Missionaries on the Move: Why do we go out as Missionaries?

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Every missionary will face the question. Dr. Jon Dybdahl did:

The setting is still vivid in my mind. We stood at the viewpoint elevation looking over the beautiful city of Honolulu. Graciously our guide had shown us around the island, and it was now the end of the day.

We had been together long enough to ask honest questions. “Why,” he asked, “are you bothering to go to Thailand? You had a good church job in Northern California. You were near your family. Why throw that away? What is the value of going, anyway?’

If some of your friends and family haven’t verbalized it, they have thought it.  Certainly you have in your own heart and mind asked it. If you haven’t, you need to. “Why would you choose to go as a missionary?”

There are lots of good reasons to go. Let’s think about them together.

The Need for Short Term Missionaries

We are defining “short-term” as any mission experience that lasts from two weeks to one year. The number of short-term missionaries has exploded in recent years.

The number of people in short term missions is so great, and the ways they are sent so diverse, that any numbers are “guesstimates”; but some have estimated up to four million short-termers of all denominations may be going every year!

The Adventist Mission Explosion

Student missionaries, Adventist volunteers, and ADRA project workers go in the greatest numbers, but numerous smaller sending agencies and local churches are also getting involved in mission projects.


More short-termers go out from North America each year than the total number of regular Adventist missionaries now serving in cross-cultural situations (about 900) int the whole world.

The South Pacific Division uses some 1,000 volunteers on a yearly basis in short-term mission projects. And a few years ago, Global Mission began to mobilize more than 1,000 local Global Pioneers each year in church planting projects.

To support this exciting trend, the General conference established the Office of Adventist Volunteers at the Secretariat and several divisions also have an Office of Volunteer Ministries.

Why This Trend?

What are the reasons for this tremendous upsurge in short-term missions? Let us consider briefly three of the main reasons.

  • Reason 1: Travel and communication are faster and cheaper than ever before. Instead of taking weeks to journey to the mission field by ship, today we can be there in 24 hours!
  •  Reason 2: Short-termers can give service—yet not disrupt the regular flow of their lives.
  • Reason 3: Churches and mission agencies now encourage short-term missions.

So What?

What good do these short-termers do? Aren’t these just vacation trips for people who like to travel? What are the benefits to God’s kingdom of all this going and coming?

Consider the following benefits of missions.

Benefit 1: Mission benefits the goer

  • A broadened perspective on the world with all its hurts and needs
  • A chance to test themselves and their ability to serve and adapt
  • Realization of the benefits that come from caring for the spiritual and material needs of others

Benefit 2: Mission benefits the host people

  • They can see the caring and interest of the missionaries
  • They gain new perspectives on their world and the world outside
  • Spiritual and/or material aid is received

Benefit 3: Mission benefits the sender

  • Hands-on faith experience shared in the local church
  • Greater dedication to mission and church
  • Potential for future service at home and abroad greatly increased
  • New vision for what the church can and should do
  • Pool of experienced workers for more short-term/career service

An added important benefit is the benefit to a global church that is further united through real-life friendships that generate international, intercultural understanding and trust.

The “communion of the saints” is made real as otherwise distant and unknown brothers and sisters talk together, pray together, eat together, worship together, and dream together—as they understand each other and love one another.

The Need for Career or Longer-Term Missionaries

Should everyone choose the short-term mission route to being a missionary? Of course not! Like everything else in life, there actually are some weaknesses in short-term mission:

  • Since a short-term mission trip is often shorter than the necessary time needed to prepare adequately for mission, too often preparation and training are reduced at the expense of good mission.
  • A short-term mission does not provide enough time to learn the culture and the language of the host people.
  • Short-term missions are often driven by the results expected by sponsors, but the time spent is too short to do justice to the mission.

It is obvious that the Lord will be calling some to serve for longer terms—even making mission their “career.” These missionaries will have the advantage of bonding with the people they have dedicated their life to serve. They will understand the culture better. They will learn the language of the people. The long-term missionary will, thus, be able to communicate the gospel much more effectively.

Look back at the list of benefits of mission. Do they not all apply to long-term mission, too? In many cases, the benefits will be stronger—especially if the career missionary remembers to stay in contact with the sending church!

Your Turn

From the list of benefits of mission which are the most important to you as a short-term missionary? As a career missionary? Share  your thoughts in the comments below.

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