A number of writers have challenged the notion of ‘short term mission trips’.

On one hand we want to be ‘mission-minded’ 24/7. It is not something we should aim to do once a year for a week or two before we run back into the church and shut the doors. It is to be the continual posture of the believer – into the world to win the world. Declaring the praises of our Saviour God (1 Pet. 2:9). Continually speaking, living, giving, praying ‘not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved’ (1 Cor. 10:33).

On the other hand, the sort of mission we see in the book of Acts – cross-cultural, church-planting mission to the unreached, is a very specific, involving and long-term enterprise. Specific because it is not for everyone (some are appointed as elders of churches while others are set apart by the church to go where the gospel has not been heard), involving because it means a range of costly, dangerous, relational, life-on-life activities (evangelism, discipleship, preaching, mentoring, sharing lives, learning languages, building teams, raising leaders), long-term because planting viable churches in foreign cultures usually takes many years (Paul sometimes seemed to do it in a few weeks but even then, when forced out by persecution, he often returned months or years later to strengthen and encourage them).

So in some ways ‘short term mission trips’ may be something of a contradiction in terms. But short term trips can be a very valuable thing. Craig Greenfield has suggested that instead we rename them as either:

  • Mission exposure trips – visiting marginalised and unreached communities, opening your eyes to the harvest field and the mission needs, going outside your comfort zone, seeing something of what mission involves in these places and what God is doing, catching a vision for the Kingdom and a concern for the lost.
  • Learning trips – learning about yourself through going outside your comfort zone and trying new things, learning about mission work by spending time with a long term missionary, learning something about another culture (and your own), being challenged in terms of how much of our Christianity is cultural and how much is biblical, learning how much you don’t know and tasting the humbling experience of being a baby learner again.
  • Discernment trips – testing the waters of gospel ministry and cross-cultural service, testing to see whether you might have a spark of desire and gifting towards missions that would be worth exploring with a longer mission experience or apprenticeship.

iSTEPS stands for the iServe Africa programme Short Term Experience in Practical Service. The idea is that an individual or preferably a church group spends a short period (two weeks to 6 months) in a mission context (normally attached to an iServe Africa partner church, children’s home or mission organisation), serving in practical ways (e.g. helping with construction or agriculture) and in outreach (e.g. running a vacation Bible school) alongside local staff and gospel workers.

Such trips can be a huge encouragement to long term mission workers and have a very positive impact on children and communities but the real impact is on the ‘i’ – the short termer themselves – in terms of exposure, learning and discernment about the future.

So far at iServe Africa we have hosted a number of short term teams from overseas but we would love to see more Kenyan teams. If your church would be interested in getting involved then contact us for more details.

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