The first rule of the harvest is simple: you reap what you sow. If you plant corn, you’ll reap corn, not pumpkins.
The second rule is just as important, but much more overlooked: you can’t fully count the harvest until the seeds have stopped growing and replicating.
It’s easy to look at short term mission trips as “one and done” in terms of impact. You go, build a house, play with some kids, tell someone about Jesus, and after a week, you leave. Was there impact on the trip? Absolutely. God was glorified, His love was shared, and the Gospel was presented. People came to Christ and their lives changed. Maybe a child who was hugged for a moment suddenly realized her worth. And the family you built the house for now has a home. That’s a big deal!
Just because the trip is over, doesn’t mean the impact is limited to the events of that one week.
We really have no idea just how far-reaching the true impact of a short term mission trip is. What if that home becomes a house church? What if the families who attend share the Gospel throughout their community?
What if the little girl who realizes she has worth grows up to be a mother of five kids, and teaches each of her kids about their worth, who teach their kids the same thing?
What if the man you shared the Gospel with accepts Christ, tells his family and friends, and because of that moment, 20 people become Christians—and now they are telling their friends and families?
Is it even possible to measure the impact of a short term mission trip?
The harvest is a generational phenomenon. The apples a farmer picks is the product of seeds planted many years earlier that grew into a tree, and these new apples have the same power to create more trees. Each new apple, harvested years later, is still fruit of the original seed.
In the same way, the impact of week-long mission trip can reverberate throughout all eternity.
I think we need to change the way we measure things. Instead of looking at the product of what we can see and count, maybe we should have a different perspective.
We should look at how to leverage short term missions for long term impact.
Here are 3 key ways to do this:
1. Build Relationships, Not Just Wheelchair Ramps
Adventures has always sought to not just do good works. Acts of service by themselves are very transactional. A youth group can come and build you a wheelchair ramp, and you might think, “Those were some nice kids. I’m so happy they did this. Getting in and out of my house is much easier.”
And that is an important thing, but that’s not why we did it. We’re not here to just build you a wheelchair ramp, we’re here to tell you God sent us here because He sees you and He loves you.
We like doing service projects, but our focus is relationship. When it comes down to it, what has the most impact is relationship. No matter how much you appreciate that wheelchair ramp, you’re more likely to remember us if we spent time sitting around a table of lemonade and cookies, laughing and building a relationship with you. Those moments can mean more than the ramp ever will.
2. Build Long Term Relationships with the Hosts
We always seek to build long term relationships with ministry partners by returning year after year when possible. Throughout the year we are praying for them, checking in, and sharing our lives with them. Even though the teams might have new people on them, the relationship between Adventures and this host is ongoing.
Maybe there is a pastor in rural Guatemala who is doing amazing things, but wishes he could have some temporary help because he can only do so much by himself. If we can bring in 30 people on a short term trip for one week, the number of houses visited, the number of people prayed for, and the number of people invited to his church grows astronomically.
Because of their size, short term teams can introduce a lot more people to a ministry than the ministry can reach on its own. We seek to partner alongside of them so they can have greater impact on their communities.
3. Build Long Term Relationships Between Teams and Communities
In this day and age, a short term trip doesn’t have to be a one time thing. Travel is easier than it’s ever been, and with the internet, you can talk to someone on the other side of the world at any given moment. We have individuals and teams who return to the same places every year. They stay in contact via Facebook and email, and are committed to each other despite being apart 51 weeks a year.
If relationships are built in the Lord, they are different than secular relationships. When it’s something in the Lord and you are praying for them, having face-to-face time with them isn’t as important, because you’re building a relationship that is so much more. When you go back to that country every year, they are excited to see you. They will remember you. You’re able to catch up on life on the past year, but also just pick up where you left off.
Returning repeatedly to the same community says, “I care about you and am committed to your well being” in a powerful way. They are aware that you have a life, a job, family, responsibilities, etc. in America, but every year you are choosing to return to them. That says a lot.
Short term trips are important because even though you’re flashing through someone’s life, you’re doing so with the Lord and you’re going in with high purpose. You might never know the full impact of the mission trip you went on, or even the outreach you did in your own community in the States, and that’s okay. The law of the harvest says the blessings can’t be counted until the seeds have stopped growing—which could be in another lifetime.
There really is no limit to what God can do in and through us if we just show up and obey what He calls us to do.
World Race Alum Bill Bush has been on staff with Adventures for six years. Over the past 3 years as Short Term Missions Manager, he has sent thousands of short term missionaries and mission teams around the world.