Short-term missions as a catalyst

By and

The concept of teams and short-term workers causes many missionaries to shudder as they imagine the time and energy it takes to make an experience successful. And to what end? A sightseeing trip? An experiential excursion? Many don’t see the benefits of teams. But Envision, created by The Alliance to mobilize the next generation for Kingdom change, has created trips that enable people to become catalysts for ministries that missionaries, national pastors and local Christians can sustain when the teams depart.

During a particularly hot and humid morning last summer, members of an Envision team from Pennsylvania were cleaning the inside of a youth center on the Tanguin property in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The center is one of many ministries on the site, which will include a church, an elementary school, a vocational/technical high school, a pastor’s house and a soccer field. Other teams had offered labor and funds to complete some of the buildings, but this team was focusing on getting the center ready for the school year.

Suddenly, a throng of 50–60 children surrounded the work site. They were curious, excited to see the nassara (“white people”). While half the team continued to clean the center, the other half went out to play with the kids, loving them and building relationships.

A few moments later, one of the young team members reappeared, distraught. A nursing student with experience in a doctor’s office, she had noticed a boy with a deep cut on his foot. The foot seemed to be changing colors. She asked whether we had a first aid kit but soon realized that Hassan’s wound needed more than mere cleaning and bandaging.

“Could I pay for him to see a doctor?” she asked.

The pastor was called over to look at the cut and was quite concerned as well. It looked like it might be too late to save the big toe and perhaps even the whole foot. If this boy didn’t get treatment, he would probably die within a few days. The pastor agreed to take Hassan to a nearby Christian clinic on his motorbike. The nursing student insisted on paying for treatment.

A few days later, the team visited the pastor to ask about Hassan’s condition. The boy was doing well. A strong antibiotic had stopped the infection, saving not only his foot but even his toe! Hassan’s parents had been deeply moved by the girl’s compassion toward their son. Why would someone from halfway across the world come to their town and show such love to their child? The parents indicated their desire to send their children to the Christian school on the Tanguin property and to attend the church that is to be built there.

This incident illustrates three ways in which Envision teams involved with the Tanguin property have served as catalysts for ministry. First, simply by bringing money and labor for the construction of the projects, the teams are starting something that the church can continue. They are putting valuable tools—a church, schools, a youth center and a soccer field—into the hands of local Christians, who will use them for evangelism and discipleship.

Secondly, teams have shown care and concern for the community as they have worked. This has drawn community members to the property, making them more likely to become involved in the ministries that will take place there after the teams are gone. The children experienced love from this summer’s team as the group played with them and hugged them. Previous teams have also loved on them, so once the church doors open, the school year starts and the youth center activities begin, the children will continue to come, this time being ministered to by a pastor, teachers and local church members.

One summer, another team was digging the foundation for a wall when a local imam (Muslim leader) arrived with a delegation from his mosque carrying shovels and pick axes. He stated that he wanted to help the group that was helping his community. The imam had seen Christ’s love in action, and it compelled him to respond. Perhaps someday his ultimate response might be to want to learn more about this love and attend a church service or to send his children to the Christian schools.

A third way teams act as a catalyst for ministry is by showing compassion. A team member supplied the funds that the family didn’t have to treat Hassan’s gangrenous foot and involved a local pastor who not only made sure Hassan’s foot was cared for but also shared the gospel with his family. The team began a ministry to Hassan and his whole family that the pastor and school will continue. This is what Envision teams are all about!

Short-term interns can also bring positive changes, beginning ministries that the church or other Christians will continue. Before Envision was developed, a young woman named Shellie came to Burkina for four months as an ESL teacher but passed away suddenly during her term. Her testimony changed the life of at least one young man, Adama, who has become an evangelist, bringing many, some who could not be reached by missionaries, into the Kingdom. Or consider Paul, a Toccoa Falls College intern who developed a close relationship with a Burkinabé youth. That youth was considering the pastorate but had a long road ahead of him. Paul was able to keep in touch with him and encourage him. Today, the Burkinabé youth is one of our best pastors.

Envision team members and short-term interns usually aren’t the type of people that want to be entertained or plugged into ministries just to have a “missionary experience.” They may join trips to understand missions or to discover their calling, but ultimately they want to make a difference. When field leadership plugs these young people into a ministry plan they’ve developed with the national church, Envision teams can serve as catalysts for this vital ministry, precipitating events or changes with eternal value in local communities that international workers, pastors, teachers and local church members can continue after the teams and interns are gone.

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