Gabe and I arrived in New York around noon on Thursday October 4th after our short three-and-a-half-hour drive. We knew that we had a long trip ahead of us and in many ways we were thankful to arrive at the airport early in the day. After a small lunch, we spent some time together, studying and discussing some passages of scripture.
One thing we looked forward to on our travels was the time we would spend together. Looking in scripture, we find the pattern of discipleship to be one of going out together into the world. It was a time of teaching, training, and experiencing the things of God as in the case of Paul and Timothy. This had an even greater significance to us, knowing we would be coming so close to the part of the world where these early saints had traveled on their early missionary journeys.
After hours of waiting, we boarded a nine-hour flight out of New York to Italy. The hours ticked away as we tried to acclimate ourselves to the new time schedule we were flying into, which was to be six hours ahead. We stayed awake when we felt like sleeping and slept when it felt like the middle of the day.
We arrived in Italy and spent our twelve- hour layover on Friday mostly in a topical study of the spiritual gifts Christ gave to the church. After what seemed an eternity, it was finally time to board the plane for Tirana, Albania. Thank the Lord, this flight was a mere two-hour flight and we made it to Tirana around midnight.
Praise God that our luggage arrived as it should (because it rarely ever does). We were at the Stephen Center, attempting to sleep within the hour. I stress “attempting to sleep” as we were excited to finally arrive in Albania, and to our “internal clocks” it seemed to be around 8:00pm.
The Stephen Center is run by the ministry we partner with for our work in Albania and Kosova. The founders, Chris and Laura Dakas, have been missionaries to the Balkans for over fifteen years now.
Saturday, we awoke, had breakfast and then began to arrange for our transportation to Prishtina, Kosova. We changed money from US to Euro, bought plane tickets, and spent some time brushing up on the language. After breakfast on Sunday, we were on our way once again.
Pastor Skender met us at the airport in Prishtina and had just an hour to the town of Gjakova. We spent a precious four days with Skender and his family. We made this trip to check on the progress of our school with the gypsy children in Colony Gjakova (a romantic name given to a bunch of run-down buildings along the city dump).
After checking the bookkeeping, school attendance records and such, we had to begin the more difficult work. Our school has been under attack from a radical Islamist group that has rooted itself in the Colony.
Our school director has been under constant threat from this group for continuing our Christian school in the community.
They have threatened to beat him if he continues to come, and they have already placed glass on the road to pop the tires of the bicycle he rides to school each day. However, with the strength of the Lord, he has persevered in teaching these children.
Skender and I scheduled a meeting with the new leader of this gypsy community, but he did not show up. We met with the manager of the building we use for our school. He is still very supportive of our program and gave us some strategies to gain more political strength in the Colony. We know however that we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood” and we continue to pray that the Lord will be victorious in our effort to help these children.
During our time on Kosova we had a chance to visit with a few local families, participate in a few English classes (sharing some testimonies) and, most of all, bring encouragement to Skender and Blendi (our school director).
Our time seemed so fast in Gjakova and once again we were back on a plane to Tirana. Gabe and I had a chance to do some writing and study for another couple of days. It’s always difficult keeping up with the rest of our mission work while traveling. So, with limited internet and phone communication, we did our best to respond to people back home and to prepare for our upcoming trip to Haiti.
I can’t even begin to express how excited I was the day Tanya and Tia were to join us. Gabe and I borrowed one of the vans from the guest house. We arrived at the airport around 11:30am. They were to arrive around 1:30pm. I tend to be “insanely” early to things. It’s probably all the overseas experiences of flooding, vehicle problems, road blocks, etc.
Well, 1:30 came and the plane landed. Gabe and I waited for each and every passenger to exit, for what became a nerve wracking hour and – no Tanya and no Tia!
Now, I kicked into overdrive, knowing that they were most likely stuck somewhere in Italy. We had no way to reach each other.
I checked in at the airline desk of Alitalia, where the attendant spoke very few words in English. I was able to discern that there had been a major delay leaving New York (almost three hours) and that they had missed their connection in Rome, Italy to come to Albania.
The plan was for them to arrive in Rome, then be sent on another plane to Milan, and finally to arrive in Albania just before midnight. Gabe and I prayed, and then we went back to have lunch together at the Stephen Center. I must say that I was very disappointed and quite concerned for how Tanya and Tia were doing. I returned to the airport around 4:00pm and buckled down for the long wait.
