I always thought that the ‘success’ of a mission trip was measured by tangible outcomes.
For example: how many people decided to trust Jesus as their personal Saviour? How many new people were curious about the gospel or actively engaging with a Christian community?
It’s as if there is a ‘Jesus box,’ and a successful mission trip moves people who had once resided outside of it into the box.
But when I recently participated in the Power to Change Denmark reading week mission trip, it was totally different than what I had expected. My perception of ‘success’ changed dramatically. God taught our whole team very quickly that our expectations of success would go unfulfilled unless they aligned completely with his will. In Denmark, I learned what true mission trip success looks like: to love God, love my team, and love others. I experienced each of these through these three core values:
- Jesus first.
- Students are the mission.
- Mission before strategy.
1 John 4:19 says that “we love because he first loved us.” Out of God’s individual and intimate love for us, we can love the people around us. In Denmark we learned that this meant that everything we do needs to come from a posture of putting Jesus first. Whether we’re praying, having Bible study, or meeting students on campus: it all needs to flow from the love we have for Jesus, which flows from the love he has always had for us.
Because of who Jesus is (God) and what he chose to do for us first (die on the cross for our sin and rise from the grave), we are no longer slaves to our sin, but we become beloved children of the King. We spent a lot of time in Denmark in various training sessions, going to churches, doing Bible study, and praying with each other. To be honest, sometimes it didn’t feel ‘right.’ To me, missions meant going and talking about Jesus all day, every day. As I trusted God with this tension, he helped shape my view of what it looked like to do missions.
We had to make sure that we – individually and as a team – were putting Jesus first in everything we did so that we could share his love – and therein, the gospel – in the most authentic way possible. In putting Jesus first on the trip, our activities and priorities were shifted: I found that I was able to hear the Holy Spirit better and I was more willing to step out in faith and follow him.
Students are the Mission
At Power to Change – Students, our mission is “to change the world by helping students discover Jesus,” and is often closely followed by our vision statement: “We long for the day when no student leaves university without engaging in the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.” This is the mission statement that we use on campus and around the world. When P2C runs missions trips, our goal is to connect with students in the place that we’re traveling to, and to share the gospel with them.
So often though, I get caught up in thinking that the people I talk to are just a step on the way to achieving the mission, and I forget that each person I engage with isn’t simply a means to an end. Each person is an end in themselves – the reason why we do what we do. This completely changed the way that I viewed evangelism on the trip!
When we were on campus talking to students, I felt like there was no pressure or hidden agenda in our conversations. I was able to see each individual we spoke with for who they were, and love them and truly desire to build a relationship with them. It wasn’t surprising that some of our conversations were well over an hour long. As we chose to invest in these students, really listen to their story, care about who they were, and share our lives with them, we were able to speak gospel truths where God planted opportunity. This was different from trying to ‘gospelize’ the entire conversation in an effort simply to convert or convince them to believe a set of truths.
For some of the students we met, we were the first Christians that they’d ever met and had a conversation with. As we invested our time in them, it became easy to build trust which is one of the first steps anyone takes on their faith journey (see The Engagement Model for more on how we approached conversations and why we found it to be essential to spend time building trust first with students).
Mission Before Strategy
Going to Denmark, I expected a ‘traditional’ Power to Change missions trip – one comprised of being on university campuses every day for the better part of each day, using resources and talking to students about Jesus. What we got was a LOT of training, a TON of walking around Copenhagen, multiple church services on Sunday, a few days on campus, and a visit to the Danish Bible Institute. Don’t get me wrong – every day was absolutely incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! But our entire team had to learn to shift our mindsets to focus on our mission instead of holding on to our perception of the best ‘strategy’.
Sometimes we just get so caught up in doing something one way, that we don’t realize when it stops working effectively – and that’s what Europe can feel like. Even just a few decades ago, the culture of Europe (and Canada) demanded knowledge and proof before acceptance of the Gospel. It was known as the ‘Information Age’: where knowledge and information was critical in creating belief. Tools were developed to share the reliability of the Bible and walk people through proofs of Jesus’ life on earth to fit this cultural context. But our culture in Canada, and in Europe, has shifted – which means our strategies need to as well.
Those previous tools that we’ve grown accustomed to using – they’re not ‘all bad,’ nor do they need to be completely discarded. They can still be incredibly useful in helping someone know Jesus, but we have an opportunity to learn and develop new approaches to meet changing needs in culture.
People today – especially students – desire personal experience more than knowledge.This means that we need to adapt how we approach building relationships both in Canada and on mission trips so that we can share the gospel through relationship and experience. For us in Denmark, that also included learning from Jesus followers in Copenhagen. We invested time in building trust and relationships with the Christians in the city so that we could build partnerships and work together in helping Danes know Jesus. This included visiting churches and the Danish Bible Institute in order to meet other Christians and learn from their ministry perspective.
It was incredible that even during our short-term trip we built community and fellowship with some of our new Christian friends. Some of them came and visited us when we were learning in our workshops, talking with students on campus, cooking at the hostel, or even when we did karaoke in the hostel basement! They invited us out for tours, and I had teammates that went all over Copenhagen to cook, swim, go to the gym, go for walks, etc. with Danish friends that we had met. When we met students who weren’t Christian, we got to share our time, culture, and faith with them, while simultaneously learning about their school, culture, and faith. We were able to build relationships with others by sharing our experiences with them.
This mission trip taught me that when we’re sharing the Gospel, sometimes achieving the mission may not look at all like you thought it would, but we pursue people where they’re at – just like Jesus did for us.
I’m not sure I could ever fully convey what I learned on this trip, how God used it to shape my life, or how deep and wide he has opened my heart for Denmark. In these three core values I was better able to love God, love my team, and love others.
Will you join me in praying for Denmark?
Pray that God’s glory would be made known in real and lasting ways in Denmark, and that the Danish people would come to know Christ personally in a meaningful way.