What’s the long-term impact of short-term mission?

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Clarissa arrived for her four month Serve Asia placement working with me in Phnom Penh at my busiest time of year.

As a lecturer in Urban Design at the Royal University of Fine Arts, January 2017 saw a lecture series to complete, end of year projects to assess, 180 students’ results to compile and a graduation event to prepare. And now I needed to host Clarissa as well!

But looking back on this busy time, it proved to be an excellent and memorable four months of work for a number of reasons and one of those was Clarissa. Despite adding to my work load, her flexible attitude and willingness to ‘give it a go’ was refreshing and inspiring. She got stuck in using her tech skills to support me in my urban design presentation work. Clarissa took the opportunity to develop her skills in urban design and learn from another culture and worldview. She was also able to get to know the students as genuine friends (something I could never do as their teacher). She could spend unhurried time with them: hanging out, drinking bubble tea, going on adventures, riding motorcycles and sharing Jesus Christ.

Clarissa was the last Serve Asia worker I hosted in Cambodia. Like other Serve Asia workers, Clarissa has had a short term experience of East Asia that has inspired her to long-term engagement in mission. A few months ago I met Clarissa back in the UK and asked about her future plans. Mission to Cambodia is still on her mind (with her new friends ever present via social media). Someday she wants to go back to Cambodia long-term; to share Jesus Christ and use her skills in urban design. Her experience through Serve Asia helped her see how God could use her faith and skills in mission.

It’s fantastic if Serve Asia workers return as long-term mission workers with OMF or another organisation. But even if they don’t, our Serve Asia programme has still done its job. This is because Serve Asia workers will always carry a missional outlook with them into whatever work God calls them to. The experience of mission with OMF has developed their skills, equipped them to share Jesus Christ with East Asians across the street and across the world and mobilised them to pray intentionally.

A Different Way to Go

Traditionally there have been two main reasons why people go on short-term mission with Serve Asia. The first has been to meet a need in East Asia; to go and help out for a short period of time. The second has been to explore a call whether they are being led by God to serve long term overseas in mission. Both of these reasons are fantastic and we want to see many more people meeting needs, and exploring their calling through
Serve Asia.

But we also want to encourage people in a third way. Like Clarissa’s story, we’d love to see more people going with Serve Asia to explore how God can use them and their skills in mission. These skills can be as diverse as medicine, architecture, business, construction, accountancy, creation care, media, theology, language, counselling, photography, occupational therapy, arts, sports, writing, teaching and more.

The aim is not necessarily for them to become long-term OMF workers (though that may happen). Rather, we want the rest of their lives to be powerfully impacted with a missional outlook in whatever work God calls them to. To see how their faith and vocation fit together. To be prepared to share Jesus with colleagues at work, welcome international students at their universities, perhaps start a prayer group for the country they served in, or encourage others in mission and send out long-term workers. As OMF UK we take Serve Asia workers seriously as we journey with them before, during and after their time in East Asia. And as we help them explore their place in mission, we find we’re inspired by them along the way. A Serve Asia worker’s place may not physically be in East Asia for the long-term. But spiritually, we long to see them find their place in mission; prepared and passionate to share Jesus Christ.

Paul Robinson
OMF (UK) Director for Mobilisation and Media

Find out more about Serve Asia on the OMF (UK) website.