Short-term mission: what’s the cost?

Emily Crutchley

Isn’t short-term mission an extended holiday for people with no training and little to contribute? Are those who go really making any sacrifices? Emily is on the Crosslinks South Africa Gap Year Team. Before she left, she told us what it’s going to cost her:

It’s a month before I leave and I’m incredibly excited, but the reality of actually getting on that plane does make me feel a little scared! There will be amazing experiences but it’s going to be a challenging five months – it will not simply be ‘a wee jolly’ as people at home in Northern Ireland say! It’s an incredible opportunity to learn and grow, but being out of education, a year behind my peers, away from my family and missing my home church are very real costs. 

Being away for five months is costly for my family – and I’m thankful that they see the costs in perspective. Yes, they’ll miss me, but if I’d taken my university place in Scotland this year they’d still have to set the table for three rather than four. As Christian parents, they’d undoubtedly rather feel the cost of distance than the cost of me not following God. Making God’s service my priority is simply the fruit of them raising me to seek first his kingdom, even if it results in me being led to serve somewhere long-term. They’ve set an example of how it looks to live with a mission mindset and kingdom priorities.

An elder in our church once prayed for seats to be empty because of people going to serve elsewhere. That radical thought opened my eyes to what it costs local churches to promote mission in a selfless, sacrificial way… empty rows and empty rotas. Opportunities to serve at home have inevitably led to me, and many other young people, serving elsewhere. Our church has been intentional in guiding, mentoring and encouraging us without demanding we come home and play in the band or be youth leaders forever! They see the costs of encouraging young people in short-term mission as an investment in the kingdom with long-term fruit. 

The cost of struggling overseas, away from the support I’m used to, in a new environment and with people I barely know, is something I’m becoming more apprehensive about as the weeks disappear. Funnily enough, I haven’t magically transformed into some sort of super-Christian before going! The reality is that I’ll not be immune to the same things I struggle with at home. Why put myself through these challenges when life would be so much easier if I didn’t go? Because, in the challenges, I’ll learn to depend on God in new and different ways. God will use these costly lessons to deepen my sense of my need for him – and that’s exciting! 

There are things I’ve expected to feel more keenly which have instead been a means of blessing. Not going to university this year, I anticipated feeling left behind and having second thoughts. In counting this cost, I’ve experienced God’s provision and sufficiency extending far beyond my concerns and uncertainties. I’ve experienced contentment with being at home for longer than my friends and the growing assurance that this is where God wants me to be. Being able to spend more of myself in my home church has allowed me the privilege of experiencing the love and encouragement of church family. There’s a real sense of gospel partnership as they’ve supported me in my preparations and will continue to support me while I’m away.

I sometimes wonder how useful we can be. Will we be an inconvenience? Will I be able to contribute much? There will be costs for our hosts and the locals but I trust they consider them worth counting in light of the potential fruit from young people developing a heart and passion for mission. Hope Church are investing in us by giving us insight into what church and mission look like in another context and culture - pray with us that we’ll be an encouragement as we partner in the work God is already doing through them.

I expect to return with a greater sense of the Church as a global body of believers. I’m trusting that God will use these five months to shape me for future service. Contrary to popular opinion, short-term mission is not an isolated experience, Christian tourism or actually ‘short’ at all. Short-term mission ought to cultivate a long-term missional mindset. Although there are costs to going, this short-term experience is bringing many blessings. Ultimately, ignoring or disobeying God’s leading in my life would be far more costly. 

Find out about short-term opportunities with Crosslinks.