There is no doubt that mission trips, both short and long, offer the allure of a grand adventure. The prospect of removing yourself from your typical environment and drinking in the sights, smells, foods, and customs of another culture are what draw millions of people into cross-cultural tourism every year.
Do a simple Google search on missions and see how many websites advertise adventure as being a part of their trips. There is a reason they do this. While adventure will play some role in missions, it can dangerously be the primary reason that many find themselves wanting to venture to the mission field in the first place. It is easy to find yourself thirsting for a retreat, to get out and away. And while a vacation might not be justifiable to your pocketbook, getting your hands a little dirty on a mission trip is. Does this sound familiar?
Adventure is by no means a bad thing. Neither is a desire to fully delve into the culture in which you are ministering. However, your perspective and expectations going into any endeavor will greatly influence how you actually experience it.2 If your primary focus for the trip derives from your excitement for adventure, then you risk the possibility of being sorely disappointed or prevented from fully participating spiritually as well as effectively aiding in the long term ministry already underway in Cambodia. Long days working at the same ministry site will likely mean less of an opportunity to explore as much as you want to. And looking forward to your free day and down time every day could prevent you from being spiritually focused and present in the primary mission.
The right motive when participating in short term missions is a concept you will explore in greater depth in the days to come. But before you get that far, it is important to first address what the current motives of your heart really are. Let us make one thing clear: Your participation in the ministry being done in Cambodia is not about adventure. Your primary focus and heart must be that of the spiritual nature – to share the love of Christ as a team and as individuals and, in doing so, to aid in the work already being done in Cambodia. You must have no illusions that this will always be a fun and easy task. It is important and helpful to look to the ministry of Christ and his disciples as an example.
Check out Matthew 10. When Jesus sent out the Twelve, we have no record of Him telling them of all the amazing and fun adventures they would encounter in each city. Instead, He warned them of dangers, difficulties and hard work that would be required of them. Another good example to consider is the difference between motives of many Western missionaries and that of others who find themselves in more dangerous situations that do not offer the luxury of a safe adventure.
“[The] fun-filled, adventurous mind-set is quite a contrast from the thousands of young, aspiring missionaries in China who are ready and expecting to die for the gospel during their mission sojourns. In their words, ‘The Muslim and Buddhist nations can torture us, imprison us, and starve us, but they can do no more than we have already experienced in China. . . . We are not only ready to die for the gospel, we are expecting it.’”3
Cambodia is not a nation hostile to Christianity the way China and Saudi Arabia are. But in advancing the kingdom of God, you will undoubtedly come up against the forces of evil that seek to prevent lost lives from being reached with the love and healing of Jesus Christ. Although you might not be physically threatened, it is important to go onto the mission field with the same spiritual focus, tenacity and passion these Chinese missionaries exhibit.
Sometimes, a wrong motive is unconscious. It is therefore important to take some time to discover what is in your own heart and mind. Here are some questions to ask yourself. Answer honestly before you continue on. Do not answer according what you know to be the “right answer”. It is imperative that you have an accurate understanding of your own current heart condition so that wrong motives can be adequately addressed.
- Am I more excited about sharing Jesus and lives being saved than the food I will eat, the sights I will see, and the souvenirs I can buy?
- What stories am I already anticipating telling my friends and family when I return home? Are they mostly stories of ministry or tourism?
- Am I willing to joyfully serve in Cambodia even if it requires exhaustion, long days, submission to authority, and not being able to see and partake in all the aspects of culture that I want to?
“The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few!”4 Let not your desire for adventure keep you from being the laborer that brings in a bountiful harvest.
2 David Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 48.
3 Ibid., 52.
4 Matt. 9:37-38 NKJV