Top 10 Life Lessons Learned On A Short-Term Mission Trip

“I have fire kindling inside of me, a tremendous sense of urgency for [everyone] to hear the message, the solution to the longing inside of their souls to get in touch with a living breathing God, who has a purpose for their lives.” (My journal-May 1998)

I was 25 years old when I wrote this. I had numerous short-term mission experiences behind me. They had taken me to multiple countries.

My journal entry from over 14 years ago included some goals. I liked them then, I like them now. Here are the top 10 life lessons learned on a short-term mission trip. 

  1. Find a mentor – praying for a radical leader who “walks the talk”
  2. No lone rangers – appreciated the Body of Christ as expressed in team
  3. Jesus transforms lives – renewed faith in the power of a life transformed
  4. Prayer is for me – practiced prayer for others, and witnessed physical healing
  5. Develop my gifts – learned to enjoy communication, cross-cultural relations and leadership
  6. Our denomination has a unique role – acquired a love for the Mennonite Brethren family of churches worldwide
  7. Surrender it all – reshuffled life priorities, it’s all His
  8. God’s Really Real – developed a deeper intimacy with a living, speaking God!
  9. Others need to hear – grew a sense of urgency to tell other about Jesus
  10. Called to serve – confirmed my calling to discipleship and mission

Jesus was calling me to a life-long journey of trust and radical risk taking obedience. These convictions remain as strong today as ever. Life has deepened and widened them.

Jesus is on a mission to build his church around the world. Our life is short…if we wait, we chance missing out.

What life lesson would you add to this list?


51 Responses to Top 10 Life Lessons Learned On A Short-Term Mission Trip

  1. - Jesus calls everyone–not just the outgoing ones, or not just the ones who seem really strong in their faith

    – God stands to get the most glory by calling the least likely :)

  2. Sometimes the invitation is about removing obstacles… the majority of the people who I come in contact with in my world will have already heard something about Christianity, even if they’ve rejected it. My job is to really understand what they’ve heard and figure out why they aren’t interested. This is not as easy as it sounds, but worth the effort!

  3. I am 15 and God has called me to be a missionary. I also have a blog, I wanted to ask if I could use some of your ideas in my blogs. I would love learn more about you. I wanted to say thank you for the work that you are doing to bring Glory to God.

    • Jonathan, thanks for getting in touch. My prayer is that God would use these simple thoughts to encourage and connect people together! It amazes me how He answers that prayer. Let’s connect by email tomorrow. Sam

  4. I love the 10 life lessons. Number 4 is a big one for me. Prayer is so powerful, and its something that we often forget and just don’t do. It’s crazy how much better your relationship with God is, when you actually spend time just talking and in return listening to what He has to say to you.

    • Krista, isn’t it amazing that the Creator of the universe desires to have an intimate connection with us? Every minute of every day is literally with Jesus. And he talks as much as I do!

  5. I think this is an amazing blog and very encouraging as well! thanks again for emailing me about this, i am really excited to learn more from your experience as well as from god himself through this blog! :)


  6. Thanks for the heads up on this blog. I went with YMI to Eastern Canada after my third year of college (Lisa Peters at that time).

    I currently work with young adults at Bethany College, and help support students in their serving and learning experience with our college’s annual trips. We also encourage lots of our students to connect with ACTION and TREK.

    Lisa Braun

  7. Thanks for sharing! This reflection has found me during a moment when I need to hear it. Thanks again,


  8. What I learned from short term missions is that I don’t think I am called to long term missions. This was a really hard realization for me; for so long, I dreamed that God would use my skills as an engineer overseas. Maybe He will one day.

    With many tears, I told God at a youth conference in Grade 12 that I would surrender to Him and go anywhere, even a hut in Africa, if He wanted me to. Of course, with an admission like that, I expected that I would wind up on a mission field one day. I loved seeing pictures and hearing about missions. I loved dreaming about myself in some far-off place, making a difference and being a practical help to the needs of the world. I have been given so much; I wanted to give back.

    But, after short term trips to India, DR Congo and Brazil, I realized that I really, REALLY don’t like being overseas. I am an introvert and become exhausted easily in hot-culture climates where personal space is a foreign concept. I get incredibly homesick. I just want to go home. I felt like a failure because I just couldn’t make myself love Africa the way my teammates did. But perhaps I just had to realize that I wasn’t called to go.

    Maybe I am called to stay. That is way more boring and unexotic than foreign missions. It seems way less spiritual and sacrificial. After all, having a house and a car and a pension plan is so… ordinary. And yet, I trust God that He put me where I am, here in Winnipeg at my 7:30 to 4 office job, for a reason. I don’t know what it is. But I trust Him that He has a plan for me, and He has called me to do work that only I can do.

