I’ll never forget the moment when I was struck with the fact that Jesus intentionally used short-term, cross-cultural mission trips as part of his disciple-making process. It was the spring of 2013, I was sitting on a bench made from rough-cut logs on a beautiful day at the property of the Latin America Multiplication Center in Heredia, Costa Rica. I was living there as a missionary, overseeing FUSION, Sonlife’s short-term missions process for teenagers. As I sat on that bench, evaluating the investment of time, energy and resources that churches (and student ministries in particular) pour out every year toward short-term mission trips, I was struck with a frightening thought – What if I’ve moved my family overseas to invest our lives in something that Jesus never did? At that point in my life, I had participated in and led numerous mission trips, but I had never stopped to consider if this whole “short-term, cross-cultural mission trip” thing was something that Jesus had done. And if Jesus didn’t do it, I didn’t want to either.
Of course, I knew the impact that short-term mission trips have. Like many of you, I first participated in a short-term mission trip as a teenager. It had a profound impact on me, and God used that experience to change the course of my life. After college, I served as a youth pastor for 13 years. During that time, I took students on dozens of short-term mission trips. I had the opportunity to see God work in, and through, the lives of students over and over again. Most (if not all) of us would agree that short-term mission trips are generally good experiences, but maybe you’ve found yourself asking similar questions as those on my mind that day:
- Are short-term mission trips worth all the hassle?
- Is the work being done actually accomplishing anything?
- Are the mission trips we plan actually just glorified exotic vacations for our students?
- Is the money being spent really the best investment of Kingdom resources?
- Do our mission trips teach and equip our students to engage with the mission of Jesus and live as disciples in their own culture and context, or just when they go overseas?
- Would it be more beneficial if we simply wrote a large check to a missionary instead of taking up a week of their time and adding significantly to their workload, hoping that we make some sort of impact?
- Does anything about the way we do short-term, cross-cultural mission trips need to change?
- Did Jesus model taking his disciples on short-term, cross-cultural mission trips?
In studying the life and ministry of Jesus, I’ve discovered that the answer to that last question is a resounding YES! Additionally, a careful study of Jesus’ use of mission trips actually informs all of these other questions as well. In our blog post entitled “Equipping Cross-Culturally,” we saw that Jesus took his disciples on short-term, cross-cultural mission trips on at least 6 different occasions. Not only did Jesus take his disciples on multiple short-term, cross-cultural mission trips, but as we study them, we find a model for how we can and should do likewise.
This study of Jesus’ model for short-term, cross-cultural mission trips and how he used them as a disciple-making tool has led to the development of Sonlife’s FUSION process. FUSION is a short-term mission experience that strategically partners churches in North America with churches in Latin America for the purpose of multiplying healthy, disciple-making student ministries. It’s a four-step process that’s specifically modeled after Jesus’ ministry strategy and how he did short-term mission trips.
Although there are four short-term mission trips throughout the process, FUSION is anything but a typical mission trip experience. The primary purpose of FUSION is not to construct a building, lead a vacation Bible school program, or do street evangelism. Instead, we ask our FUSION teams to incarnate, invest and multiply. This is a reflection of Jesus’ strategy of entering our world, pouring his life out into a few, and reproducing his character and priorities in them. Students on FUSION teams have the opportunity to enter the world of Latino teenagers, invest their lives in building relationships with those students, and help them build a healthy, disciple-making student ministry by reproducing the character and priorities of Jesus in them.
Looking at the short-term mission trips that Jesus did with his disciples, it’s clear that his focus wasn’t solely on the people where they were going. He used these trips as a tool to develop his disciples’ hearts and to teach them necessary skills in disciple-making. In the same way, FUSION is designed to be a tool that can be used by youth pastors to develop a disciple-making ministry. As students engage with the mission cross-culturally, they develop both the heart and skills necessary for making disciples back home in their own culture and context.
Throughout the process, there are a number of key ingredients that make the experience fruitful. FUSION is student-led, which means that once a team arrives in-country, the students are responsible to take the lead in building relationships, group training experiences, English classes in the local public schools, living as disciples in their host homes, and various outreach opportunities. The emphasis during the entire process is developing relationships between students in the partner ministries so that disciple-making DNA can be shared. The adults who are part of the team (youth pastor, volunteer leaders, etc) serve in the role of shepherds during the process, praying for, caring for, and encouraging the students by reminding them of the training they’ve received to prepare them for their cross-cultural disciple-making experience.
Each step in the FUSION process involves a short-term mission trip, and each step has a different focus.
STEP 1 focuses on the foundational priorities from Jesus’ life and ministry. Students lead the training, looking at how Jesus built a disciple-making ministry and what it looks like for us to do the same.
STEP 2 shifts the focus to targeted ministry training and outreach. Students equip their peers in the partner ministry to share their testimony and the Gospel with a spiritually lost friend, and then both groups go on an outreach retreat together where those lost friends hear the Good News.
STEP 3 is all about transmitting the DNA of cross-cultural missions and equipping a team of ministers. In this step, things are reversed and students are challenged in a new way as the student ministry from Latin America does a mission trip, traveling to their partner church in North America.
STEP 4 focuses on multiplication. The student ministry from North America returns and travels with their partner ministry to a third location where the students “pass the baton” and the four-step process begins again. In this way, both student ministries are learning to make and multiply disciples like Jesus.
Regardless of where your student ministry finds itself in the process of becoming a disciple-making ministry, we’d love to talk with you about how cross-cultural, short-term mission trips can play a significant role. If we’re serious about following Jesus’ example, we have to recognize that we can’t build disciple-making ministries without taking our students out of their comfort zones and across cultural barriers. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a trip to the other side of the world, which is why we’re currently developing the FUSION process domestically as well. We’d love to talk with you about what it might look like for you to engage in the process, and how we can serve you as you continue investing in students.