Not long after Hurricane Ian, I told someone I planned to take students on a mission trip to South Carolina in June. I noticed some confusion in the response,  “You’re leaving an area that just got hit by a storm… to go on a mission trip?”

Some question short-term mission trips. And it is fair to question. In June, we will take a 12-hour drive and spend about $4,000 to send six students and two adults on a weeklong trip to South Carolina. It’s far, expensive, and logistically complicated. There are plenty of needs at home, and we can make relatively
little difference in a week. Why not take those twenty-four hours of driving, save four grand, and do several days of hurricane cleanup and local evangelism?

Simple: I’ve seen lives change on these trips, and you can’t put a price on a transformed life. We are making this trip with an organization called FUGE Camps, which puts on week-long mission camps and conferences across the nation. I’ve been on five of these trips—two as a student, three as a leader—and
have become convinced there are few opportunities with more transformational power for a student’s life.

It’s been said that ministry is not just about what God wants to do through us; sometimes, it’s about what He wants to do in us. In other words, a mission trip might not only be about how students change the world. It might be about how God changes their hearts.

Being forced out of their comfort zone in a different state with students from various groups going into homes, boys and girls clubs, nonprofits, or local parks, students encounter diverse groups of people. They encounter struggles unlike their own and their worlds will expand. They will see that the gospel isn’t messing around—it can change those lives, too. Students encounter Jesus differently when they’re removed from their comforts, invited into service, and immersed in a community.

If the goal is units of productivity—widgets made, boxes moved, things done—then short-term mission trips are rarely the answer. If the goal is sustainable change, where local people are empowered and lasting transformation occurs, short-term trips are rarely the answer. But if the goal is participation in what God is doing, and transforming the hearts of those who go, then a short-term trip does that better than almost anything else.

I am writing this article in May, before our trip, and I can’t wait to see how our students bond, how their worlds expand, the memories we make, and how we return changed. I’m hoping in 2024 we’ll do the same thing or something similar. Let me know if you know a student who might be interested in coming next year!

I asked one of my former youth students from Rhode Island to send me a one-minute video explaining why going on a mission trip was valuable. Her video was four and a half minutes long. She couldn’t make it any shorter. Why? Well, in her words, she “got saved on the mission trip.” She “went to serve and came home changed.” She wasn’t the only one. On that 2019 trip, several students accepted Jesus as their Savior and came home as changed people!

Four grand and a long drive? Worth it.

by Pastor Steve Clark