USA (MNN) — According to a 2009 report from Liberty University, over 1.5 million U.S. Christians go on a short-term mission trip (STM) annually. These trips can range in location from within the U.S. (domestic) to overseas, and in length from one to 90 days.
The STM boom started gaining momentum in the 1950s and 1960s, with Operation Mobilization (OM) among the first groups to offer STM opportunities. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship followed suit in 1970, and MOSES, Inc. came along in 1988 with STMs that took place over a weekend.
Robert Bergman with MOSES says they work in tandem with local churches in the Midwest, helping these ministries shine the light of Christ in needy communities.
“The church in Detroit: we do a lot of community building, community engagement, community improvement-type things,” explains Bergman. “The church in Chicago has a women’s and children’s shelter that we work in; they have a homeless drop-in center.”
Because of the funding required to organize and conduct STMs, they are mostly a Western Church phenomenon. College and high school students usually have the most flexible schedules and minimum responsibilities, so they are frequently the targeted demographic for STM opportunities.
Liberty’s report highlights several STM advantages: providing needed goods and services to communities, sharing the Gospel, raising participants’ awareness of needs around the world, creating faithful long-term supporters of missions, and STMs role as stepping-stones for young people considering long-term mission careers.
In his decade of service as MOSES’ Weekend Trip Director, Bergman has seen STMs open the eyes of Michigan teams.
“People (from Grand Rapids, Michigan) just don’t understand that within the same state and just a couple of hours away…there are people that live in the street and break into houses to live in them overnight,” he states.
“Many people come away [from weekend trips] with a greater understanding of the blessings that we have.”
Last year, Detroit, Michigan became the largest city in U.S. history to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Many factors contributed to the filing decision, but the city’s $18.5 billion debt was a chief concern.
Detroit’s population has also dwindled from a robust 1.8 million in 1950 to a mere 700,000 in 2012. Of the remaining residents, 38% are living below the national poverty line.
“The church is the only building on the current road that’s not abandoned and broken into,” Bergman explains.
Conditions aren’t much better some 280 miles away in Chicago, Illinois, the other location of MOSES Weekend Trips. About 22% of the city’s 2.7 million people live below the poverty line. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago holds the third-highest rate of extreme poverty, out of the nation’s ten largest cities.
The desperate conditions in these cities create a perfect mission field.
As they work side-by-side with unbelievers on church-imitated projects, MOSES teams sometimes get a chance to share the Gospel. Whenever this happens, they tell their church partner so local believers can do follow-up ministry.
The goal of MOSES Weekend Trips varies depending on the needs of the local church, but MOSES strives to fill the role of “helper” during each visit. Right now, MOSES and their church partners in Detroit are working together on a big transformation project. MOSES is in the process of purchasing four or five of the abandoned houses, Bergman says.
Working with their Detroit church partners and congregations from Grand Rapids, they hope to transform neighborhood eyesores into community assets: additional parking, community gardens, etc.
“My goal would be to try and get enough weekend trips set up to complete that task,” says Bergman.
MOSES provides transportation, leadership, work sites, accommodations, and meals. Bergman says that by taking care of logistics, MOSES helps youth pastors focus entirely on ministry.
Pray that more youth groups will take advantage of these weekend opportunities. Pray for God’s will to be done in the Detroit transformation project.