Why bother going on a short-term mission? Every year when it comes time to start planning and thinking about Serve I am met with questions from people like, “Is it really necessary?” It’s a valid question when you consider the needs in our own cities and congregations and how much we spend on Serve. A typical week long mission for 10 youth who go within driving distance can cost around $12,000. Yes, there is need all around and yes, it is really necessary to send youth on a short-term mission. Ignoring the studies that suggest 80% of adults who remain in the church had a mission experience as a youth, short-term mission is not actually about the labour. Yes, the work we do is a significant part of the week, but short-term mission is about living discipleship. What I mean by this is- Serve is about giving youth (and adults) a real life understanding of what it means to be a disciple.
For one week, they leave their homes and routine, they take the bare minimum, travel a distance with other people, hear messages that pertain to their relationship with Christ and their mission and they go into the community and spread that message. They have to surrender their worldly possessions (mostly iPods and cell phones) and focus on relationship with themselves, each other and God. For one week, they let go of their inhibitions and immerse themselves in faith. I’ve watched youth dance in pews, run around the sanctuary during praise songs and reflect emotionally on the message. During the week, they serve their visiting community- but they don’t just ‘work’, they are disciples. They hear the stories of the people, they pray with people and they talk about faith with people. Around meals they enjoy fellowship with each other and discover more about themselves and develop meaningful relationships with people who, hours or days earlier, were complete strangers. Youth who are shy are suddenly talking non-stop, and youth who are normally very talkative are suddenly listening. Youth begin to realize that they are capable of so much more than they imagined. But most importantly- youth begin to understand what it means to be a disciple and to live a life with a servant’s heart.
The Serve experience is something that will forever change how they view their faith and how they read their Bible. Years later, and serving now as an adult leader, I can testify that short-term mission will not be forgotten by youth. They may veer off course as they navigate through teenage years, but their Serve experience becomes part of them; although, sometimes they need to be reminded- which is why it’s also beneficial for youth to go on multiple mission trips. No two experiences will ever be the same.
So why bother going on a short-term mission? The shortest answer being- if you spend time bringing people to Christ, you’re not wasting your time.