Each year, hundreds of short-term missionaries work in East Asia via OMF’s Serve Asia program. Some question the true benefits of short-term missions teams. Are they worth the investment of time and resources? We asked David and Lila Chang, long-term OMF missionaries serving in Thailand, to share their perspective. Read their Serve Asia story and interview below. 

“This trip felt different from all the other short-term trips I’ve been on,” shared a woman from the Serve Asia team from our home sending church, New Covenant Fellowship Church, during our final field debrief.

Why did it feel different? She went on to say that it was because there was a direct and personal relationship with us, the missionaries, in the field. For us, it was special because it felt like a family reunion. But it was also special because it was our first time hosting a team. A lot of work went into it, but at the same time, the short-term workers were a wonderful support for our ministry. The following are a few stories from the team’s time here:

Visiting Thai Brothers- and Sisters-in-Christ. “The visitations were one of the highlights for us. It was a time to trade stories, worship together, pray together, and encourage one another. Regardless of the language barrier, we all knew that communion with one another in Christ took place.”

Orphanage in Nakhon Si Thammarat. “The orphanage outreach went so well that evening that the officials actually invited us back the next morning for Children’s Day. Each team member was asked to chaperone an orphan that morning, which allowed for them to interact on a more personal level. It was a reminder to us of how precious each life is and how amazing our own spiritual adoption is.”

Children’s Day Performance at West Pak Phanang. “There were easily 1,000-plus people present that night. Our team arrived early to sign up and we were Group #7 in the performance list. When Group #5 took the stage, the rain began to downpour and the crowd quickly dispersed. Our hearts sank, but we started telling each other to pray. God answered!  Right before we took the stage, the rain completely stopped and the crowd had gathered in the center again. We introduced the skit as a drama about the freedom we receive in Jesus Christ in the midst of all the things that control us in this world. The crowd was dead silent and completely engaged throughout our whole performance. Praise God!”

English Camp Outreach at Thai Primary School. “One of the fun activities during this outreach was having each child make a salvation bracelet. We, however, did not get the chance to explain what each beaded color meant. But we asked each team member to pray that day for opportunities to share the meaning outside of school. That very evening, another fellow missionary who lives a good 20 km (12 miles) away, shared that two school girls showed up at her home to play. And guess what they were wearing? The salvation bracelets! The girls had the opportunity to hear the gospel from our fellow missionary, who explained the meaning of the bracelet.”

Q&A with the Changs:

  1. How often do you host Serve Asia teams?

We have and are planning to host a short-term team from our home church once a year. In addition, we help other team members in South Thailand when they are hosting Serve Asia teams. We have also hosted individuals for various months (as short as one to two months to as long as a year). We are currently hosting a Serve Asia short-term homeschool helper for about one year. In 2017, we will be involved with hosting (or helping others host) about four to six teams or individuals.

  1. What kinds of work do Serve Asia workers do with you/your team?

General church planting ministry (including evangelism, local outreach, visitations etc.). We also have people come help with sports ministry and adventure camp ministry. We have people come help with homeschooling. There are also opportunities to be involved with English teaching.

  1. How have you seen Serve Asia workers used to further the work of your team and the locals you interact with? 

Large teams provide us with the manpower we would not have on our own. For example, we had a team of 12 people come from our home church, and so, we were able to offer a two-day English camp at a local primary school for about 400 students. Teams also help us attract the local community and establish a presence in a new church plant area. Serve Asia workers can also help us communicate God’s burden for the nations when they return to the homeside. Finally, Serve Asia workers may provide certain skills and giftings to complement our work on the field.

  1. What are some challenges of working with Serve Asia workers? 

We do need to spend a lot of time and energy preparing for hosting the team, and therefore it limits our time on the weekly ministries we are engaged in. In regards to individuals, we have hosted people who had no cross-cultural experience or received inadequate homeside orientation, which therefore led to us spending more time taking care of them. At the same time, though, it can be a mentoring and growing experience for them as well.

  1. Similarly, what are some common challenges that Serve Asia workers encounter when working with your team? 

Some struggle with the following: 1) Language and culture (of the field as well as missionaries) and 2) Being flexible with schedules.
Serve Asia trips are not always a walk in the park–for the short-termers who go or for the long-termers who host. But God is not interested in what’s easy–he’s interested in what changes people into the image of Christ. For years, God has been using Serve Asia trips in powerful ways to transform both the short-term workers and the people they serve.

Can you see yourself coming alongside a long-term worker to make a lasting impact in East Asia? Explore OMF’s Serve Asia program, including upcoming opportunities to go to East Asia, on the Serve Asia website.