I was very excited when your family told me about your upcoming short-term missions trip. As you know, I did a missions trip some years ago, and it had a great influence on me. I learned so much about who God is and how to walk closely with him during my three months training and then three months working and living overseas. I know your trip won’t be nearly as long, but I’d like to tell you some of the things I learned. With luck, these may help you have a better trip.
First, be open to absolutely wherever God leads you. Sometimes people go on these trips with rosy-eyed preconceptions of how things will work and then get disappointed when reality sets in. Circumstances may force you to change travel plans, change the work you do, or lead you to strange, unexcepted places. Please don’t be afraid of these changes -- God is in fact still running the show, and he knows exactly what he's doing.
So be ready for surprises, be prepared for things to be harder or different than you expected. Then take whatever opportunities God gives you and embrace them. I think you’ll be surprised how often God changes our plans to lead us to something greater.
Second, be open to different ways people practice Christianity. Too often, we American Christians visit believers in other cultures and get hung up on how they do church services differently or emphasize ideas we don’t view as important. Quite frankly, some of these differences are not as important in the grand scheme.
Don’t fall prey to arrogance, instead, focus on what you have in common. Be kind and respectful to all, and see what you can learn from the funny ways other people do Christianity. I guarantee you'll understand God a little better from it .
Third, don’t get discouraged if you don't witness to everyone. I remember one day on in my trip when my team visited a university. We spoke to many students, and while some of my teammates talked about their faith, I couldn’t find an avenue to do that. I felt very discouraged as we left.
But when I told one of my teammates how I was feeling, he asked me this: “Did you relate to those people kindly and speak value into their lives?”
I said, “Yeah, I think so.”
“Then it was worth it,” he replied.
I would extend that advice to you. Pray for opportunities to witness, and trust God to lead you to opportunities. But remember, even if you just give someone a cup of cold water in God’s name (Mark 9:41) it will have been worth it. Sometimes that’s all you get to do, and yet it reverberates and does things you wouldn’t believe. I have seen it happen.
Fourth, don’t let the fire for missions die when you return home. You’ve heard me mention this many times before, but it’s sad how many American Christians only reach out and share the Gospel when they’re overseas. They will spend thousands of dollars and months of travel going to exotic places to tell people the Good News, but can’t find the courage to meet their atheist neighbors across the street.
Remember that no one lights a candle only to stick it under a bowl (Matthew 5:14-15). There is a world both abroad and close to home that desperately needs that light.
I hope this letter is helpful to you, enjoy your trip. I look forward to updates from your family and hearing more about your adventures when you return.