By David Eides
God is always working. A dear friend of mine is fond of reminding me of this ever present reality. Often when we think of short term missions, we think of working for God in another place. We think we will go somewhere, spend a week, and see what God will do through us. But just as often we hear stories of how God has worked in those who have gone. We hear how God surprised team members by working in them through going to the other place. From these two perspectives a debate often emerges. Which is it? Is God working through us? Is God working in us? Is it both? I believe the answer is “yes and even more.” God is always working. He works through us, in spite of us, in us, and bigger than us through the short term missions endeavor. Sometimes He will let us see this bigger view.
For the past 25 years, short term missions teams have been working in Fairmont, West Virginia. Over that span, thousands of adults, teens, grandparents, children, and entire families have spent their week working for God. They have repaired homes. conducted Bible clubs, and visited nursing homes. They have brought the hope of the Gospel in word and deed. They have been the presence of Jesus as the essence of pure religion in caring for orphans and widows in their affliction. For 25 years, God has worked through them.
At the same time, God has worked in them. Some thought they were coming to “help the poor”. Instead God humbled them, showing them their own poverty of a different sort. Some returned to their churches and caught the vision to see with the eyes of Jesus and love those so easily overlooked in the margins of their own communities. Through nightly large group worship, through building lasting friendships with other churches, and to the surprise of many, through those they thought they were coming to serve, God has worked in the short terms team members in life changing ways.
So we’ve settled the debate, right? At least in Fairmont, we’ve seen God working through us, in spite of us, and in us. Yet the question is still asked. Is there any lasting value in short term missions? The answer is “yes”, because our big God is always working bigger than us. He’s pulled back the curtain and given us the blessing of seeing just a little more of this in Fairmont. Let me try and give you window into what we’ve seen. To see through the window, we first need to look at the frame. The window into God’s bigger work is framed on two sides by two commands of Jesus and on the other two by two promises of Jesus. Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples” and to “let our light shine before men.” We are to be present and practice the priorities of Jesus, speaking the Gospel and relieving human suffering. But we don’t do these things in our own strength or confidence. We go with the two promises of Jesus. Jesus said, “I will build My church” and “I am with you always.” We go recognizing that we need the presence and power of Jesus working on us in our own weakness. We aren’t bringing Jesus where He is not. We are going where He already is and seeking to join Him in what He’s already doing.
So, as we look through the window we see people bringing the presence of Christ while also receiving His presence already there. But this is often seen as a series of snapshots. When we view short term missions this way, we neglect the key component that changes our vision from a series of still life pictures into the dynamic reality of the bigger work God is doing. That key component that expands our view is time. When we add the dimension of time, we see that Jesus is using short term missions to do something bigger than work through us or in us. He is building His church.
If we look at one life, one team, and one week, we may not see much. But what happens when that one life is impacted by one team for one week for many years? What happens when one church interacts with the same community for multiple summers? Bonds of love form. Churches continue that relationship long distance throughout the year. Over time, Jesus uses the faithful short term presence of churches to bring together a church in the community being served, while He also strengths the bonds in the churches that come. Looking through the 25 year window, this is the bigger work that is happening through short term missions in Fairmont. In large measure through the presence of Jesus working through short term missions, an intentional church planting work is beginning in Fairmont in 2020. Jesus is keeping His promise. He is building His church. He’s working through the faithful presence of repeat short term missions teams.
Having served in Fairmont throughout the summers of 1998-2006, from 2015 -2019, and into this next phase of church planting, I’ve had the blessing of seeing the value of short term missions over time. Short term missions in Fairmont allows us to see our God is always working and Jesus always keeps His promises. He is building His church among the orphans and widows, and among the least of these my brethren. Through short term missions He continues to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to His banquet, and all involved are being blessed.
Do you have trouble seeing God working in short term missions? A key to overcoming this struggle is to literally “give it time.” Seek a community in which to invest. Become what we affectionately call in Fairmont a “repeat offender” in that place. Ask to work with the same family or on the same street. Take time to invest in the people. The relationships over time are vital. Keep contact throughout the year. Jesus is faithful. He’ll do a work through you, in spite of you, in you, and bigger than you, all in His perfect time.
To learn more about ways you can partner with Dayspring Community Church in Fairmont, contact David Eades at (919) 675-7270 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.