God’s people are getting ready to head out to serve all across the globe. For many of them, this is their first STM. They’ve anticipated it for months, and they’re excited to be finally taking off.
Are these teams really ready for what’s ahead?
Fourteen years ago we were training to be short-term mission leaders with an international mission organization, and to this day, we still believe that the most valuable lesson we learned right from the start was the importance of being flexible and holding onto every plan with an opened hand.
It’s the Nature of Missions
Expect the unexpected.
Be ready to accept change at a moment’s notice.
It’s essential to short-term missions, no matter how straightforward or complex the mission may be. To respond otherwise will surely bring unnecessary hardship on the team, the host missionary, and the host culture. And that is NOT a good place to be when you’re representing Christ in the world.
Despite diligent efforts to avoid it, mission trips, in some degree or another, seldom go according to plan. There are just too many variables at play. We categorize those variables on three levels:
Getting Off the Ground. Leaving the U.S. can be disrupted by weather delays, mechanical problems, lost/forgotten passports, or sudden illness (we’ve experienced them all!). The same goes for the return trip home.
The Arrival. As soon as the team arrives, myriad challenging changes can easily be awaiting the team, from delayed pick-up and/or not enough vehicles to transport people and luggage, to being told that lodging arrangements have changed, to discovering that the whole mission assignment is completely different (we once arrived with a medical team that ended up doing construction work).
On the Field. After a day or two, reality sets in, and the team will be challenged in multiple ways. Along with changing agendas, the team will begin to encounter travel fatigue, culture shock, contradictions to expectations, and all sorts of surprise unknowns, and it becomes evident real fast that teams are not made up of people from the same mold. This is the crucial point that reveals whether or not the team came prepared to meet its greatest challenge. Will it prove to be flexible or rigid? Will it adjust or fight against the challenges? Will it overcome or break down?
We once led a team to Argentina where nothing went as planned for the two weeks we were there. It was so prevalent that at any time on any given day, you could hear someone reciting the team motto that we adopted for ourselves…
The circumstances could have ruined us, especially since we had some very structure-oriented people on the team. But the adverse affects were short-circuited months earlier by instilling the value of flexibility and readiness during the team training. As a result, our memories of the experience are filled with beauty, not ashes.
Think About It: What would have happened if Mary and Joseph rejected the Holy Spirit’s interruption in their life? How would the hemorrhaging woman or blind Bartimaeus feel if Jesus hadn’t stopped when they disrupted the course He was on? Or what about Paul, on the numerous occasions when God changed his plans?
The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. (Prov. 16:9)
Are you heading out on a short-term mission this summer? Are you ready for what’s ahead?
Questions about STM preparedness? We’d love to help!