    • By the way, Sam, in case you forgot – Elise Neufeld was Elise Dyck only a few short weeks ago – it still throws me to introduce myself as Elise Neufeld :)

      • Thanks for the honest reflections Elise. Rest assured there are MANY like you, called to stay. Let me encourage you life with Jesus in Winnipeg, is still life with Jesus! He loves that city and every one you work with. You are a part of his mission to restore and reconnect with all He created.

  9. I think this is a great way to connect with others and share thoughts on discipleship and faith! Look forward to hearing everyone`s thoughts!

  10. Hey Sam,

    I enjoyed reading this and it really reminded me of how I felt returning from TREK. It also, in a way, acted as a checklist of things that I’ve really developed in my life as well as a motivator to change and to remember those feelings I had during my missions experience. I really identify with the “Called to Serve” point but in a different way then you might think. I may not be going into full-time ministry but I feel challenged to live out God’s calling on my life and to serve in the local Church and really become involved within the church community! This was one of the biggest realizations I had coming back from TREK, as well as surrounding myself with older and wiser Christians (“Mentors”) who I could ask questions of and seek their wisdom. I’m excited to read more about your experiences!


  11. The most effective work we could do was to come alongside local workers and help equip them for more effective ministry. In one case I was asked to lead a Bible Study in the village where my mother was born. Instead of lecturing, like I had seen the pastor do, I aksed questions which led to a greaT DISCUSSION. from that point on, the church planter no longer lectured but had Bible discussions

  12. I really resonate with #8. When I took my first trip with YMI, I met, for what I thought was the first time, people who acted like God is actually real. It threw into stark relief the adults around me who lived day-to-day without the same passion and zeal. Now I’m one of those adults, and looking back on that lesson really challenges me. What kind of testimony about God’s activity am I displaying to the younger folks around me?

    • Andrew, GREAT to hear from you. You ask: “What kind of testimony about God’s activity am I displaying to the younger folks around me?” This is THE challenge for us. Oh that His reality would increase to us, the older we get.

  13. #2. stands out. Everybody who is a follower of Christ is a messenger of the gospel.When Jesus gave the great commision He said, ” go ye “. That means all of us.
    #9. Is important to me as well. I just ame back from a missions trip where I saw five young people accept the Lord as their savior. P.T.L.

  14. I agree with #5. I’ve learned to develop my gifts, even the ones I never knew I had. When I can bring myself to step out of my comfort zone, that’s when I really see God moving in amazing ways!

  15. This has been very timely for me. I just started a new job and am needing to be very intentional with keeping the focused on the goals that have been laid out. There is a need to stay focused on the purpose our family has in this transition. Thanks for the clarity you give through your passion to remind us of the journey all of us should share!

  16. Thanks for these great reminders Sam! One major thing I learned from the missionaries while I did TREK in Peru was that “being” is more important than “doing”. Who we are every day and how we love people and interact with them is way more important than having a ton of great programs. I am still trying to learn this today and focus on becoming who God wants me to be instead of running around trying to accomplish tasks that I think I should be doing. Jesus was really big on loving whoever was around, wherever He was, just living life!

    • Ahhh Sarah the “being” vs “doing” debate – though it can be a little challenging to separate the two of them, I agree 100% with your comment. The more we “become” like Jesus, the greater the impact everything we “do” has on those around us. That Jesus is real and His life shines through me is almost unbelievable, however it completely removes all pressure to perform, or succeed, or bring about change on my own.
      John 14:11 “Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it.”

  17. This was such a pleasant reminder of my short-term missions trip to Montreal 4 years ago. God met me in numerous ways during my time there. The Worship sessions, team times, service opportunities, and times of reflection greatly influenced my life. I experienced deliverance from a spirit of rejection, from which I had suffered unknowingly for many years of my life. My walk with the Lord continues to deepen as the eyes of my understanding are being opened more and more. It is my desire to hear God’s voice and be completely obedient immediately to what He calls me to do each day. It is my joy and privilege to be light to those around me. Thank you for this opportunity to share!

  18. I did ACTION in Peru 4 years ago and it opened my eyes to how developing relationships WITH people is just as important as doing concrete projects FOR people. it really changed the way I do life.

  19. I would add to stay connected with those people you’ve made relationships with and continue to pray for them even once returning home. It’s important to continue building Christ’s body even from a distance!