Thankfully, they did arrive on the midnight flight and once again, to my delight, their luggage made it! I was so happy not only to see them, but to hear that their day had gone well. The Lord gave them peace as they traveled, and they knew people had been praying.
We spent a day together recouping from all the travel and catching up on the affairs back home. Gabe had not been feeling well for about three or four days by this time, so he needed a lot of extra sleep.
Sunday morning, we took the seven-hour trip from Tirana to Saranda. The drive included a breathtaking ride over some of the mountains in southern Albania. We arrived about a half-hour before the evening church service started, so we were able to attend.
I shared a few words of encouragement with the congregation.
After the church service, we were able to have a meeting with the church leaders to discuss our plans for the week. We laid out a schedule of Bible studies, children’s classes, film presentations, and our clothing distribution for our school children. We unloaded the van and went to bed.
Finally, some of the real fun began as Monday we started our work in the gypsy village of Chuka. The local church in Saranda, which itself is still in the early stages of growth, began an outreach to this small community about four years ago. A young teenage girl from the church was the first to preach the Gospel to these impoverished and outcast people.
Now, one of the ladies from the church goes to this village every week and holds church with these people. Two years ago, during our first visit to this community, we put on some dramas with some of the teens from the Saranda church. We were honored to lead one of the first gypsy men to the Lord during this event.
Monday, we heard testimonies from some of the children about their walk with the Lord and how God had changed the ways their families dealt with each other. One boy, Jorgo, told how, four years earlier, when the “church people” first came, they all thought it was a game. After some time, he realized that this Jesus they were speaking of was real. He became a “follower of Christ” and is quick to share his faith with others.
Before distributing the clothing to our school children, we showed the first part of the “Jesus Film for Children.” The battery power on my laptop limited the amount of time I could show the movie, so it had to be broken into two parts for them. You could tell that the children (and the parents) were very thoughtful after what they had seen.
We returned on Tuesday to meet with a group of mothers from the Chuka community to get some new ideas for our school. As we came down the road we were greeted by the children jumping up and down and screaming with excitement. Any shyness from the first day had disappeared. After having the meeting (with all the children looking in the windows) we were able to invite everyone in to show the second half of the movie.
The children and mothers gathered around my laptop hanging on every word and every image that rolled across the screen. They saw the death and resurrection of Jesus come to life with new meaning and understanding. They listened as a group of young people in the film invited them to start a personal relationship with Jesus as their Lord.
As soon as the film finished, I moved to the front with our translator Diti. Together we asked if there was anyone that wanted to start their walk with the Lord Jesus. Immediately, one the boys jumped up and came to the front. This was the same boy I had talked to about the Lord on our last trip, and, at that time, he did not feel ready. His name is Kristo.
After a moment, with Kristo at the front alone, I asked if there were any others. A woman came forward, the wife of the gypsy man we had led to the Lord two years earlier. I had Diti and one of the other church leaders (Bedro) pray for these two new disciples.
If nothing else was accomplished on this mission trip, we can say with confidence that we came for Kristo and this gypsy woman. To what extent will God move upon our hearts to travel from one place to another for the sole purpose of reaching one lost soul? We say this, but do we believe it?
Was it worth the thousands of dollars we had to raise, the days of travel, the loss of income from work, the sickness, and the uncomfortable conditions around us for the sake of the eternal destiny of these two individuals?
What if it was just Kristo? Would God really have the whole purpose of our trip be about reaching Kristo? I believe He would. I believe that God would move heaven and earth to reach any one of us. As a matter of fact, I believe that He would have sent His Son Jesus to die upon the cross if it were just for Kristo.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?
And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”
Think of what Jesus left behind to come on his “mission trip” to earth.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus;
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made
himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”
I want to take this opportunity to share a few things with you about the importance of short-term mission trips. Tanya and I have now led over 70 teams overseas with more than 2000 people. We have probably heard every excuse for people not to come on short- term mission trips. I want to deal with just a few of these “reasons,” as well as share a myriad of benefits we have seen from these experiences.
