A little over 7 years ago our student ministry had been planning to join several other groups on a trip offered through our state’s convention. Just inside a month before the trip when we found out that a plane crash at our airport of arrival caused our trip to be cancelled. Several days later I received a call from our contact at the convention. In making the decision to join that trip we had also spoken together about other missions opportunities we might consider in the future. He asked me if I were still willing to look into working with a mission partner in Canada, to which I said yes. Little did I know that he had called to see if we would be willing to make such a trip in a matter of a few weeks! A team who had planned to facilitate a baseball camp for kids for a mission planter in Quebec had cancelled last minute and they urgently needed someone to fill in. A few weeks later I found myself with a small team traveling to Rawdon, Quebec. This April I plan on leading a team on my 11th trip to that same town to serve and minister with that same church planter. He has become a dear friend and partner in the ministry as our student ministry enters its 8th year of partnership with him and his church.
I am definitely not against taking students on mission trips through large agencies or organizations, but long-term mission partnerships have come to hold a special place in my heart. Our church has several such relationships all over the world and our student ministry has had 3 of its own, including this one in Canada, during my 8+ years here. In that time I have learned a lot about the place of missions in student ministry. I would definitely not say that mission partnerships are the absolute only way for students to participate; however, I would urge you to prayerfully consider how having such a partnership with your students could serve your ministry and help your students to grow in their love for missions.
Whether you already participate in a mission partnership or you are planning a mission trip for your students in the future, here are a couple of lessons that I’ve learned that I hope you will consider.
1. Focus on the Missionary, not just the work.
One of the healthiest things we can do for the missionaries/church planters we serve on short-term trips is to simply change the scorecard. I tell my students every year, “You want to leave a lasting impact in Canada? Focus your ministry, love and attention on our church planting partner and leave him refreshed.” God has given him a passion to actually live on that field of mission and plant his family there. We, however, will be physically present for only a couple of days. We will always have great opportunities to personally share the gospel and minister to people. Perhaps God may be gracious enough to allow us to see some of the fruit that results from the work we do. But that will probably not be the case most of the time. During our partnership in Canada we have been able to hear, time and again, about the fruit that blossomed long after we returned home from a trip. Most of that fruit has come through us being willing to do work while freeing up our missionary/church planting partner to minister and build relationships. This is especially true in places where language poses a barrier.
2. Teach students that Mission Fields exist for 365 days.
Long-term mission partnerships allow students to invest so much more than a physical presence into missions. We need to be intentional to remind our students that those places we go and visit once or twice a year actually exist all year round! We do this through allowing our partner to video chat with our students from time to time. We do this by consistently praying for them and the work they are apart of all the time. We do this by challenging our students and offering them opportunities to invest financially and spiritually as ministry needs arise. Long-term partnerships allow for this in that students have the opportunity to build lasting relationships with our partners.
3. Promote Healthy Lasting Relationships.
I love to see students initiate and build relationships that last beyond our time on the mission trip. Just a couple of years ago I happened to see a picture on Facebook by our mission partner and his family. They were all wearing awesome knitted hats. I was blown away when I read that a girl in our student ministry had made them! After asking my friend there about them, though, he shared with me that she had been sending them new hats for 3 years! I had no idea. I absolutely loved the idea that one of my students had moved deeper into relationship and ministry with our partner in Canada without my even knowing about it, not to mention the work she had put into blessing them through the talent God had given her. And it was a lot of work—this family has 6 kids!! I also know of ongoing conversations taking place between our students and students in the church with whom we partner. Those students in Quebec can become quite lonely in their walk with Christ, as many times they are the only student in their class or even school who are following Jesus. I am so glad for technology that allows our students to stay in contact with their new friends north of the border and encourage them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
4. Don’t Over-Schedule.
This really is a general admonishment for all mission trip interaction. There are so many aspects of a mission trip that must be planned out and prepared. Don’t get me wrong. We need to strive for excellence in the tasks that we undertake on such a trip. We always need to approach missions with at least some measure of flexibility, though. We can actually hinder our relationship with those we serve if we are so tightly planned that we lose sight of the main thing. Allow for some time to simply build relationships. Prepare your team for the inevitable possibility that plans could change. I always tell our students as we prepare to work with our partners that we are like the little arrow on a computer screen. We want to invite the mission partner to point and click, even if that means leaving a task or diverting from a plan. I have never been on one single mission trip—and I have been on quite a few—where everything went according to the plan we took with us.
Investing long-term into a specific place or ministry through having a mission partner has become one of my favorite aspects of ministry. I have heard a lot of criticism directed toward short-term mission trips over the past several years. Much of that criticism has been warranted. If we are not careful, such trips can become little more than Christian sight-seeing adventures. I have found that investment in a mission partner can guard against that from being the case. There are so many missionaries and church planters who long for this type of consistent interaction with groups. Perhaps you might consider praying through how the Lord might lead your student ministry to develop such a partnership.
If your student ministry has invested long-term in a mission partnership, what would you add to my list of points?
Header image provided through creative commons by SETShots.