By Santo Garafalo
Santo is the church planting pastor at New City Atlantic City, NJ
I have led 6 short term missions trips and have been receiving missions teams in Atlantic City, New Jersey since 2010. As I write this, I am currently on a short term mission trip as part of a small team coming along side of a young church plant.
It is a wonderful thing to see the gospel preached to inner city children. It’s a joy to see low income folks given a hand-up and some sorely needed encouragement. And it’s truly a blessing to witness folks of different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds simply sharing a meal, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.
These are some of the incredible things you get to be a part of when you go on a short term mission trip. And if I’ve seen it once I’ve seen it a hundred times, those who come on the trip are often surprised to find that while they came to bless the church plant and city they have been sent to minister to, they are the ones who walk away challenged and renewed by the gospel of Jesus - proclaimed and lived out in the community. I have witnessed first hand, again and again, how the Lord uses these intense short-term trips to grow His people in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And specifically to disciple them in missions in general and urban ministry in particular.
Pam Hess, the missions coordinator of Step of Faith Ministry in Brick, NJ shared this testimony at NCF of AC’s 10th anniversary celebration this past April:
One of the highlights of our numerous mission trips to Atlantic City happened 6 years ago when some of our team members were so impressed at what was happening in Atlantic City, (they were being taught how to do mission work in the inner city and how to understand the people and how to bridge the community to the church) that they asked Step of faith if we could start something like that in our home town of Brick, NJ. We said, ‘yes.’ And we were able to start the Maple Leaf Tutoring Program in the community of Maple Leaf which is a low-income community right here in our back yard.
For the past 6 years we’ve been able to pour into the kids ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. We provide homework help every week, we provide a meal, and once a month we do a Bible Club for all the ages. We’ve watched kids come to Christ, we’ve seen families connect with the church, we see hope coming out of this community. We’ve had returning students now in college coming back and speaking into the lives of the younger kids saying, ‘you need to listen to these guys. They really do care. They really do love you.’ All of that is because of what’s happening down in Atlantic City. While it’s difficulty to plant a church in an area like Atlantic City, the spiritual fruit has poured over into Brick Town and we are so excited to be a part of that.”
When you read the Gospels you can’t help but notice that Jesus discipled the 12 on the field. In other words, He taught them the truth of the gospel, how to pray, how to live a kingdom-centered life and how to serve and worship while on the mission field. I believe that’s one of the reasons short term trips have such an impact on those who participate in them. It’s an intensive week or two of not merely filling heads with Biblical knowledge but learning the truths of God’s Word while sharing the love of Christ in word and deed with the community.
I myself have used Short term mission trips to help build a culture of understanding and respect for folks of different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. I’ve used them as a training ground for team building and learning to exercise spiritual gifts and natural talents. I’ve used them to train teens and adults on how to share the gospel. And of course I’ve used them to expose my team to Bible believing, gospel centered churches that strive to make the Bible’s teaching on serving the poor a priority.
While serving Jesus on the front lines of gospel ministry in the community can try your faith, it can also strengthen and grow your faith. It puts you in situations where you’re completely dependent on God to show up and cause your ministry of the gospel to bear fruit. I could say a lot more about how effective short term missions are in fostering growth, fellowship and worship in the lives of God’s people. But I’ll simply close with this testimony of a teen who came and served with us a number of years ago:
I gotta say this is probably the greatest missions trip I've ever been on because we got to see God work first hand. And whether we're from different countries, different backgrounds or from the same city or just different areas, we were all united by Christ.