Even a few weeks can be invaluable, especially in those countries where English is widely used. Of course, we will never get the world evangelized without long-term commitments. It takes more than two years to learn a culture and language, develop quality relationships, and establish lasting ministries.
“Short term” means one or two years and is preferable to “vacation service.” But you may win someone to the Lord in a few days! Even where you may not be able to contribute much, you can learn much, which may lead to your becoming a long-term missionary or tentmaker, or a more effective sender at home. But don’t go overseas to find out if you “have what it takes.” No one has what it takes. Missionaries trust God to make them effective.
I. Vacation Service Options
Mission Agency Programs. Avoid the bricks-and-mortar kind unless they also provide contact with local people. A good program provides orientation at home and abroad, an introduction to the culture, contact with local people and ministry experience. Evangelize as you tutor English in a Japanese church, nurse in a mission hospital in Zaire, type in a mission office in Peru, do campus evangelism in India, teach VBS in Swaziland, do literature evangelism in Spain, or serve on a music or sports team. Other groups provide formal and informal missions training.
You pay round trip travel, modest room and board. Pray about funds. Save some–cut down on ice cream and movies. Get an extra job. Check with your church for partial support. (Your going helps the church!) But don’t short-circuit God by borrowing. Let Him say yes or no to your plans.
Secular Summer Jobs. The work is mainly unglamorous, mainly for young people, mainly in summer, and mainly in Western Europe. Often lodging is provided–maybe in dorms. Pay covers expenses and regional travel, but you won’t earn enough for another semester at school. But this is a great, low-cost way to experience another culture and share the Good News.
Evangelize as you teach English in Hong Kong, harvest fruit in Poland, work in a hotel in Switzerland, in archaeological digs in Turkey, a kibbutz in Israel, as you babysit in Austria.
Summer Internships/Traineeships. Evangelize as you advance your career goals. Get business experience in Denmark, engineering in Pakistan or nutrition in Guatemala. This will look great on your resume. Students are eligible after their sophomore year. A few require a degree. Your initial expense can usually be recouped by your earning the rest of the summer.
Summer Study Abroad. Evangelize while you advance your academic goals, studying music in Austria, botany in South Africa, history in Greece, geology in Brazil, art in Italy or zoology in Australia.
Why not divide the summer between a mission agency and a secular job? Gain the advantage of learning what professional missionary service is like, and then learn through a job what it is like to live out the Gospel in that culture and to do low key friendship evangelism in the workplace.
II. One- or Two-Year Short Term Options
Mission Agency Programs. Work in a mission school in Germany, a hospital in Papua New Guinea, a radio station in Liberia, relief or development in the Philippines, agriculture in Bangladesh, auto mechanics in Nigeria, teach English in Japan or literacy in Ecuador, or teach in a Christian college in Zimbabwe, and more.
Usually, you need independent funds (savings?) or you raise donor support. Many churches readily provide for modest living costs abroad. A few programs pay round trip travel, living costs and a small stipend for extras.
Secular Jobs. If you do low key evangelism in the context of an overseas job, you are a bivocational witness–-a BW. Mel is a financial analyst in Saudi Arabia. Peg teaches English in China. Jim is a marine biologist. Like tentmaker Paul, they integrate their work and evangelism. But tentmaking is not to be identified with short terms. We will not evangelize the world unless BW’s make long term commitments.
But short term BW’s can give valuable service abroad. They may get hooked, and end up long term. If not, they can be better senders–praying and giving generously.
Internships / Traineeships / Fellowships / Exchanges. One-year internships are open to recent grads. A few require masters degrees. You pay travel, but earn on arrival.
Longer Term Study Abroad. One can do four years abroad, a junior year, or grad studies. The cost may not be more than in the U.S.
Jim did medical studies in Latin America. Jane earned an MA in linguistics, given jointly by a US and a foreign university, and taught English to Arabs. You can go where missionaries can’t. But your subject must make sense for the country. (Laser technology in Nepal?) Genetics makes sense in Switzerland, archaeology in Israel, geology in Brazil, tropical forestry in Costa Rica, culture and language almost anywhere.
Vacation or short-term service greatly increases our responsibility to God and to needy people, either to return abroad for longer service, or to pray and give to send others. A sender is important as a go-er, but God won’t thank anyone for being a sender if He should be a go-er. We must work together in our God-assigned roles to get the Good News to this dying world.