopus tentacles. It was also obvious by the delight with which the pastor’s wife served them (cut up, in a large bowl, with chop sticks perched on the side) that I too was supposed to enjoy them. They looked raw, two-toned pinkish and like they would get stuck to the inside of my throat. Just then I remembered the time-tested wisdom of a friend: “When you get into a tricky situation, just think what a great story it will make!” They didn’t stick to my throat, the pastor’s wife was delighted to see me eat the entire bowlful and it was one more experience which helped me understand that I could adjust to a culture dissimilar to my own.

My short-term assignment in Osaka, Japan opened up for me the breadth of God’s creation. I was fascinated by the difference in the people and the culture. As I had to depend on God in various situations, I came to experience his power and leading in my own life. As I drew closer to God’s heart through his word, prayer, music and the experience of his creation, I felt my own heart propelled toward those whom he loves and for whom Jesus died. I was drawn toward those who had not yet heard the gospel.

At the very same time God was working in the heart of a young woman who was on a short-term assignment in a remote mission hospital in the mountains of western Nepal. Her life was changed through her service to people who often had to walk long distances to reach the clinic.

We both saw firsthand what God was doing in other countries. We both experienced the provision, the power and the protection of God in a variety of situations. Most of all, we saw the heart of God for his creation, and we bonded with that heart. God used these experiences to bring Dorothy, my wife, and I together and eventually to bring us to Japan where we served for over fifteen years with SEND International. Our experiences are not unusual. Over eighty percent of the SEND career members have had short-term experience. Their time overseas captured their hearts and refocused their minds. 

Establishing a Ministry
In addition to the impact these trips have on individual missionaries, we have also seen a significant impact on whole ministries overseas. We’ve seen the investment of short-term teams as they establish a ministry. In Macedonia for example, Eric led a succession of short-term teams into this region. Through the teams, contacts were made, new ministries were opened and the first church planting work was established. Some of those short-term workers eventually returned as career members to form the core of our team there. 

Growing a Ministry
We’ve seen the investment of short-term teams grow a ministry. Rick had a passion to reach troubled youth. With only a few resources (but much faith!), he began connecting with kids in western Russia. Youth meetings and summer camps provided great opportunities for evangelism and discipleship. Summer teams began flowing into western Russia, and people saw firsthand what God was doing among the youth of this area. These short-termers returned to North America changed. Having an expanded vision of what God was doing and of what he could do through them, some have returned for multiple short-term trips while others have committed the rest of their careers to reaching these troubled youth. This ministry has now expanded into four cities and includes a national staff of eleven people, most of whom came to Christ through this ministry and were discipled by Rick. We also have a small business and radio outreach. Recently we established a growing SEND church planting team. A drug and alcohol recovery center has been opened and includes a leadership training course where young men are mentored to be leaders in their community, sharing the life-changing work of Jesus in their lives with others. With new team members being added, we have a vision to see this type of ministry expanded across Russia. 

The Spin-off of Ministry
We’ve seen the investment of short-term teams spin off completely new ministries.  Conversations with officials in Albania opened the door in a country where communism had stifled initiatives and developed habits that were hurting the country. These officials were asking for farmers from North America to come on short-term teams and teach Albanian farmers to run independent and productive farms. For a number of years SEND led teams of farmers into Albania to share their insights and practices. Farmers sharing with farmers broke down barriers and allowed for more open communication. As this work grew, these men from North America established their own organization to continue the project. Godly farmers discovered through short-term opportunities that God could use even their well-developed skills to be a platform for sharing the gospel in another country.

For all the above people, the world opened up through a short-term trip, a trip where God bonded their hearts with his own. These short-term experiences were not an end in themselves, but acted as springboards to the rest of their lives. It began with a series of experiences where they stepped out in faith and saw God’s heart for his creation. 

There is a Chinese proverb that tells of a frog in a well. A farmer comes by and asks the frog, “How big is the sky?” The frog looks up the through the top of the well and, pointing, says “That big.” The farmer lowers a bucket, brings the frog out of the well, places him on the ground and then asks, “How big is the sky?” The frog is amazed as it looks from horizon to horizon. Stretching its front legs wide it responds, “This big!”

My short-term experience brought me out of my well and catapulted me into the vastness of God’s heart. It took me from what I knew, to the boundless reaches of God’s creation.  I found that the deeper I experienced him through the ups and downs of living overseas, the more I was propelled toward those he loves and for whom he died. My short-term experience became a spring board to a life invested in seeing changed hearts and changed communities among the least reached. Where will your short-term trip take you?

Warren Janzen is general director of SEND International. Janzen served in Japan with SEND for fifteen years and as Japan area director for five years. He and his wife Dorothy are veteran church planters and experienced leadership trainers.