Editor’s Note: MissionGuide can help you find hundreds of options like those described below. Go to the home page to start your search.
With so many opportunities to serve overseas, I can almost guarantee there’s an overseas short-term mission opportunity that fits you. In fact, I believe that almost anybody with two weeks to two years of time who desires to serve God overseas can do just that, regardless of how aged or unskilled he or she may feel. Here’s an overview of the opportunities.
Go with Your Church
Talk to your pastor or mission committee leader (or missions pastor, if your church has one). Ask them if your church is planning to send a short-term mission team. If they aren’t, perhaps your inquiry will spur them on to form one.
Ask how to contact your denomination’s mission agency. Many of these now offer short terms of service. Costs and locations vary, but the options increase every year.
Go with a Mission Agency
There are literally scores of mission agencies (sometimes called mission boards) that accept short-termers. On a short-term mission with an agency, you have the advantage of experienced leadership, training, and a community of people to talk to before, during, and after your trip. Most of these agencies require you to raise the needed finances for your trip. This, however, doesn’t present an insurmountable barrier at all; tens of thousands of short-termers manage to raise their own financial support every year.
The range of skills used for short terms may surprise you. I have discovered a need for vocations including auditors, nurses, English teachers, elementary and secondary teachers (many subjects), ophthalmologists, maintenance workers, business managers, dorm parents, office workers, builders, X-ray technicians, bookkeepers, radio engineers, translators, typists, agricultural advisers, biomedical equipment technicians, dentists, camp managers, language teachers, basketball players, mechanics, artists, food service managers, community development advisers, computer programmers, maritime workers, cooks, musicians, plumbers, nutritionists, librarians, and well, you get the idea.
Whatever you can do, God can use it, even if you’ve used the skill only as a hobby or in a summer job. You could end up leading small group bible studies, building a road, a clinic, or a church building; dispensing medical supplies; communicating the gospel through friendships as part of an evangelism team; handing out literature; teaching guitar; running a warehouse; giving hugs to handicapped children; or just spreading the love of God wherever you go.
What are these mission agencies like? Each has a distinct personality because each is composed of unique people. Some have been around for decades. Some are brand new. Some specialize in one particular kind of work (drilling wells, for example) or one particular area of the world. Others do everything from church planting to reforestation. Some require a graduate degree even for their short-term programs; others take almost any sincere, growing Christian.
Some offer months of training, others only hours. For some agencies, short-terms function as an integral part of the evangelistic goals of the mission; for others, short-termers serve as support workers who answer phones, build clinics, or repair cars so that church planters and doctors can serve more effectively.
Go as a Student
For college students, spending a summer or entire year (or longer) studying in a foreign school can be an ideal way to combine education with ministry. Also, students can often enter countries closed to traditional missionary activity.
Regardless of your area of interest, you can study overseas. You can study archeology on digs in Israel, medieval history in ancient castles in France, Asian cultures in the Himalayas, art in Beijing, social work in Honduras, even Russian language at Moscow university. Costs vary – some schools are very expensive, while others are surprisingly affordable and have grants and work-study options. Contact a large university with a good reputation in your area of interest.
Go as a Tentmaker
A tentmaker, a person who practices self-support like the apostle Paul, engages in ministry while working at a paid secular job. Opportunities for such work, even for short periods, abound. In many places there’s no way to get in a country except through a secular job. In some situations, there’s no better way to get within “witnessing range” of people than to work right beside them.
Although the expense is often minimal, the cost may be high. Your witness may be restricted, and you may even be isolated from fellow Christians. AS a prospective tentmaker, consider your ability to carry our ministry alone or in situations hostile to the gospel. Check into the possibility of forming a support group in your home church, going with a team of tentmakers, or connecting with a mission agency or local church in the area to which you’re going. It doesn’t have to be an either/or decision with many mission agencies; you can be a tentmaker and an affiliate of some agencies.
Consider the Peace Corps, which offers good cross-cultural exposure. Although your freedom to witness is restricted, it offers more ministry opportunity than you might have believed.
If you speak decent American English, you can almost write your ticket as a teacher of conversational English to students or business people, sometimes with minimal training. From China to Egypt and from Morocco to Japan, English teachers are needed. Often the best approach is to put out feelers indicating that you’re available, and things will begin to happen.
I could go on about ways to live, witness, and serve in a short term abroad. Americans have sold popcorn (a novelty in many countries), told stories in Russia, led children’s activities among Palestinian refugees, and dug freshwater canals in work camps in Turkey. Your imagination could be the only limit.
One of my most significant learning experiences in college was a summer spent in Indonesia. There I saw a third-world culture, engaged in missions work, and probably most importantly, began a lifelong process of trying to be a better steward of the resources God invested in me.
Don’t let this chance pass you by. It’s so easy to get bogged down with all the trappings of the American success fantasy and never quite get around to exposing yourself to challenges faced by Christians in countries where Christian faith doesn’t come as cheaply. I urge you to consider short-term service abroad in the name of Jesus. Christians with daring and imagination now have unparalleled opportunities to make an impact for Christ.