By Scott Catoe (Guest Author)
[This is part 3 of a 3-part series. You can find Part 1 here.]
The trip is over. You are driving or flying home and your thoughts of the week are only being interrupted by the raucous snores of the team that just spent its week doing some crazy, radical, servant-based things that you hope will leave an impact. In the midst of the interrupted silences, yawns, and the longing to get home and get a shower and sleep in your own bed, you questions if you did well. How do you know? How do you evaluate your trip? Five questions come to mind that may be helpful for you as you are thinking about whether or not you succeeded?
1. Do I understand and know how to encourage the missionary or church planter more because I spent time in his or her context? Do you know more about the context and the missionary planter? Can I communicate with the people in my context how vital supporting those people are? Can the members of our team communicate how critical their work was? These things are more helpful than you realize, primarily for their ability to help answer the second question.
2. Have I opened the door for a long-term relationship with this missionary or church planter? If your group leaves talking about "next year," that's a good thing. If the missionary starts talking about "next year" with you, that's an even better thing. Long-term relationships matter.
3. Has God been honored and glorified through our work together? This answer is often harder to objectify, but is extremely important, especially when you are on mission in hard places. God honors faithfulness. Has your team been faithful. God honors labor. Have you labored well. Above all, God answers prayer. Did your group pray? Did they pray a bunch? Was the week marked by humble prayer as you asked God to move in this context to reclaim worshippers for His glory? A "yes" to any of these is a sign that God has been honored.
4. Is there a clear strategy for continuous follow-up with the missionary or church planter? This one goes along with the part of a successful mission trip where you, the team coming in, work to build a year-long relationship with that church planter or missionary in that context. Do you have a plan to follow-up with them? Please, friends, don't just call the missionary when it's time for next year's mission trip. For many in the field, doing that makes them feel, well, used. Send them cards during the year, or email or text messages that you are praying for them. Let them know that part of your calling to come alongside workers in other contexts is to care for them personally. In short, let the missionary or church planter know that you are there to serve them, not just to have their mission field serve you.
5. Have my team members been challenged to grow in their understanding of the Gospel, of the mission of God, and of the critical role of the local church? Can you see evidence of grace and growth in your team? Are they more dependent on the Holy Spirit than they were before you went? Can they see and communicate what is both similar and different about being a child of the King in a different context? Do they love the Gospel more? If so, then that's a win.
There you have it. I have a love/hate relationship with short-term mission trips. And I bet most missionaries and church planters do as well. I hope these blogs have helped shed some light on how to do it in a way that is a little more efficient. My final charge to you is this:
Let it be more than a neat vacation for you. Don't just pick the exotic, attractive places. Go to some hard places, places that people need encouragement, help, and support. Pour everything you have into that week. And then trust Christ for the results.