Short-Term Teams’ Role in Long-Term Strategy

A few months ago, United World Mission contacted me about writing about the impact of short-term missions on Scripture Union’s ministry. It was recently posted on their blog and I thought I would share it here as well. – Kate

My first short-term mission was in the summer of 2000. The youth group from my church in Dearborn, Michigan loaded up a blue Ford 15-passenger Econoline van and headed east where we would serve at a day center in the city of Pittsburgh. We spent the week helping with various tasks; painting the front entrance, serving meals in the soup kitchen, landscaping and general cleaning of the property. I was just 14 at the time.

The following summer, in 2001, my church decided to send another youth group mission trip but this time instead of driving just 5 hours to Pittsburgh, we boarded planes and headed south to Lima, Peru. A small group of 6 people from my church spent three weeks serving with Scripture Union Peru at their campground locations in the jungle and on the coast. Each day we helped with construction and maintenance projects that were needed at the two locations. Through clearing fields and folding banana leaf fronds in the hot sun, and laying bricks and painting walls on the Pacific coast, we were helping build foundations to grow Scripture Union’s work with abandoned and at-risk children.

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I don’t remember many of the details about that first trip to Peru in 2001 but I do know that a small seed was planted in me. I enjoyed helping further the vision of the children’s homes that Scripture Union wanted to build. I felt like each task we helped with, while being something small, was contributing to the big picture of growing the Kingdom of God here on Earth but specifically within Peru.

Over the years that seed grew and blossomed. I returned to Peru each summer to volunteer with Scripture Union for many years and eventually decided to study Spanish while I was in college. My trips to Peru during the first few years after starting to formally learn the language were completely different than previous years when I simply knew the very basics. All of a sudden the relationships I had built over the previous four years with the help of translators, phrase books, drawings and gestures suddenly had words, depth and understanding. It was during those years that I would return to Michigan really having felt that I had been used by God and my time had been well spent.

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Now, 16 years after that first trip I find myself working full-time with Scripture Union hosting the same short-term missions groups that brought me here to begin with.

Each year as an organization we host multiple high school, college and adult mission groups that come to serve at the 7 homes for abandoned and at-risk children that have been established over the years. Many of the groups we receive each summer have been volunteering with Scripture Union for multiple years, and many of the people in each group are returning volunteers. Groups typically spend 10 to 17 days serving at one or two of our children’s homes where they assist with maintenance projects like painting or minor construction by making adobe bricks.

Processed with Rookie

Processed with Rookie

Unlike my first few trips when the homes were still in development, our volunteer groups now are able to spend time with the children who have been brought to our care by the local court system. They share meals together, spend time in the Word through group devotionals or Vacation Bible School activities, play lots of soccer and group games. It’s the relationships that are developed, despite the language difference, that bring our groups back year after year.

My husband Billy and I spend just about 6 months of the year traveling with volunteer groups and visiting the children’s homes that Scripture Union runs. Each trip is slightly different and each is an opportunity for both of us to dig deeper in relationship with the children in our homes. It has been a personal joy for each of us to see the children that we first met in 2001 or our subsequent trips turning into young men, becoming adults with their own families and growing in their faith. Some of the Peruvian staff we work with today remember us as just kids on our first few short-term trips. At the same time, now that we are here full-time we have built relationships with former volunteers and summer interns that we are able to continue developing through the years and ministry together.

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It is such a blessing to see how the Lord uses members of His body from all around the world to advance our mission and ministry. The majority of the children who arrive at our homes come with a very low self-esteem. They come very difficult pasts where they have suffered all kinds of abuse. More often than not, these issues are compounded by situations of extreme poverty and broken, dysfunctional families. It is hard for many of them to dream about their future. The full-time Peruvian staff in our homes work with the children showing them that they do not need to be defined by their past but rather they have a Creator who loves them for who they are. They no longer have to live in darkness, but can take on the identity of a child of God, following the path of Jesus, the Light of the World, throughout their lives.

The volunteers we receive not only come as encouragement to our full-time staff, they, through their words and the testimony that they live out in front of the children, also affirm the good work that our staff is doing on a daily basis. The message is only compounded when familiar faces choose to return year after year to build relationships by spending time with the children at the home. Every time Billy and I go to one of the homes, we are frequently asked how specific people from various groups are doing and then they will return to visit again. This message that the children in our homes receive is completely worth all of the work that goes into planning each trip and dealing with last minute changes, cancelled flights and transportation strikes.

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Apart from the self-esteem boost that the volunteers give to the children in our homes, they also have become a network of people that keep the ministry in their prayers and advocate for us when they return home. Each volunteer group brings a financial donation to support the ministry, something that has helped us move forward as an organization over the past few years. When volunteers return home, many personally continue to financially support the organization and share about their experiences with a great network of people through their churches, small groups, places of employment, and schools. Many of the people who come as volunteers come because of an experience their friend or family member had previously.

We are thankful for the relationships that have been developed over the years with our short-term volunteers. Their support through visits, prayer and finances have greatly impacted Scripture Union’s ministry with abandoned and at-risk children in a positive way.

– Kate

Originally posted on UWM.org

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