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Are Missions Trips Worth the Hassle?

(This was originally posted on September 20, 2019)

This post is adapted from material originally prepared for a sermon preached at Memorial Baptist Church in Verona, WI. You can listen to the message here or watch the video here (sermon starts about 6:00 into the video).

Missionary Adoniram Judson arrived in Burma, or Myanmar, in 1812, and died there thirty-eight years later in 1850. His thirty-eight years in Burma were not easy and often filled with discouragement and sorrow. Despair came from lack of converts and tremendous obstacles to overcome; pain came from losing his wife and two children while serving in Burma. After the death of his first wife, Ann, he was so depressed that he sat by her grave each day for several months.

Later, Judson would write, “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I cannot find him.”

Despite the discouragement and sorrow, Judson’s faith sustained him, and he continued ministering in Burma. Even though few people would attend the public meetings he held, Judson consistently worked on translating the Bible into the local language. After years of studying the language (12 hours a day with a tutor), he eventually finished translating the entire Bible into the Burmese language.

Statistics are unclear, but there were only somewhere between 12-25 professing Christians in the country when he died, and there were no known churches.

That’s a lot of effort for very little fruit. Was it worth it?

I often wonder the same about short term mission trips. Churches (and pastors!) put a lot of time, energy, effort, and money into short term mission trips. Is all of that a worthy investment?

I think it can be.

Let's invest in mission trips because they can honor Christ, benefit others, and stretch ourselves.

First, mission trips can honor Christ. [1]

Consider how sending and going is at the heart of Jesus' mission strategy. Romans 10:13-15 tell us that preachers of the gospel must be "sent." This sending is an outworking of the Great Commission – which was under that authority of Jesus. Part of the way we fulfill the imperative to make disciples is by going.

Furthermore, sending and going is at the heart of God’s plan. I John 4:9 makes it clear that God sent Jesus into the world. What makes God’s plan even more beautiful is that Jesus willingly went into the world to accomplish God’s plan (Philippians 2:6-8; Hebrews 10:7).

We are not only fulfilling Jesus' strategy to bring the gospel to the nations when we send and go on mission trips. We are also mimicking God’s mission in sending his Son into the world.

Second, mission trips can benefit others.

We send and go to encourage others. A significant part of Paul's ministry effort was sending and receiving people for encouragement. Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Timothy, and Titus are just a few names of people who encouraged Paul through missions travel (Phile. 1:20; Eph. 6:22; Phil. 4:16).

We also send and go to instruct others.

Warning here: We need to be careful about projecting any hint of superiority when sending and going on mission trips. Christians in American are not inherently more smart, holy, or skilled than our brothers and sisters in other countries.

However, most of us have much higher access to Bible study tools and opportunities to learn the Word than much of the world. Therefore, we must share the wealth of what we have been given. So, when we go to instruct, we do so in humility, knowing that any knowledge we do have is only because of God's grace. To whom much is given, much is required. Sharing what we have been given is our honor and responsibility.

Apollos was a gifted teacher in his own right, but he needed Aquilla and Priscilla to instruct him further. Additionally, teaching is part of making disciples according to the Great Commission. So, we send and go to teach others.

Finally, mission trips can stretch us.

Sending and going moves us outside our normal context. Sometimes we need to change our environment to see that God is doing great things all over the world. We need to follow Jesus’ command to “lift up our eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:35).

It is helpful, yet sad to read about people worshipping idols and dipping in a dirty river to take away their sins. However, it is much more stretching to stand next to someone in a Hindu temple physically. It is soul-stretching to listen to him pray to a statute. It is gut-wrenching to watch educated people plunge into the Ganges River in hopes of removing their sins.

Jesus’ compassion recorded in Matthew 9:36,37 is much easier to understand when you are with the harassed and helpless about whom you have only previously read. Indeed, the harvest is plentiful.

Mission trips also stretch is in that there is some risk associated with going. While some places are safer than others, whenever we travel abroad, there is a risk we are taking for the gospel. Risk is good because, for most American pastors, the risk for the gospel rarely enters our minds.

But risking safety, comfort, and security for the gospel is good. Ask Paul. Read Acts 20:18-25. But you may say that’s Paul’s lot; such risk is not for everyone, right? I like what Dave Harvey had to say about that:

“not only do we have the same gospel Paul carried, but the spread of that gospel requires us to have a similar ambition to Paul’s, and to take similar risks.”[2]

Let me bring this rather lengthy post to a close…

Remember Judson and the lack of fruit for his ministry?

At the 150th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into the Burmese language, a man was addressing a group that was celebrating Judson's work. Just before he got up to speak, he noticed in small print on the first page the words: "Translated by Rev. A. Judson."

The man turned to his interpreter, a Burmese man named Matthew Hia Win, and asked him, "Matthew, what do you know of this man?"

Matthew began to weep as he said,

We know him—we know how he loved the Burmese people, how he suffered for the gospel because of us, out of love for us. He died a pauper, but left the Bible for us. When he died, there were few believers, but today there are over 600,000 of us, and every single one of us traces our spiritual heritage to one man: the Rev. Adoniram Judson.[3]

But Adoniram Judson never saw it!

I can’t promise you staggering statistics of conversions or baptisms as a result of going on mission trips. I can't guarantee that for your ministry here in Wisconsin. But what I can promise you is that God will not waste the effort.

We invest in mission trips because they can honor Christ, benefit others, and stretch ourselves.

[1] Note: when I refer to mission trips in this article, I'm referring to trips where sharing the gospel and instructing nationals in the Scriptures is the primary purpose of the trip. Churches have taken many trips to foreign lands under the title of "mission trip" that was little more than sightseeing and world travel opportunities. Those are not the trips I am referring to in this article.

[2] Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition (Crossway Books, 2010), p. 175.

[3] Adapted from Julia Cameron, editor, Christ Our Reconciler (InterVarsity Press, 2012), pp. 200-201.

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