The Long and the Short of It: Long-term Discipleship from Short-term Mission Trips

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Where have you previously served on short-term mission trips? I asked this question while sitting around the airport for countless hours with a newly formed short-term mission team. I heard the responses with great interest. I discovered the locations and contexts in which fellow team members previously served. The question provided the opportunity to appreciate what the Lord is doing around the globe.

However, I recently reconsidered this question. From one perspective, a mission trip can (and perhaps should) continue well past its one or two-week window. I realized that the August 2022 short-term trip on which I served is continuing one year later. The short-term became long-term because of God’s grace and for His glory.

In 2022, my local church partnered with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina to serve Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. The team desired to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of these displaced people. On August 1st a team of a dozen church members landed in Chișinǎu, the capital of Moldova. Before that day, I prayed that the week would include many gospel conversations. The Lord answered that prayer.

My relationship with one refugee in particular led to many gospel conversations throughout the week. Our relationship began upon arrival at Chișinǎu airport. He had accompanied a Moldovan believer to help load the perhaps all-too-bulky American baggage. During the one-hour ride to our destination, he and I discovered that we both enjoyed studying history. A friendship was formed immediately.

My friend was not a believer. However, he was open to discussing the gospel and the history of Christianity. The Lord provided opportunities for gospel conversations during our discussions about history, politics, and economics. Christianity’s impact in these areas created natural avenues to turn the conversation to spiritual matters.

Those gospel conversations also provided the opening to dig deeply into God’s word. Each evening, myself, my friend, and other team members would gather late at night for Bible study. We examined the Gospels, discussed hard questions, prayed together, and believers shared how the Lord changed their hearts through the gospel.

The “long and the short of it” is this: the Lord may have long-term plans for your short-term trip!

After days of studying God’s word and having many gospel conversations, my friend still had not made a profession of faith when the team departed Moldova. While disappointed, I was encouraged when he suggested that we keep in contact via WhatsApp and Google Meet. We began weekly video calls immediately following the mission trip. These turned into weekly Bible studies. He desired to “start at the beginning” so we began in Genesis 1 and studied God’s word verse-by-verse.

During this time other believers in Moldova preached the gospel to my friend. I was overjoyed when during one video call he informed me that he made a profession of faith. He expressed his personal sense of joy in knowing Christ, began attending a local church, and was baptized.

When I met this man at the airport, I had no idea the Lord would form such a strong bond between us. I also had no idea that this short-term trip would evolve into a long-term discipleship commitment. Weekly Bible study through Genesis (and now Exodus) is at times taxing. The hustle and bustle of life can easily distract and discourage me from maintaining regular contact. However, these meetings are also an immensely edifying and enjoyable privilege.

I learned a valuable lesson from this short-term mission trip—be ready to make a much longer-term mission investment than the one or two-week trip itself. If you are planning to serve on a short-term trip, please look for opportunities to establish long-term relationships with the people you meet. Today’s technology enables inexpensive and easy communication with people from around the world. Reach the nations while in your living room!

I suggest five actions to help establish long-term discipleship from short-term trips:

1. Pray for conversation opportunities and wisdom to “turn” the conversation to the gospel

2. Develop relationships with whom you will regularly interact

3. Exchange contact information (consider creating a WhatsApp or Telegram account prior to the trip)

4. Propose and commit to consistent virtual Bible study and prayer time

5. Wholly depend on the Lord

Jesus commands believers to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20a CSB). You may see someone come to know the Lord on a short-term trip. You may then have the privilege to teach them the Lord’s commands through a discipleship relationship that would not exist had it not been for that short trip. The “long and the short of it” is this: the Lord may have long-term plans for your short-term trip!

  • Discipleship
  • Great Commission
  • Mission Trip
  • Other World Views
  • Prayer
Jonathan Lawler

Jonathan Lawler leads a small group and mission trips for his local church. Over the past two decades he served on mission trips to four continents. Jonathan is the Archivist and Digital Collections Manager at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from where he graduated with an MA in Ethics, Theology, and Culture. He also earned an MA from New York University, MMin from Northwest University, and BA from SUNY New Paltz. He is married to Jessica and they have three children.

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