Short-term mission trips have shaped my walk with Jesus in deep and profound ways. In fact, they are a large part of why I work for a mission agency today.
To be sure, these trips aren’t without their potential problems, particularly when we don’t do a good job of truly understanding the needs of the local culture and partner with those who have a long-term commitment to the community we seek to serve.
Yet mission trips give us a unique opportunity to see and experience God differently than we do at home.
Away from the demands of “normal” life, things come more sharply into focus. Our need for God’s provision is more evident. Places where unbelief lurks in our hearts are exposed. When we’re in places where we are unsure, feel ill-equipped, and yet want to be part of God’s work – Jesus’s words echo a little more clearly.
Learning to Ask – Boldly and Loudly
We get a glimpse of the dynamics in Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus, a blind man forced to beg for his living (Mark 10:46-52).
I’m not sure what Bartimaeus thought he would experience when he woke up on this particular day, but I’d bet it wasn’t that he was going to come face to face with the Second person of the Trinity!
The assumption of the day was that Bartimaeus (or someone very close to him) had sinned gravely and thus God had punished him with blindness. Begging, especially by someone who is just “getting what he deserves,” would have been difficult and demeaning work, offering little more than subsistence living. But in this case, it has also done something else: it has prepared Bartimaeus’ heart in a unique way to encounter Jesus.
I have to say, though, that in my most tender moments with God, I am rarely as “abandoned” as Bartimaeus is when he encounters Jesus.
I’m too embarrassed by my needs and inadequacies to start screaming out my deepest desires to Jesus. Far too often my unbelief muzzles my desperation and I fail to cry out in faith to the One who has poured out His lifeblood for me.
Instead, I tend to ask for things politely, from a distance, outlining items that I think I should want as a spiritually mature person instead of pouring out my heart when Jesus asks, “Patric, what do you want me to do for you?”
Not so with Bartimaeus. He runs in faith to Jesus with his deepest desires—that by faith he can be made right, reconciled to his God and Father, healed of his blindness and, as a result, released from his life as a beggar.
He literally shouts louder than the rest of the crowd as Jesus (Mark 10:44), God’s Forever King who will sit on David’s throne, passes by. There is no pretense or artificiality in him. As a man whose blindness has forced him to ask for everything instead of trying to earn it for himself, Bartimaeus is free from the illusion of his own adequacy and control. Instead, he asks—boldly and loudly.
A Unique Opportunity to Live Missionally
One of the best things about cross-cultural mission trips is that they force us to come face to face with the reality of our needs and the grace of Jesus’ provision.
When confronted with the challenges of trying to navigate an unfamiliar culture, or getting along with difficult teammates, or encountering those lurking fears that God won’t show up and work through us, we too, become like Bartimaeus: standing in need of something we cannot provide for ourselves and that only Jesus can give.
That’s true all of the time, but living missionally — whether at home or abroad — has a way of driving this home.
Jesus’ response when He encounters Bartimaeus is to ask a very revealing question in Mark 10:51, “What do you want me to do for you?”
I don’t think Jesus was asking because He didn’t know what Bartimaeus needed. As He made his way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of his people, Jesus is exceedingly clear about what Bartimaeus needed. What Jesus was really asking was, “Bartimaeus, do you really know what your deepest needs are?”
Often times I’ve approached an upcoming trip with undue fear and hesitation, or conversely, with a subtle but very real sense that I’m coming as “the strong person, who has so much, so that I can meet the needs of those who have so little.”
Even though the outward expression looks very different, the root cause is exactly the same—a preoccupation with myself, and what I can do, instead of focusing on Jesus and what He can provide.
A Helpful Questionnaire for Mission Trips
Over the years I’ve found it’s helpful to ask a few basic questions before, during, and after the trip.
The purpose here is to probe deeper into my own heart in the same way that Jesus invited Bartimaeus to look more deeply into his.
Before the trip:
- Jesus, I’m feeling anxious/fearful about ____________. Can you help me see how I’m not trusting you in this area?
- Jesus, it’s easy for me to focus on my strengths and abilities or rely on the material resources you’ve given me. Can you show me where I’m relying on something other than you to be my source of identity or security?
During the trip:
- Father, I’m here to serve you. How do you want to use me today?
- Father, I know you’re at work here. Give me eyes of faith to see the things you’ve accomplished today. (record the unique ways God provided, enabled, protected etc.)
After the trip:
- Holy Spirit, can you show me how you worked in me during the trip?
- Where did you reveal unbelief in my heart?
- How did you meet that unbelief with the good news of your promises?
- How did you empower me to love you and others more deeply?
- Holy Spirit, can you show mere how you worked through me during the trip?
- Holy Spirit, how are you now calling me to continue to live on mission back home?
- Holy Spirit, can you show me how you worked in me during the trip?
How to Use This Questionnaire
It’s amazing to me how often I’ve asked for things that will make me “better” so that I don’t need to rely on Jesus all the time!
My heart is littered with requests for God to bless my efforts, agendas, and methods so that I don’t have to rely on His love, goodness, and provision so much. Of course these questions, don’t stop that from happening. But they do remind me that unless I’m constantly reorienting my heart to God His desires, I’m always going to be drifting away from my First Love, and the power, peace, and comfort He provides.
Don’t be afraid to sit with the last question above for a good little while, “Holy Spirit, how are you now calling me to continue to live on mission back home?”
It may take you several weeks to process all that you have seen and done, so take your time. But remember to spend some time talking with God about where He wants to take you next.
One of the unique blessings of a short-term mission trip is the lasting value it has to growing us to become more generous givers, goers, and senders for the Kingdom. We see the same thing in Bartimaeus’ life. After He healed Bartimaeus, Jesus explicitly releases him from any further obligations, letting him know that he could go on his way.
But Bartimaeus’s way has now become Jesus’s way; he joins Jesus and His disciples as they move down the road (Mark 10:52).
We’re Beggars Who Need Jesus
It’s been nearly 30 years since I took my first mission trip.
As a sophomore in high school, I spent a summer involved with evangelistic work in Europe, along with a team of fellow teens and some intrepid adult leaders. That trip started a journey I’m still on today. It’s been an adventure of grace and mercy, filled with figuring out that I’m not the spiritual Superman I often think I am, and rediscovering that God’s ability to work through me isn’t limited by my lack of faith or weakness and brokenness.
It’s a journey that like Bartimaeus’, leads me to walk more closely with Jesus, as He leads to Calvary so that all things can be made new.
And it’s been a journey that has filled my life with a passion for finding those other beggars who need Jesus, just the same way I do, and just the same way Bartimaeus did.
This post was adapted from On Mission: Devotions for Your Short-Term Trip by Patric Knaak.
This daily devotional guide is designed to help you make the most of your trip through: spiritual preparation, Christ-centered reflections during the trip, and help for staying missionally-engaged when you return home. It’s suitable for audiences from high school students to adults.