“What did you do?” “How did you serve?” “What projects did you work on?”
These are nearly always the first questions I’m asked after returning from a short-term mission trip. The focus is on how we helped the people that we visited, whether in Haiti, Philadelphia, or Europe. The mindset of most people is that short-term trips are about doing, but I want to push back on that for a moment.
What can we really accomplish in a week or two? How much can we really get done? After all, true ministry is done over the long haul and takes years to see significant fruit. The people who will really make a difference in any of these locations are the people who are willing to spend significant time, resources, and effort investing in local ministries that are serving for years, not days.
So, why do we even send short-term teams? If we really can’t do very much in the span of a week, why is it worth doing at all? Our expectations and goals dramatically affect our answers to these questions. If we see short-term trips as an opportunity for growth in our discipleship of Jesus and as a chance to encourage those ministering long-term, then they are very much worth the investment!
The expectation of our team for the Haiti Go! Trip was that we would spend most of our time learning. This past week in Haiti, each person on our team learned a tremendous amount about themselves, about God, and about His passion for the nations. Each person was confronted with the reality of their own materialism, their own self-centeredness, and their own arrogance. We all had to wrestle with the reality that we have been given much and that God wants to use us and our resources for His purposes and His glory.
We also emphasized the need to spend our time encouraging the long-term workers. House of Hope Orphanage, the medical clinic, and the Grace Theological Institute are all run by Haitians who live with and serve the people they minister to every day. They are truly being poured out for the sake of the orphans, widows, and needy in Cap-Haitien. Our team sought to be a “wind in their sails” as we spoke words of hope and built relationships with them. Our desire was that they would be even more excited about what God was doing in and through them by the time we left.
One of the most meaningful moments of our trip was when we talked with Pastor Elysee, one of the directors of the ministry. He was nearly brought to tears as he shared how much it means to him and the other leaders when our team is willing to sacrifice and come spend time with them, talk with them, and spur them on. He told us that God takes care of the money for ministry, but our presence with them means the world to them and helps them press on through the difficulties of ministry in Haiti. That’s why we go!
Lastly, we did serve in significant ways while we were in Haiti. Each day we had team members helping in the medical clinic, engaging with the surrounding neighborhoods, and sharing hope and love with children. We went to House of Hope Orphanage and spent time with the children and staff, we went to inner-city church plants, and encouraged the children in the neighborhood in addition to helping organize a worship service at Grace Theological Institute.
“What did you do?” This is one of the most difficult questions to answer when returning from Haiti. The better questions may be “What did you learn?” or “Who did you encourage?” or “How did you serve?” By God’s grace, I pray that we spurred on and provided a boost of encouragement for those pressing on in the long-term ministry in Cap-Haitien!
Dustin Speaks is the Mission Mobilization Pastor. He and his wife, Lauren, arrived in Columbus in the fall of 2012, after several initial ministry experiences. Dustin previously served as an associate pastor in South Dakota and as a missionary to university students in Berlin, Germany. Dustin studied history at Ohio University, where he met Lauren, and was involved in campus ministry with Cru. After graduation, the Speaks went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Chicago) to complete a degree in Intercultural Studies. He enjoys playing nearly all ball sports—basketball, golf, and soccer are his favorites. Dustin and Lauren have three young children.