By Eric Iverson / YouthWorks!, Inc. / Minneapolis, Minnesota
Let the Truth Be Told: I have been involved in U.S. Short-Term Missions (STM) all my life and been a part of every aspect of missions during that time. I grew up and currently live in a Host Community, have participated and led STM experiences as a Goer-Guest, and serve at a Sending Organization. The two most overheard statements coming from guests are, “They were so happy with so little” and “I got way more than I gave.” The truth is, hosts are the recipients of the majority of the benefits and positive impact that come from STM efforts within the North American context.
Because of the selfless service of thousands of short-term missionaries (Guests) in economically challenged communities each summer, the people in those communities (Hosts), especially the local churches, benefit most in four ways: through a tremendous amount of encouragement, a healthy portion of joy, a renewed sense of hope, and an increased amount of appreciation of the Cross-centered Gospel. Those outcomes would not be available to us, in the ways I describe, without the annual ministry of STM in our communities.
To teach others – As Hosts partner with Guests, they spend a lot of time teaching others about their cultural context, history, values, and how they live out their faith in their own community every day. Hosts use a voice they have not been allowed to use before, and it encourages them in developing and using their voice. I know of one community where a Host has taught so much that he has started an STM organization bringing students into his community each year to serve alongside him, learn from him, and live out the Gospel with his local church.
To be proud of their identity in Christ – There is satisfaction in being a part of a community where people come to build relationships, grow in their faith, and leave with a deeper and closer relationship with Christ than when they came.
To share the Gospel in their own Jerusalem – Each summer, as Host communities see hundreds of members of the “great cloud of witnesses” come into their community, they feel supported and encouraged to preach the Good News after the Guests have left.
When they see Guests impacted – Hosts receive joy in knowing they played a part in equipping Guests each year to live out the Gospel, not just talk about it. Hosts take joy in knowing that Guests gained a better understanding of how to live the Gospel so that they can live it out where it really matters; back at home.
In being “Christ” to Guests – Hosts in the “Church That Stays” love to express Christ’s love to the Guest from “The Church That Pays.” There is joy in helping a Guest discover that the same Jesus who is loved, worshiped, and glorified in the Guest’s community is living and transforming lives in the Host’s community as well.
That people can change – With more Guests returning to the same community, Hosts have the opportunity to see the same people each year and observe the changes in them. Some have learned to prepare for their trips by doing research about the community, or by committing to growing together as a group before they come. Hosts see people who were too focused on “doing” come back with a heart that has changed and is now focused on learning and on building relationships.
That the Hosts are considered as a part of the Body too – Hosts are gaining hope that Guests are reading the same verses in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 as they are. There is hope that Guests are beginning to see that “those parts of the Body that seem weaker are indispensable…” (v.22). This hope comes as spiritually thirsty Guests come back to a well far from home, are meeting Jesus there, and being satisfied.
Appreciation of the Cross-Centered Gospel
Host too often can view the harm, embarrassment, and shame that have been brought by a few self-righteous and prideful short-term missionaries to communities as an argument against salvation for some. These ideas set limits on God’s grace when it applies to those who do harm in Jesus’ name, and can be found just below the surface for many Hosts. This type of thinking takes the Cross out of the center of the Gospel and places it elsewhere, but not in the center of the good news of Christ’s atonement for all our sins on the Cross.
Short-Term Mission trips build relationships that allow Hosts to see the Guests as sisters and brothers who are washed clean by the same blood that Christ shed. Those relationships help Hosts to see Guests as included in the group of believers Paul describes in Romans 3:22 when he said, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
So, keep serving in the STM field of North America. We are giving a lot more than we think!
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