We are sometimes asked this question and it made me think about short-term missions and its relationship to missions as a whole. People go on a missions trip and do things that they wouldn’t normally do back at home, and sometimes they feel uncomfortable doing those things. My answer is: Come over and do what you’re good at!
Let me explain. Many faithful believers who have a heart for missions want to get involved, but they don’t regularly preach or teach the Bible. When they go on a missions trip, they want to do what they know missionaries do – and praise the Lord for them wanting to get out of their comfort zone, be bold and courageous, and tell others about Christ! But doing what they are not used to doing can make them feel uncomfortable. And there can be other problems when trying to do these things in a foreign context.
For one thing, most often they will need translators who can take their words into another language. Beyond that, language is more than just words, it is culture. Sometimes they will describe the gospel in ways that are familiar to someone from Texas or Michigan, but would be unfamiliar to a person in Burma or Ukraine.
Explaining the gospel by referring to things like American money or political issues can be interesting, but are sometimes incomprehensible and may even be offensive to a foreign audence. It simply takes a while to learn the culture and this can be hard on a short term trip.
Missionaries in most countries of the world now are working with national partners alongside existing churches. Missionaries in those countries are still very important and play a role that the believers in those countries are asking them to play.
Full-time missionaries need to live in the countries where they serve – with the people, learning their culture and language, and ministering to and with them in their world.
So how can short-term missions be helpful in that?
Missionaries today are working in a wide variety of situations – in churches, in schools, in seminaries, in hospitals, in stores, in businesses, and in homes. They are working with established churches and new churches, in large cities and in small villages. And in all of these situations, there are a myriad of different skills that are necessary to keep things functioning. There are some really talented missionaries who, it seems, can do it all. But not all missionaries are like that.
Missionaries need help with construction and repair, accounting (either as individuals or as a team of missionaries on a certain field), computers, video, audio, communications with blogs or websites, education (especially for kids), legal issues, and many other things.
So what do I recommend?
Take a look at yourself and your church. Find out what skills you have that a missionary may need. Then contact your missionaries and ask them if any of those services would be helpful.
Here are some examples:
- A lawyer could come over to a mission field and give a seminar on legal issues related to religious workers, taxes, retirement, and wills.
- A computer technician could come over an help missionaries set up networks or solve other computer kinds of problems. Perhaps they could give a seminar on different technologies that would be helpful.
- A person who has outdoor skills or craft skills could come over and help with summer camps.
- A person who is good at photography and video could come over with the express intention of filming or photographing the missionaries in action. Many missionaries are busy and don’t often stop in the middle of talking to someone and ask if they can take a picture. And when they do they are not necessarily good at putting together a presentation.
- A person in a health related field could come over and minister to either the missionaries or to others in their communities, or give seminars on health or other topics.
God has made us all different and one persons skills and calling is not better than anothers. Paul says that every part of the body is important for building the body up. So if you want to come over on a short-term missions trip, come on over! But don’t feel like you will only be doing valuable work if you have to do what you don’t feel comfortable with. Come over and do what you’re good at. Come over and serve God with the gifts and skills he has given you. The church makes he greatest impact when we are all living as a body with all its different parts contributing to the work of the whole.