Why not plan ahead for a summer of adventure that also has a noble purpose?
January ... cool air, bright snow, big resolutions, new classes, and planning your summer.
Think it's too soon to start thinking about what you'll be doing in June? Maybe you imagine that this summer will look like the last one: long, hectic hours of slave labor to earn enough money for next fall. Or laying in the sun, thinking about nothing at all. This year, instead of stretching out on a comfortable beach, consider allowing yourself to be stretched out of your "comfort zone." A summer mission trip could help you see the world in a whole new way.
Visualize summer now. Imagine going somewhere you have never been. Ocean City, perhaps, or a third world country. Prepare to serve. Prepare to sacrifice. Prepare to be changed forever.
"A day is as a thousand years." That was the unofficial motto of Michelle (Eureka College, class of 1998) and the other college students who went to Ocean City, New Jersey for a summer mission trip with Campus Crusade. Most of them had chosen to go in order to share their faith with others, but every day seemed to contain a millennium's worth of lessons for each team member's personal and spiritual life. Each team member came from a different part of the country, and most of them met each other only days before they plunged into their assigned tasks. For all their differences, they could not forget the one major thing they had in common: a desire to serve and to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world.
They knew they would be teaching children, but they didn't anticipate the lessons for their own hearts that would come from those young students. "Their questions were so humbling," Michelle recalls. The children's response to their Gospel lessons made the team members realize the immense value of what they were sharing.
Meg (Geneva College, class of 1997) got more than she bargained for, too. She went to France for two months with a small group of Christian American college students she had never met. They did sow seeds for the Gospel, but Meg found that the most growth occurred in her own understanding of herself — her beliefs, her strengths, her talents, her goals for the future.
"The first day of school after that summer," recalls Meg, "I was late to class — and I didn't mind!" People who knew Meg looked at one another as if to say, "What happened to Meg?" What had "happened" was that Meg had spent the summer in a culture more laid back than her Presbyterian upbringing. In matters as small as shopping and searching for a restroom, she had to do much of the talking for the group of students — in French. As part of the evangelistic efforts of the team, she approached strangers with tracts. Her faith and core convictions were strengthened, and she also became more outgoing and spontaneous. She could forgive herself if she didn't meet every expectation — like getting to class on time.
During Michelle's second summer trip — to Berlin, Germany — she was amazed by the gratitude and generosity of the people to whom she had come to minister. "These people lived in poverty, and yet they were so thankful for a simple visit from us. They gave us gifts," recalls Michelle.
Soooo. . . where do you start? Pray about it. Ask your friends to pray as well. Ask God to show you whether to go, where to go, and with whom to go. If you and your friends feel led to go on a particular trip, you can share the task of raising support. You can encourage each other to trust God while you are waiting for money to come.
Intimidated by the thought of raising funds? It's not so bad once you start! Sharon (Princeton University, class of 1999) was not looking forward to raising support. But she wanted to go to Kazakstan, so she wrote letters to family and friends. "I was so humbled by the letters I got back," she recalls. "People were saying 'what an honor it is to support you on this trip, since we can't go ourselves. . .'" Not only did they give money, but they promised to pray for her as she went. Sharon's team of 18 missionaries made it a joint effort, so those who received more than they needed happily shared the excess with those who did not find enough.
Put yourself in the shoes of the people you will ask for support. Consider what would inspire you to support someone else.
- Keep it to one page.
- If time allows, hand-write your letters.
- Describe your desire — what compels you to go on a mission trip?
- Describe where you will go and what you will do.
- Specify the total amount you need, and suggest an amount for an individual donation.
- Invite them to be partners with you in this endeavor.
Since your supporters are indeed your "partners" in this mission, you might send them a postcard while you are actually on your trip, letting them know what God is doing through their giving.
Michelle found that her faith was strengthened even before her trips began. She did all she could to spread the word through letters and speaking, and then she simply had to wait for contributions to fund her missions. Michelle found that this was a wonderful opportunity to trust God to provide.
Going on the trip for an entire summer also meant no summer job, so she had to trust God to provide for the upcoming school year as well. She concisely puts things into perspective: "College tuition is temporal ... evangelization bears eternal fruit." She was so certain that these trips would be worthwhile that she was willing to sacrifice a semester of school if necessary. Needless to say, Michelle did receive the funds just in time, and she also was able to continue as a full-time student without interruption.
Michelle recalls one particular test of her faith: Right before her summer mission trip would have begun, she had to leave for a two-week academic trip. She still needed $500. She had no choice but to leave town and trust God to provide while she was away. When she returned from the academic trip, she found several checks in the mail, totalling $500! "God has all the money in the world," Michelle reminds us. When He wants you to go, He will make the way.
What will you do for 5 to 12 weeks? You have a vast array of choices. Organizations like Campus Crusade arrange trips to the inner city, where you may work part-time and minister in the evenings and weekends. You can go to a foreign nation, experience their culture, and allow them to experience you. Your ministry may be teaching children, building construction, or chatting with English-speaking natives. For every personality, there is a place to go and a way to minister.
But don't be too particular! Part of the wonder of a mission trip is that you will have to do something you are not accustomed to doing, with people you have just met. It's not comfortable; it's growth. Sharon found that doing something completely unfamiliar was good for her walk with God: "evangelization is not my strongest spiritual gift, so I had to really depend on God for the leading."
Whether this summer will be a "life-changing" event is partly up to you. You will get the most out of it if you go with the intent to serve others. Surrender yourself to be changed. Ask God to teach you things that you will be able to apply for a whole lifetime of service. And, wherever you go, Michelle advises, "Be there." Of course you will leave your friends and furniture behind, but while you are packing, make sure you bring your whole heart. When you arrive, unpack your things; settle in; "dwell in the land" for the whole time you are there.
To sum up: Start now, pray first, remember that God has all the money in the world, and wherever you go, dwell in the land. What are you waiting for? Visualize summer.
Copyright 2000 Laurel Robinson. All rights reserved.