“Why am I here, anyway? As a short-term worker with limited language skills, how can I possibly make any impact on a church plant in Japan?” These were the thoughts running through Abigail’s mind.*
These are natural questions—the heart of church planting, and of missions, is for people to come to know Christ and have their lives changed, and to grow the church world-wide. That’s a long-term vision. Can a short-term volunteer or team make any lasting difference?
“I mean, will we actually be any help?” Just the other day a friend from my home church in the US asked me this over the phone. The church wants to send a team to help with the church plant where I serve in rural Japan.
She said, “I mean, we don’t know the language, and we would only be there a couple weeks. Is it really worth it?”`
I smiled and said a wholehearted, “Yes!”
God does use short-term volunteers to have incredible, lasting impact.
Examples of the impact of short-term missionaries
For example, returning to Abigail. She soon became close friends with Megumi, a student in one of the English classes she taught. Eventually Abigail was able, alongside a missionary, to do a Bible study with Megumi and see her come to belief in Christ. And now Megumi is preparing to be baptized and join the church! Interestingly, she first came to church because a friend of hers received a church flyer in the mailbox—flyers which had been distributed by a short term team.
Another example is my church plant’s youth ministry. Most of the students who come were introduced to the church through friendships with short-term workers. There was the short-term team from England and Ireland that first started hanging out with students in what became “English Cafe,” a weekly ministry of the church plant. There was Grace, from the US, who connected with Yūma over their love for music. There was Jack from Canada who loved computer programming and bonded with Hiroto over the shared interest. All of these short-termers have long since returned to their home countries, but the students they befriended and loved remain connected to the church plant and are learning about Christ.
Encouraging Japanese believers
And it’s not just outreach—short term volunteers also encourage the local believers. Fewer than 1% of Japanese people are Christians. It can feel incredibly lonely to be a believer here—to not know anyone else in the community who shares your faith. This is especially a challenge for church plants, which seek to create a community of believers where one never existed before. But when locals meet short-term missionaries and hear their testimonies, they can see that they are not alone in the world. They often realize that to be a Christian means being part of a global family. And they can experience firsthand the love of Christ—a love so real it would compel someone to spend their vacation serving in a faraway country.
Unseen impact on those who come and those who send
I’ve seen many examples of the impact of short-term missions, but I’m sure there’s more that can’t be seen. Who can count the impact on the hearts of those who come? Who can know how many churches started praying for Japan after someone returned and shared their experience?
Maybe you’ve asked this question, too? “I don’t have much time, I don’t speak the language—what difference could I make?”
Here’s what a church planting missionary once told me: “It’s good to have low expectations of what you can do. But have high expectations of what God will do through you.”
*All names changed
—by Morgan, an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- Pray for those impacted by short-term missionaries in the past, that they will become linked with a church and come to know Jesus.
- Pray for the encouragement of Japanese believers by short-term missionaries.
- Pray that the borders would open so that short-term missionaries can come again (as of September 2020 no new short-termers have been able to come for several months due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel).