THE VALUE OF SHORT-TERM MISSIONS, by Tyler Ellis
Have you seen the 2011 movie, Soul Surfer? It’s the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a Christian girl who lives with her family in Hawaii where she surfs competitively. One day the unthinkable happens. She is attacked by a shark and loses an arm. As you can imagine, this experience not only prevents her from competing in an important tournament, but turns her life upside down. Then her Youth Minister reminds her about a mission trip to Thailand (I think it was), which she had previously not signed up for because of tournament plans. Bethany reluctantly agrees to go to help provide disaster relief in the wake of a tsunami. Suffice it to say, it was a life-changing experience. There, she met children who had not lost arms but entire families. She connects with these children and tries to bring some measure of joy to their lives by teaching them to surf. Returning home, Bethany had a broader perspective on life and a newfound sense of purpose. I’ll stop there so I don’t give away the ending, but I recommend watching the movie and looking up some of the inspiring books written by Bethany and her mother.
I share this story because it beautifully captures the potential of short-term missions. I’ve seen it happen on trips I’ve led to the Apache reservation in Arizona (back when Josh and Laura Zito were students of mine). And I’ve seen it happen in NYC, LA, and Honduras. It’s the same reason Jonathan Thomas is bringing the Laurel youth group to Atlanta this summer to work with Friends of Refugees again. Eyes open, comfort zones stretch, perspectives broaden, and purpose is found as hearts pump with adrenaline as if jolted with an electric charge. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, it’s enough to change the course of their lives as well as our own.
On March 10th, sixteen students from UT and two Campus Ministers set out for the long road to Houston, TX, to work with a disaster relief organization called Helping His Hands.
There, we joined students from three other Campus Ministries and tackled two houses that were in major disrepair. I was proud to see our students so eager to serve; starting each day with a morning devotional at 6:30am. We mixed cement, applied stucco, installed insulation and kitchen cabinets, glazed windows, and hung drywall...right alongside the families whose lives were devastated.
We also had fun along with way: playing late-night board games, shooting hoops, and singing along to a fourteen-hour playlist in the van.
We want to thank the many individuals, families and churches who supported this trip with generous donations; some who attended our Solid Rock Talent Show. It was all worthwhile and so rewarding. Most importantly, the spotlight was pointed to God as the source of hope and life eternal.