International summer missions trips. They are an annual occurrence in our student ministry. A few months ago one of my students asked: Why do we bother going to countries that speak other languages? Wouldn't it be more valuable to just go to English-speaking countries? Not long after my student asked me that question, a woman sitting at the table with me at a church event asked: With all of the poverty and need in America, why don't we just do missions work in the United States?
These are fair and valid questions. Perhaps you have asked, or been asked them. There are indeed issues within our own country and our own communities that present opportunities for service. Indeed, we must address these issues. But it is a false construct to pit ministry at home against ministry abroad. I heard a saying many years ago that I always emphasize: The light that shines the farthest, shines the brightest at home. It would be a mistake if all we did was serve abroad while paying no attention to the needs at home. However, it would likewise be a mistake if all we did was serve on our home turf without serving the greater needs of others around the world. The bottom line is this: it is not either-or, it is both-and. We seek to engage our students in ministry opportunities in our own back yard throughout the year as well as in other countries, typically in the summer time.
In response to the question about why we go into cultures different than our own, I point to the various levels of missions and/or evangelism. Donald McGavran has identified several levels needed to reach different groups of people.
E-0: Evangelism is needed to win church-goers to Christ. It produces internal growth.
E-1: Evangelism is needed to win those of our own culture to Christ. It, too, produces internal growth.
E-2: Evangelism is needed to reach those who are slightly different from us. It produces cross-cultural evangelism.
E-3: Evangelism is needed to reach those vastly different from us. It produces bridging growth.
This idea is rooted in Jesus’ words to His followers in Acts 1:8, which illustrate these levels of evangelism:
Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 3): E-0 and E-1
Samaria (Acts 8): E-2
Ends of the earth (Acts 13): E-3
Through summer missions trips we are seeking to help students minister at E-2 and E-3 levels. It doesn't negate the other levels (which we also seek to minister at), but we want to develop Christians with a global Christian worldview, not just ones that are sheltered within their own cultures. In this we are taking our cues from Jesus Himself. Jesus was the ultimate cross-cultural missionary. Philippians 2:5-11 says, "... Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Imagine if Jesus had just stayed where everything was familiar to Him. Imagine if Jesus only wanted to go where people "spoke His own language" (if you will). He would have stayed in heaven with God and never ventured to the earth where people desperately needed to know God and His purposes, and where the very earth itself needed to experience healing and renewal from the destructive effects of mankind’s sin. Jesus said, "Go into ALL THE WORLD and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15). The fact that we live in a time in history in which we have the technology to literally be able to go into all of the world is incredible. And so, following the example of Jesus, we want to have a heart for God's whole world - all of His children and creation - and to go and serve in humility and love.
*This article was written by Kevin Mahaffy, Jr. Kevin is the youth pastor at Shelter Rock Church in Long Island, New York and has been bringing his groups on Mission Discovery mission trips for several years.