Short Term Exposure Trips
Travel Becomes Ephiphany, by Shane Bennett
As the summer sun leans heavily on the Southwest, my thoughts drift back to the first time I ever "got up" on water skis. Never a great athlete, I bobbed in the choppy lake, trying to wedge my foot into the second ski without inhaling so much water I had to forfeit my turn. Then with skis on, a firm grip on the rope handle, I signaled my friends in the boat. The sound effects would cheer the heart of any cartoon aficionado: Vrooom, the boat roared to life; rreeeenk, the rope went taut; sproing, the handle flies from my hands and sails to the boat; ouch, I examine my sore hands and pride.

The driver wheeled the boat back around so I could have a second go. Advice, often contradictory, flowed freely from my on-board friends, "Act like youíre sitting in a chair." "Lean back." "Just stand up." I alternatively applied their coaching over my next three efforts, but with no success. Finally, when my friends were just about ready to harpoon me and drag me aboard, I did it. The rope pulled, I applied the mysterious formula of body and mind, and before I knew it I was up! As I enjoyed that wonderful hiss of water under planing skis, I thought, "Now I know. This is what I was trying to do. Thatís how it feels to pull up out of the water and onto the skis."

In snootier circles, that might be called an epiphany. Weíve all experienced it at one time or another, that sudden sense of realization, of discovering something thatís been there all along, only you didnít know it. You may have suspected it, but you didnít know then like you know now.

That realization is important for advocates as we seek to mobilize concern and action for our peoples. Itís important because that sense is the threshold to commitment, whether commitment to skiing ("Come on guys, just one more time around the lake."), to a spouse, or to a specific unreached people. When someone slowly shakes his head, and says, "Man, I had no idea," you know it is happening.

A good talk might do that. Occasionally an excellent slide show will. But nothing compares to a first hand, in-your-face, up-to-your-ears-in-unreached-people exposure trip. Going to an unreached city, talking with missionaries, eating with Muslims or Hindus, choking on third world exhaust, and praying desperately to God quite simply changes people. It causes strong men of faith to lower their heads and soberly confess, "I had no idea."

It is not just poverty. You can see poverty anywhere. Itís the godlessness; the sheer weight of the realization that only two in a million of these people follow Jesus; that unless something radically changes, things will only get worse. And itís the glimmer of light, the small spark of the hope of God preserved in the lives of half a dozen young believers who are betting all they have against great odds for the sake of the Kingdom in their city.

Going to an unreached city will make the difference for many of the folks weíre mobilizing. And as advocates, we can take them there.

So how do you get from reading this article to the day when you sit in a pew and listen to a pastor share how his life was changed through an exposure trip? Consider these three questions and the admittedly incomplete answers:

Church leaders: elders, missions committee members, lay leaders, and, most of all, pastors.

You say, "I bet thereís no way I could get this pastor to go on a trip like that." Youíd win that bet. At least thatís my experience. You canít get pastors to go. But the Holy Spirit exerts more influence than you do. Admittedly it is uncommon, and difficult. But when it happens, the results can be staggering. A pastor who went on a recent trip to Bombay, India with Caleb Project has since worked to provide a housing allowance for a missionary family there, is hosting a national worker at his church, and is considering rallying a group of pastors from his area to go there. All of these activities are in the context of a new, church-wide, long-term commitment to India.

When inviting pastors, explain to them that though they wonít get to preach, they may well get to sit down over a cup of tea and talk to someone whoís never met a Christian before, and though there will be no hammers and no buildings to raise, they may well build up a missionary by providing the needed encouragement to stick it out for a few more months.

Pray, meet, experience, discuss.

Many exposure trips now come in the form of prayer journeys. (For more information on prayer journeys, request the book with that title from Caleb Project or visit our web site.) Walking the streets of an unreached city and praying for Godís Kingdom to come there is a potent way to gain insight into the heart of God for your people.

Meeting with people makes all the difference. Do not just view the city from afar. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and we can too. But He also pushed through the crowds on the side streets and conversed with people both amid the din of the city and in the cool, quiet of their homes. I was once a guest with a pastor for lunch at a Muslim missionary training center in Malaysia. After lots of chicken and rice and good conversation, our young host laid his hand on the pastorís knee, leaned forward and sincerely asked, "Brother, become a Muslim." Did that impact the pastor? You bet. Would it have happened within a couple hundred miles of his Indiana church? Chances are slim.

Minding important security concerns, make every effort to balance your meetings among the big three: Missionaries, national believers, and ordinary people. The latter is the most difficult and the easiest to let slide. Ask God to open doors. He is more than able.

Experience the full breadth of the city, some of the worst and some of the best parts of town. As a pastor and veteran of several cross-cultural trips once admonished us, "Show them the beautiful aspects, too. Give them a chance to fall in love with the city."

Encourage team members just past their point of comfort, but be wise and careful. Walking with a pastor down a side street in Bangkok at night, we headed toward the glow of a party off the main thoroughfare. As we continued, the street narrowed and gave way to boards lashed to barrels bobbing in the canal. The pastor turned to me in the darkness and said, "Do you really think we should be here?" It was good that he was stretched, but much farther and heíd have gone home without me.

Discuss whatís happening in the hearts and minds (And sometimes bodies!) of your team members. Otherwise, they make take home perceptions that should never have lasted past the first day. Intimate discussion among participants on a two week trip will not likely happen spontaneously. Make time for it; at least an hour every other day. Come armed with questions which will help team members voice their thoughts and feelings.

To pull off a successful exposure trip will take the heart of an advocate, a well thought out plan, and about six months lead time.

Trips such as these are born in much prayer. It is in prayer that Godly passion and holy motivation take shape. We can all be bulls in china shops. But if we are, insurance rates will surely go through the roof. Most of the people you talk to will have never heard of a short-term mission trip in which something was not built or handed out. But we need humble conviction of Godís desires, and then with patience and persistence we can reach out to the unreached.

Finally, youíll need about six months lead time. Our experience says thatís a safe and workable amount of time to effectively pull together and train a team while organizing the logistics. That means you could be taking the pastors of two key churches to your unreached city next February, a relatively slow time in most pastorís schedules.

By Shane Bennett, Caleb Project. From the AdvoNet newsletter, Summer 1996. See the Caleb<> Project web site, or contact their Advocacy<> Team for more information.

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