His eyes were wild and he vacillated between violent tantrums and brief moments of calm.
His scarred little feet were covered in both old and still-oozing new wounds. The medical team cleaned and bandaged his feet as best they could and urged him to wear the shoes that Hogar la Providencia had given him. He dismissed their pleas and ran outside to the newly-constructed playground like any little boy ready for playtime.
When I met Diego on the Tenth short-term trip to Colombia in 2011, the term “wild boy” leapt to mind. Pastor Jaime Leal had found him roaming the streets one day, barefoot, angry, and hungry. His mother couldn’t care for him.
But the Tenth team didn’t treat him any differently than the other children at the home. They helped him complete the Vacation Bible School crafts even when he was disruptive and screamed. They played tag and pushed him on the swing set. One of the ladies in the La Puerta church mothered him, twining her arms around him and kissing Diego’s forehead. She constantly told him that Jesus loved him.
The last two Tenth teams sent to Colombia tell a different story about Diego. He says that he knows the people on the short-term teams and in the church love him. He knows he needs to be obedient to the staff at the children’s home. But best of all, Diego has confessed Jesus as his Savior.
Diego’s problems didn’t evaporate the instant he confessed Christ. But he’s now a part of a spiritual family that loves and cares for him.
I’ve often heard arguments against short-term trips. If conducted incorrectly, short-term trips can be a hindrance rather than a help to nationals and global partners. If not done with discernment, short-term teams can jeopardize work in sensitive geographical areas. Furthermore, without proper vision, planning, and accountability, short-term teams can create a culture of dependence and can even adversely affect the region’s economic structure. So why does Tenth bother with the logistics and expense when we could just write a check?
“Money cannot hug a fatherless child or enjoy fellowship with Christian brothers,” writes Mike Pettengill, an MTW worker in Honduras, in a Gospel Coalition article. "Money cannot play soccer with drug dealers or wipe the tears from a hungry child. We Christians are called to serve the poor, sick, widows, and orphans. Money can buy food for the poor and build houses for the homeless, but just as Christ touched the leper (Matthew 8:3), the poor also desire the touch of a loving and merciful hand.”
Giving financially is great. But if you say you’d rather write a check directly to a work than support a short-term trip, will you really send that money?
On a practical level, short-term trips are helpful for accountability – both nationals’ and our own. It’s not a call to exert your authority over national believers, but we are called to be good stewards. It’s an opportunity to see the works Global Outreach funds.
I often think of Paul’s dream of the Macedonian man in Acts 16. “Come to Macedonia and help!” The next morning, Paul got up, convicted that he should go preach the gospel to them. Feeling like we do too much, we’re overworked. The last thing we want to do is one more thing. But the gospel should be our first priority instead of our last.
“But I’m not short-term material,” you say. “I’m an accountant, lawyer, or marketing specialist. I can’t construct a school or diagnose intestinal parasites. I really hate camping and bugs, and there’s no way I’m sleeping in the jungle.” God’s plan for extending his kingdom is far bigger than our own narrow views of global outreach. You don’t have to bivouac on the steppes of Central Asia (though you could!). For one thing, you could encourage college students or serve refugees in post-Christian Europe.
You could be that demonstration of Christ’s love to children like Diego.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Kari Randall. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org