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Mission-minded: A view from professors and organizers


Excerpts from interviews with missions directors and professors at Christian Universities

By Erik Tryggestad
The Christian Chronicle


Amanda M. Wolfe, director of public information, Rochester College, Rochester Hills, Mich.
In your opinion, is there an increased interest in such missions among students compared to five, 10 or even 20 years ago?
Yes. I believe that for many years there has been an unhealthy stigma associated with missions. Students, I feel, have grown up thinking that if they commit to a missions trip that meant that God was going to ask them to commit their lives to living in the jungles of Africa – which God may do, but only if the heart is ready.
But, with short-term missions trips becoming more common, I believe the stigma began to dissolve once people saw that serving God through missions does not necessarily mean a life-long commitment.
How do you, as planners of missions, handle the need for well-balanced, meaningful mission trips in a small window of time?
I believe the answer comes from a combination of where hearts are being led and where the call is coming from. There are endless amounts of areas that need help and call for God, but ultimately the destination has to be a good match of a heart’s call.
Are these mission trips effective tools for evangelism, or do they do more to help spiritually develop the students who participate?
Hopefully they are both. The most common phrase I hear from those returning from a missions trip is, “I grew so much over there. I think I learned more than any amount of help I may have provided.”
Earl Lavender, director of missions, Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tenn.
In your opinion, is there an increased interest in such missions among students, compared to five, 10 or even 20 years ago?
Yes, there is a definite increase in interest that has been growing steadily over the past five years. I believe it is in response to the blatant materialism they have already experienced and not found fulfilling. They are looking for answers in truly serving others. Not only is there a greater interest in missions, there is a greater interest in serving others and giving to others.
Are these mission trips effective tools for evangelism, or do they do more to help spiritually develop the students who participate?
Evangelism is God’s work through us. This is not an either or, but a both and. As the students work internationally, the good news of the gospel is proclaimed. In my view, this question demonstrates a lack of understanding of what evangelism truly is – the proclamation of Jesus through the lives of faithful children.
Jeff Fincher, director of student missions, Lipscomb University
What, in your opinion, has contributed to mission trips’ recent popularity?
This renewed interest in serving is not something that is unique to the Christian college campus. We are seeing a trend throughout all facets of society that lead us to believe that service is becoming a way of life.
“Experts say the recent interest in service may be an outgrowth of the community service emphasis in recent years at many colleges and universities. ‘Idealism has always been part of campus cultures,’ says University of Vermont’s Ada Puches, director of the University’s non-profit program. The opportunities offered through these (service related) programs ‘provide a real outlet for those students who want to make a difference with their lives.’”
— USA Today, “College Grads Bask in glow of Service,” May 30, 2002
Students now more than ever are coming to Lipscomb with a passion to help others. So we are providing outlets for them to do just that. The more opportunities we provide, the more students we have wanting to be involved. The great thing about doing what I get to do is that I get to take those passions and focus them on a work that best fits that student’s unique personality.
Maybe we’re finally beginning to realize just how wealthy we are compared to the rest of the world. Maybe we’re finally beginning to comprehend in this new age of communication that there are a lot of hurting people out there. Maybe we’ re finally beginning to understand that life isn’t all about me and what makes me happy.
Granted, we still have a long way to go and there’s much work to be done, all I know is, “If you build it, they will come.” God is good.
How do you, as planners of missions, handle the need for well-balanced, meaningful mission trips in a small window of time?
Our mission trips, for the most part, are very concentrated in what they do. Each mission trip has a very distinct focus pertaining to its purpose and what it hopes to accomplish.
For example, we send students on medical mission trips, mission trips that focus on building and manual labor, mission trips that work with children either in schools or orphanages, mission trips that work with adults like the poor and dispossessed, mission trips that are more evangelical in nature that work primarily with churches, etc. Based on that purpose, it is then our goal to pair up our students with a mission trip that best meets them where they are.
We believe that God has created us all to serve as missionaries in whatever context He places us in, based on the gifts He’s given to us, and the life experiences He has brought us through.
Therefore, we try to partner education professors and students with a mission trip that works with children in schools (like our New York Inner City mission trip). We partner our engineering professors and students with a mission trip that focuses on building and/or supplying the needs of a community (like our Honduras mission trip that built a solar-powered water tower in a remote village).
We partner our pre-med and pre-nursing students with a mission trip that provides basic medical needs to people who rarely if ever have seen a doctor or dentist (like another Honduras mission trip, one to Guatemala, one to Zambia, etc.).
It’s pretty amazing how God can use that small window of time to help shape someone’s (both ours and the people we serve) eternity.
Daniel P. Cherry, Harding University, Searcy, Ark.
In your opinion, is there an increased interest in such missions among students, compared to five, 10 or even 20 years ago?
At Harding there has always been a great spirit of students interested in service.
I think the main challenge for them today is choosing among the overwhelming opportunities which ones in which to participate. There has been a growing interest in domestic missions and church planting in the past decade. Spring Break is a prime opportunity for students to go to different places where they can explore future long-term possibilities.
What, in your opinion, has contributed to mission trips’ popularity?
I think there is a reciprocal relationship between the experience students have on campaigns and the growing numbers of students who get involved. Students return from campaigns full of life and excitement and stories of what God has done and is doing. Others see this and want to get involved.
How do you, as planners of missions, handle the need for well-balanced, meaningful mission trips in a small window of time?
At Harding we set as our first priority the local congregation. I think one of the best things a one-week trip of college students can do is encourage local congregations around the country to get more excited and intentional about their outreach.
Since it is such a short time, we spend a lot of time before the groups leave working out detailed plans for the week and preparing for the things we will be doing. Then, when the groups hit the ground, they are ready to do their job well.
We also try to emphasize — when they return — that they can have an ongoing relationship with that church. … (If) they can do that kind of work for a week and see God working in such a short time, think what they could do with a lifetime of that kind of service.
Stan Granberg, Cascade College, Portland, Ore.
In your opinion, is there an increased interest in such missions among students, compared to five, 10 or even 20 years ago?
Much greater. Students are more excited and seem more willing to make the sacrifices for such trips.
An encouraging change I am seeing is a move from a desire to have “construction” oriented mission trips (building, painting, cleaing, etc.) to those that have at least some focus on teaching. It seems that the Gen X generation wanted to be able to see a difference from their work. These Millenials seem to want to dig deeper. They are not discounting the physically-oriented activities, but they want to get into peoples’ lives as well. So they view the physical activities as a bridge rather than the end result.
What, in your opinion, has contributed to mission trips’ popularity?
Easier access, a track to run in, returned missionaries with a continuing passion for the areas they serve, more deliberate opportunities provided at colleges and universities.

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