The call to missions is one that is integral to the walk of a Christian. While missions today is complex and can take many different forms for the individual involved, the life of Jesus is evidence enough to support why missions is important. As SNU prepares to send out their own students this summer on short-term mission trips, I sat down with Professor Eileen Ruger to discuss the effects of short-term mission trips.
Professor Ruger is the Assistant Professor of Missions and the Director for the Center of Global Engagement at Southern Nazarene University (SNU). As the Director of Global Engagement, she helps facilitate students studying abroad and the cross-cultural learning experiences off campus. She also served for over ten years as a missionary in the Asia-Pacific region, and the core of her passion lies in her experiences there.
Here is my interview with her.
When you were serving there (Asia-Pacific Region) did you ever have short-term mission trips come and visit, and what was your experience with them?
Yes. For the most part very good, very positive. We’ve had students come and do what we call English corners. When we would have summer groups come, they would really help us and give us energy. You know we could give some of them our responsibilities for teaching English, and they were the age of the students we were teaching, so that helped them connect.
Plus, it was kind of fun to have them around. They always brought a lot of energy and positivity. It also revitalized what I was doing. It made me think, “Yes, this is important– somebody is showing value towards it.”
As someone who is engaged in missions and culture, do you think overall short-term mission trips are worth the time and energy?
I think it would depend on what people think missions is. We have this embedded idea when we say mission trip. What does that mean? To some people, my age and older, it means to go transform a culture or to bestow upon them services and resources that they don’t have. But you know that’s not really what missions is.
How do you define the mission of God?
Well, the mission of God is to redeem the world through Jesus Christ and reconcile the world back to himself. So then, if that is what a mission trip is, we are not there to make them better human beings, we are not to make them into people like us, and we are not there to think of all the blessings we have. I have heard that many times, “I never knew what I had until I went on a short-term mission trip.” What does “I’m so blessed” imply? That someone else isn’t?
So, it’s not to look at all look at all the blessings we have, it’s to see how much God loves the world. In every time and in every culture in human history, God loves people. So, this goes to show us the heart of God. It also shows us that you can be of another culture and be a Christian. You don’t need to be western to be a Christian.
This interview was edited and shortened for clarity.
One thing that Professor Ruger did encourage is that everyone in their college years should try to have some type of cross-cultural experience. A great way to do this is through a missions trip, but you must be ready for God to use and teach you. The question of the worth of short-term mission trips comes down to these two things: humility and understanding.
When stepping into a different culture other than your own, it is important to remember that you are there to learn. Even when you exchange ideas and thoughts, think about what you are saying or doing. It should also be remembered that the cultures and communities you are stepping into are complex, and you will not be able to solve the systemic issues that face them in one month or less.