I recently returned from another wonderful Storyteller Missions trip to Uganda. My love for the country and people expands with each step I take on the red clay paths. This particular trip was very special because I had the opportunity to take 18 Clemson University students. (Go Tigers! I hail from class of 2005.) I spent a lot of time observing them in action and pondering how this trip, and others like it, would impact their future.
First of all, this sampling of students represents future innovators and thinkers. As we bused across Uganda we discussed excessive plastic use, solutions and passions for children with special needs. I was encouraged to hear them thinking outside themselves rather than letting monetary gain fuel their college ambitions. Exposing such students to the needs across the globe only fuels, rather than discourages, their hope for change. They are able to meet and see, first hand, ministries and individuals who have committed their lives to fighting malaria, poverty and unclean water. And most importantly, they learn that it literally takes ALL a person can give to be involved in such a fight. Fortunately we place our hope in Jesus and recognize the peace and hope he provides to those who have given their lives in this way.
I believe that working alongside those in the field gives students a chance to ponder what their impact on the world will ultimately be. They are given a chance to gain inspiration from Ugandan bus drivers who have put 7 siblings through school and ministry leaders who humble themselves, taking side work when necessary, to fund their outreach. They find themselves at the feet of these heroes of the faith, praying over them, laying hands on them and encouraging them for the days ahead.
I find that college students lack the social boundaries that adults adopt as they grow older. I watched as my team sought out night guards, restaurant employees and sat in the front with our drivers to learn more about their lives. They asked questions, became students of the culture and served until well after dark. They worked through jet-lag, sickness and difficult emotions. They solidified callings and career choices. They allowed God to speak to them through their experiences and new acquaintances. They said yes to the uncomfortable.
I’ve read so many articles recently that criticize the intentions of short term mission trips. And I agree, without specific goals and careful partnerships these trips can easily slide into territory I call Missional Tourism. We actually discussed that quite a bit on this trip and I was once again encouraged to hear and see that these students were far from that category of thought. This trip and others like it open up the world to college students. They are the future missionaries, givers, adoptive parents, sponsors and non-profit managers. Their involvement at an early age ignites a passion that prevents apathy. They will likely be involved in any one of the capacities mentioned above. They will also find their mission at home. Service fuels service.
Without short-term missions it is very difficult to bring students into the sacred work of the missionary. And without willing and open missionaries it is impossible to open the eyes of the next generation. I pray that as we move forward as organizations and individuals we can continue to form goals that incorporate both with healthy objections. And as ministry leaders let us keep the young in mind. 1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Investing in students, and leading by example, equals investing in the future of ministry.