Short-term teams are often limited in their language ability, cultural knowledge, and depth of relationship with the people that they are seeking to minister to. The number of possible activities that a short-term mission team can do is almost limitless but what is the best, most strategic way that a team can spend its limited time? How can they use their short time on the field to produce a potentially long-term impact on the mission field?
I’ve been involved in the world of evangelical missions for almost fifteen years at this point and I’ve been on short-term mission trips, lead short term trips, and now as a long term missionary I have hosted short-term teams on the field. I am convinced that the best, most effective way that short-term missionaries can contribute to the ministry of long-term missionaries and the local church is through serving as bridge builders.
By bridge building, I don’t mean a construction project. Rather, short-termers are in a unique position to help put long-term missionaries and local Christians in contact with people who don’t yet know Christ. In many places, the church is very small and missionaries are often on their own. There is a limit to the number of people they can get to know, and the number of people who would be interested in getting to know them. However, in some ministry contexts, long-term missionaries or local Christians can set up special activities or events to attract non-believers and create a context where they can get to know not only the short-termers but also the long-termers and local Christians. When the short-termers go home, those introductions that have been made can be continued by those still on the field.
An example of bridge building that I’ve seen work fairly well is the long-term missionary or local Christians arranging for an incoming short-term team to teach a couple days of English conversation in a local high school or college. Even though there is a language barrier, the local students are attracted to the short-termers because they are new, different, and exotic (in the from-a-foreign-country sense). At the end of their teaching session, the short-termers invite the students to a special event at the local church or youth ministry center. Some of the students come to such an event. They play games, sing songs, have food, hang out with their new foreign friends, hear testimonies, and maybe a short Gospel message. But they also meet long-term missionaries and local Christians who are at the event. And after the short-termers have gone home, some of those relationships continue. Most the folks who came to check out the foreigners disappear after they go home. But some stay to hear more about the God whom they hadn’t known about before but now seems surprisingly attractive.
What are some other creative ways that a short-term team could serve as bridge builders?