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.”
This is when you eat copious quantities of complex carbohydrates, which take time to digest and release energy in a constant stream for several hours. The key to this tactic is to eat it the evening before, and never the morning of the race. Can you imagine starting a race at sunrise having just scarfed down a massive bowl of spaghetti?
In the same way, trying to read and study your Bible on the STM trip, in order to heighten your spiritual experience or infuse your days with God-centeredness, betrays naïveté. The STM trip will have a dense schedule of work and service to do. It will involve pouring out your knowledge, practicing your patience and selflessness, and it will leave you exhausted at the end of each day.
Believe it or not, you might not even get time to crack open your Bible; and that’s OK. People who obsess about having regular daily devotions on the trip are like people eating their carbohydrates while on the run. The trip is not the time for you to be working on becoming godly through spiritual disciplines; it is the race.
Yes, the Comrades Marathon contributes to one’s fitness, but it is not why you run the race. Your year of preparation to get fit is so that you can perform well on race day. The STM trip is the time to put into practice that for which you have been preparing.
This excerpt is taken from the chapter, “Round Trip: Culture Shock and Travel Tips.”