In honor of the Comrades Marathon, the world’s premier ultra-marathon (that made church impossible yesterday!) I have posted this excerpt from Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions Long-Term Impact.
The short-term missions (STM) trip is such a potent shot of spiritual adrenalin that the testimonies of those returning often sound like an over-zealous infomercial for how life-changing the trip will be. This may lead those you are waning in their zeal for the work of the Lord to think that going on this type of life-changing trip will make them more godly. Perhaps your spiritual walk with the Lord has slowed to a lethargic amble, or maybe your quiet time feels like a car that is puttering along haltingly in need of a tune-up. You see the STM trip as the spiritual recharging station.
In many cases the trip might be an event that escalates the seriousness about your faith like a quickened pulse, but that is not the reason we go on STM trips. I always told our STMers that the trip is not the time to get godly but to be godly. All STM trips are fraught with trip-wires to your godliness. You need to be on the alert, prepared for every temptation that might entangle you and trip up the ministry. If you find yourself cruising blithely on a plateau of apathy, the solution is to prepare your heart for the trip. You could memorize verses about dying to self and serving others. You should be in prayer for your own soul as well as for the other team members and those you will encounter in the field.
The church I serve in sits precisely on the route of the world’s most prestigious ultramarathon, the Comrades Marathon. Several members of our congregation have successfully completed the ninety-two-km race within the eleven-hour time limit [increased to twelve hours in 2003]. Besides the gruesome details they share with me about how the race affects the body (loss of toenails is the first one that comes to mind), they also share their secrets of preparation for going the distance. Any endurance athlete knows the importance of “carbo-loading.”