Recently, I have seen several different articles and blogs posted on social media about “short term missions.” In the same stretch of time, Ryan and I have had the opportunity to host four short term teams from different parts of the world (California, Virginia, Norway, and Delaware) here at our YWAM base. Just so you know, this post isn’t going to be about what I think short-term teams do right or wrong, nor about their influence on the countries they visit, but rather an honest expression of what we have experienced from short-term teams since we have been here. This is the truth we have found in our experience with short-term teams.
To start, I L-O-V-E short term teams. There are many reasons why. One of the primary reasons is because anyone who chooses to invest their life in long-term missions (whether they live in Africa, Latin America, or the U.S.) most likely came to that conclusion after participating in a short-term missions trip. So, when teams come to serve alongside our YWAM base here in Costa Rica, one of my favorite things is to see the way God speaks to them about how they can use their gifts to serve in His Kingdom long-term. One of the best things about short-term trips is that the people who come on them are removed from their natural environment, their usual comforts, and many of their typical distractions. Although it is a “mountain-top experience” for some, it is often a time in someone’s life when they recognize what they are good at, what they are passionate about, what the world needs, and how they can put those things together to live an intentional, purpose-filled life. There is some truth to what many say “the money spent on a short term team would have a greater impact if it was just sent down instead of being used on a week-long trip for 20 high-schoolers.” That statement would be accurate if the only reason teams came down was to make a difference in that country, but its not. There is so much more.
Real life example: Me. (and Ryan.) The reason that we are here today is because we went on house building trips to Mexico when we were teenagers. God opened up new worlds to us back then, and ruined us for the ordinary forever.
Another aspect that I love about short-term teams is that they remind us long-term missionaries why what we do is so worth it. Not every short-term team does this, but many do. When short-termers come, they are passionate and excited to come and “change the world.” While we know that we can’t quite change the world in one week, four years, or even a lifetime… we are reminded that we can be a part of changing ONE LIFE. Short-term teams often see us as “heroes” and spend a lot of their time asking us why we are here, how did we know we were in the right place, what is our hope for the future, etc. as well as telling us why we are so awesome and how brave we are for choosing this “sacrificial” life. Although we know the truth (that we are simply normal people, broken and redeemed daily, believing in a greater Hope), their encouraging words somehow seem to reignite the fire that was originally set within us, helping us to believe for more in the lives of those around us, inspiring us to love more deeply, and to keep dreaming with the Creator who brought us here. Yes, people from home might be able to encourage us in the same way through prayers and emails, yet having people come and work alongside us experiencing what we do in our daily lives makes a huge difference. And on that note, we are not only encouraged by the words spoken by short-term teams, but inspired by the passionate love that moves through them when they join us in ministry.
For example, there is this awesome team that we have had the privilege of hosting two years in a row, and they always come with a “how can I help?” attitude. They come to serve, rather than to have a cool experience, and they always end up blessing not only us, but the people that we have invested our lives in. The first time this team came, we took them to the streets of San José to hand out coffee and cookies to the men and women who prostitute themselves downtown, and we ended up having an incredible conversation with one of the young guys who had been rejected by his family at age 13, become a transvestite, and had been selling himself on the streets for around 10 years. He asked one of the girls on the team to pray with him after our conversation, and soon after he slowly began opening up to the leaders of our prostitution ministry. Now, this wasn’t just any guy selling himself on the streets, this was a young man who was completely hardened to us, never even accepting a cup of coffee. He was alone and confused and scared, and controlling several of the other men and women on the streets because of it. One of the guys from the team was praying and felt that if we could reach the heart of this young guy, we would have full access to the rest of those on the streets. A year and a half later, that team was visiting again, and one night we were out visiting the women/men on the streets. We ended up seeing the same transvestite, and he came up to us and told us to give him a call. The next day a person from Freedom Street Ministries called him, and during that phone call he told them he had decided to leave his transvestite identity behind and discover his identity in the Creator of the universe. He has now been meeting for discipleship time with the leaders of the ministry for around four months, has discovered that he can find work cutting hair, and best of all, is learning that he was created to be loved.
Now, I’m not saying that God couldn’t have found another way to reach this guy’s heart, but I believe full well that God wanted to use the individuals from that team to remind all of us that when we seek after God’s heart in all situations, He can change lives. Plus, it’s pretty sweet that that short-term team got to be a part of it, because I know that it brought more intimacy to God’s relationship with each one of them. I know this because I got to see it first-hand… I mean, I didn’t just see it, I felt it! God increased the faith and the hope in each one of us through that experience, and reminded us how great He is. After all, no kind of missions (long or short) is about us. God doesn’t need us measly human beings to do what He wants to do in each heart around the globe, yet He chooses to. I think it’s because His greatest desire is for each of us to know Him deeply, truly, and intimately. That’s what missions trips (short or long) do. They show us how much love the Creator has, and teach us first-hand how badly He wants us to experience that love.
So, back to why I love short-term missions teams.
I could go on and on with this, but I’ll stop after this one last thing that I love about teams. When short-term teams come, we all get to learn more about how God created each one of us uniquely, each with different gifts, in order to build a body that functions as one. I love it when we host teams because we get to know who they are as people, what they do at home, where they come from, and what their dreams are. Most of the time, we connect in a way that leads to really cool opportunities and outcomes. Usually, we meet someone who is connected to someone else who really wants to do what we’re doing, or who wants to help us grow certain projects or ministries, or who has had a revelation of their purpose through what we did during their missions trip. It is one of the coolest things to be a part of, because we are reminded that God wants to use all of His children to work together in sharing the only Hope that exists in the world. We get to connect with more people, with different gifts and resources than ourselves, and see how we can collaborate together to impact lives.
That’s our truth about short-term teams.
Love, Nicole (and Ryan)