The first thing is what I spent time sharing above. We all know the “Great Commission” from Matthew 28:19-20, to go into all the world and make disciples. Yet, we find it within our capacity to reason this command away as it pertains to us personally. We may say, “Yes, some of us are called to go into ‘all the world’, but I am called to stay,” or we may not feel qualified. We could also say, “There are lost people all around us in our own country that need to be reached.”
I will answer the second question by asking a one; “When was the last time that you shared the Gospel with a lost person from your community?” Some of you may be able to look at times you have shared during the past few days, while others may just have to look at me sheepishly and answer, “Well, I guess I haven’t got around to it here, either.”
In answer to the first, I am not going to say that everyone is called to the “foreign mission field.” However, it seems odd to me that only a few Christians feel called to go abroad, covering vast amounts of territory, while at home I attend a church with hundreds of believers together in one place. Are there that many “called” to stay and so few “called” to go? Or are there not enough of us earnestly seeking God as to His will for our lives?
In Saranda, Albania, there was a missionary woman for many, many years by herself. She led many to the Lord. The church is still young. She was called by the Lord to move on and there is no one yet at a point to pastor this church. The number of Christians in this community is so small it probably does not reach 1%.
One of the benefits to short-term missions is to make Christians aware of the needs in the Body of Christ around the world. These trips instill in many a passion for long-term missions. I know this sounds scary – it is! It is scary to humbly come before the Lord and tell Him that you will go wherever He asks, because He may ask you to pick up, leave your home and go somewhere. But, there is no better place than for you to find the center of God’s will for your life. Can you imagine standing before the throne of God and finding out that you missed His plan for your life?
Even if the Lord does call you to stay at home, our experience has shown us that those who come on short-term mission trips are more likely to evangelize in their own communities.
Another popular reason not to go on trips is that the money spent on a mission trip could be better used meeting the needs of the people in that country. There are a number of problems with this one:
1) Most people with this philosophy don’t send in to missions what a trip would have cost them. We don’t receive too many $1500 “in lieu of our mission trip” donations. I won’t say this never happens. In most cases when we have received this type of donation, it is from someone who has been on a trip. However, we have found that people that have come on mission trips with us, or have heard directly from someone that has come, typically become the largest donors. They have seen things with their own eyes and their heart is broken for the people of that land.
2) There can also be arrogance to this statement, in thinking that a mission trip is just about what “we” have to bring to “them”. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings for those that have never been on one of these trips. Our brothers and sisters overseas have a great number of things that they teach us. Our relationship with some of these individuals challenges us and continues to increase our faith and obedience to the Lord.
3) What we have to offer with the gifts the Lord has given us goes well beyond the financial. We should not elevate the dollar above the spiritual or even the emotional. Our brothers and sisters overseas long to be connected with the body of Christ. Our visits bring them encouragement to persevere through difficult times. What is money going to do for the teenagers we work with in Kosova, some of which get beat by their parents for believing in Christ?
To Recap: What is the importance of Short Term Mission Trips?
1) They open the believer’s world view and perspective and they allow for a more knowledgeable and earnest seeking of the Lord’s will in regards to missions.
2) They allow the “visitor” to truly become a spokesperson for the people of this country. They will have seen with their eyes and touched with their hands.
3) These trips instill a passion for the lost in the foreign and domestic field.
4) These trips take the believer away from the busyness of everyday life and allow them to experience God in a deeper way.
5) There is intensive practical training in evangelism and discipleship.
6) An opportunity is provided to learn from believers in other countries.
7) These trips strengthen the faith of the individuals participating.
8) They provide opportunities to give of one’s finances and talents in a very personal way.
9) We are able to help with large projects with our visiting teams such as the construction of schools, churches, homes, wells, and orphanages. Many times, our teams become a mobilizing force that gets the entire community involved in these projects.
10) You may be a part of bringing someone like Kristo to Jesus.
I received a letter once from a Pastor in Alabama. In it, he made this comment to me:
“Scott, I love sending my people with you on mission trips because they always come back as better Christians.”
We certainly cannot promise to make everyone that comes on a mission trip with us into a “better Christian,” but we promise that you will be challenged in all aspects of your life as a follower of Christ. Our prayer is that all Christians will come away from a short-term mission trip seeing themselves as missionaries wherever they are.
To learn more about joining a short-term mission trip with Mission E4, visit our website at www.missione4.com