  20. Hi Sam,

    I was powerfully touched by the people my team and I were called to serve. Most of the people we met turned out to be some of the most generous of gift givers. I thought I was going to serve them and in turn, they gave and gave and gave in return and I in turn learned how to be a better giver (of my time, finances, hospitality, etc.) by following their lead.
    In my personal journey God spoke to me in ways that He had not ever before spoken or perhaps I had not heard Him before because I was allowing myself to be too busy in my every day life. During my one year away from my home and family, I was often called to be still before God and wait and wait and wait and wait until He guided me. It was a challenging, but God never failed or faltered, He always showed me the way He wanted me to go and how and with the specific team members. I carry these lessons in my life now as a wife and mother of two young children. As I wait and wait and wait upon the Lord, I know from the experiences overseas, God will not falter and He will not leave me hanging, He will take care of me and my family and He will show me the way. Often times it is the experiences from my time in missions that I look back to and gain strength and endurance for the life God has set before me right now.

    • That is a powerful testimony of faith. I love it when God teaches us principles that shape us our entire lives. Thanks for the wonderful window you have given us into your journey Bethany.

  21. I did a missions trip 2 years ago to Montreal, and it was by far, the most eye-opening experience. I hold many memories dear to me, but one stands out in particular. It was the first Saturday that we were there and we had a huge thunder storm. We had the whole nine yards; lightning, thunder, rain, wind, and surprisingly warm air. We stayed at a college that happens to be situated across the street from a cathedral. Everyone was on the highest platform outside and we were singing praises to God, when the thunder and lighting began to pick up. All the teams except for 2 teams from Abbotsford and 1 from France, ran back to the college for cover. The rest of us stayed there and sang praises to God, waiting for the arrival of the storm. We stood there watching Montreal being engulfed by the clouds and it just slowly began disappearing. We were so caught up in our singing and dancing that we didn’t realize that there was no rain. When we noticed this, we began wondering what had happened to the storm. All of a sudden, someone yelled, “Look.” and pointed to the left of us. There was a sheet of rain coming toward us. We all ran into it, singing and dancing louder and more filled with God than before. Seeing God’s true beauty and being able to partake in such an awe-inspiring marvel made everything that much clearer. God became clearer and spoke louder than I can ever remember

    • That put into perspective who we really worship. We worship the Creator of the universe. (Mark 4:41)
      “They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!”

  22. I learned that all I need to do is be open to the Holy Spirit. He will give the words to speak no matter what the language. Sometimes there are no words, just how you do it.

  23. I went on YMI in 1993 to California. I wish I could get the contact info for my team mates. The leader was Trevor Garrett. I have been living in Brazil for the past 6 years. Love always, Walter

  24. Hi Sam, thanks for this space. Well, I´m coming from a hot-culture country. But my ancestors are coming from Europe. I grew up in a little town where about 13 different cultures are living together (many indian tribes). So I think I can say that I know a bit of the differences between the “hot-” and “cold-cultures”.
    By now I´ve been involved with mission for 10 years. I´ve been traveling to Peru, Uruguay, Brasil, Bolivia, DR Congo, Portugal, Marroco, Tunisia, Senegal and Burkina Faso (to mention some of them). By the way, I grew up with many lenguages: german-dialect, german, spanish. And then I learned portuguese and english (never took clases for that – maybe you find some grammar faults here). 2009 I was in Burkina Faso for 3 months to learn french. And I did it.
    Now, after all that, I realize that Gods first purpose in every little thinks or situations is to come closer me and Him. It doesn´t depend on where I am or what I do. When I keep going every day in dependence and obedience to him, “mision” will be made as an result of my relationship with God. Yes, sometimes its like walking as a blind person not knowing what comes next.
    But trust in God has been for me the most powerful encouregment I ever could find. Thats the biggest lesson I´ve learned about discipleship.

  25. Some of these thoughts are the same I’ve been sitting on in this last 6 weeks since TREK, especially in looking forward to the future.

  26. Sam,
    I started going over seas about 7 years ago and have found that I enjoy being over seas a lot. God has taught me that He is very involved in the peoples lives every where I go. I have learned that prayer is the key to any ministry trip and I have learned to be much more intentional and up front with praying. Like you I have seen God heal someone right in front of me which was amazing but then I realized that healing hearts was even more amazing. How fun it is to see men & women open up their hearts to the Holy Spirit. Now I am able to bring the excitement that I find on trips back home and minister to people here just like over seas. It is a blast to really experience the ‘joy of the Lord’. I don’t know if this is what kind of comment you were looking for.

  27. Wow, thanks Sam, those were really helpful. I definitely agree. Thanks for that! there definitely is a burning fire that God has put in me for missions, so i’m trying to be open to what He wants for my life and doing my best to discern where He’s leading me. i’m excited for what all He has in store! i’m hoping to go on an action trip this summer or next. thanks again sam!

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