When I think about summer, I’m filled with pleasant memories and associations. I’m transported to my closest childhood friend’s home, where we spent some of life’s best days running through the woods, swimming in his pond and basking in the freedom of sunny outdoors. I smell the fresh sea air as Dad and I played goofy beach games that were never really about the games. I also feel the joy in my heart when I first experienced this wonderland called Zambia in August of 2011. That joy has since blended with a deep sense of peace and hasn’t left me yet. It’s during these elevated summer months that countless young people like myself experience God on a short-term mission trip. Some of these kids are changed forever by what they encounter, others settle for a warm feeling that only lasts a little while. People observe this in and out of the Church, and there are plenty of Christians who long for a solution that will keep their students willing to walk with the Lord. If there were indeed such a rule of thumb, I think that we would all be making use of it. The resulting challenge takes wisdom, experience and a commitment to looking after people as living souls instead of just as assignments.
As I told at the beginning of this summer project, the Lord used a short-term mission trip to change my life. Our team of eight teenagers and four leaders spent months bonding and praying in preparation, and we stayed in extremely close contact for the following year. The adults in leadership devoted themselves wholeheartedly to walking with us through the entire process, and their dedication was crucial to our formation. When I had the chance to return the next year, one of those leaders, Trevor Kaufman, was on my team once again. Trevor has been associated with the worship arts at Hamburg Wesleyan back in Buffalo for as long as I can remember, and he was heavily involved in student ministry as I passed through high school. Our shared experiences in Zambia have developed a close relationship between the two of us. Now that I’m usually off at school, I love hearing about all the awesome things he’s doing in these days. Presently, Trevor’s in charge of the Hamburg team that’s here to help with Beat the Drum, and it’s been a huge treat to have such a special, familiar face around here for a while. I’m overjoyed to feature him here, both because he’s my friend and because he has a seasoned and refined approach to short-term missions.
This summer’s brief visit marks Kaufman’s seventh trip here; each time has been in the context of leading a short-term team. He never thought he would be in this deep, but opportunities just continued presenting themselves, and it’s hard to say no to this place! His first time was through a different organization, and he remembers it as traveling to observe culture from the sidelines, kind of like a guided tour of the third world. This approach proved to be significantly less impactful than the next six trips with Poetice, which have focused on immersive interaction with ongoing indigenous ministries. In other words, Poetice enables people to tangibly experience life alongside locals in a way that sticks with both parties. Trevor points out that one of the most important lessons he’s learned here has been that worship is not merely adoration of God, but that it’s a major component in regard to spiritual warfare. That end of things can get wild in this part of the world, and most of us have had experiences that are difficult to deny. Trevor’s approach to leading worship, even back in a relatively tame church back home, have been largely shaped by his time in Zambia.
For these reasons and more to come, Trevor has found short-term missions trips, specifically to third world countries like Zambia, to entirely change students’ lives and outlooks. Clearly, some of them succumb to the high and fizzle back into the world, but he’s surprised by how many take to heart what they’ve learned. “Often, what I’ve seen through these trips is that people have changed; it’s become who they are going forward. For me, it’s really the same thing. No longer do the trips I go on stay here, but they come back with me and change how I look at things and my perspective of the world.” I stand with Trevor in his conclusion. He’s been positioned closer to more changed students, but it was precisely that difference in kids’ lives that encouraged me to come here in the first place, and it has certainly contributed to my frequent and fulfilled desires to return.
It’s not just first-timer high school students who get shaken and transformed, though. Kaufman points to his own life as a key testimony to Zambia’s role in short-term adventures. In addition to what he’s learned about worship, Trevor speaks of another lesson he’s absorbed here – one that can speak to everyone who’s wrestled with what to do upon coming home from such a brief experience in an entirely different world. “It’s so easy for people in the Church to think you’re not on mission unless you’re overseas. People need to really get it into their heads that they should be doing this daily in their communities. In many senses, that’s much harder to do. It’s almost like going overseas is the baby step into the massive mission that you’re daily encountering every day of the year back home.” Labeling our endeavors as ‘mission trips’ has silently persuaded the American Church that if we’re not in an intriguing, uncomfortable environment that’s far away from home, then we’re less responsible for representing Jesus and living every moment of our lives for him. The fact of the matter is this: when we walk with and abide in Christ like he longs for us to do, he will undoubtedly use us to carry out his redemptive work, regardless of where we find ourselves for the summer or any other time of the year. This is a truth that wise Christians strive to exemplify and communicate, and it’s a giant part of the reason churches like Hamburg involve themselves in this often-controversial world of short-term missions. So whether you’re processing a trip, looking forward to one or wondering if you should go, may your eyes be opened to the mission field that is your everyday life. Bless you all, and please continue to be in prayer for Beat the Drum, our AIDS awareness outreach in a local high school this coming week.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William McCauley • 2015 International Immersion Intern