Does short-term mission really make a difference?
In August, I went with seven people from Menlo Park Presbyterian Church to a squatter community in Managua, Nicaragua. We were the third team from the United States to arrive that month. As a team, we expected to do some light construction projects (which we did) and work with 400 elementary students during school hours (well, God had a somewhat different plan!).

Instead, we were told to spend most of our time playing with fourteen children who live in the Arms of Love orphanage there. And it was through our interaction with those children and their neighborhood friends that I saw God use short-term missionary teams to change the lives (and the hearts) of people in that community.

So, my answer now is “Absolutely, YES, short-term teams make a difference!”

 

 

What kind of difference, then?
Since April, the Arms of Love shelter has been housing homeless boys and girls who were orphaned, abandoned, or abused. Many of their stories will break your heart.

One nine year old boy, Francisco, was sent to the emergency room after his stepfather tied him upside down to a tree and beat him with a baseball bat. Discovering such abuse, the government removed Francisco and his three siblings from that household and sent them to Arms of Love.

It was difficult for us team members to fathom how these children could feel safe to love us so unconditionally.

They bombarded us with hugs and kisses. They sang and danced with us. They held our hands to take us on walks. They slept soundly in our embraces. They eagerly helped us with our construction work. They cheered us with their laughter and melted our hearts with their smiles.

 

 

But they did not always act this way. Our host missionary Carlos Mestayer told us afterward that when the first short-term team arrived, the children did not know how to act. Francisco, for example, would pick up anything around him to hit these people whom he did not know if he could trust.

Love persisted, though.

Carlos saw members from each trip love these children with the love that Jesus has for us. At a church service with the local community, a member from the second trip told these children that their lives were not a mistake. Each small act of love from each member of the three trips gave proof to that statement. Throughout each trip, the hardened hearts of those children softened some more.

I left with a different mental picture of Francisco. On our last morning at Arms of Love, I was holding him in my arms with his head resting on my shoulder as we swayed to my humming of “Jesus Loves Me.” I heard his little voice choked up for a second before the song ended and he bid me his adios with his bright smile. At the moment, I knew that I had touched his heart as he had touched mine during this trip.

Our team member Jeni reminded us during team devotional time one morning of the story about a young boy who saves starfish. You may recall the boy walking along a beach after a storm—picking up and throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean.

A man walks up to the boy and asks him, “Boy, why are you wasting your time saving these starfish? What difference can you make when there must be thousands of them washed up on this beach?” The boy answers with a smile, “It matters to this one,” and throws into the ocean the starfish in his hand. He continues on to pick up another starfish.

Our effort matters to Francisco. It matters to his sisters Marling and Pilar. It matters to his brother Marcos. And it matters to Jesus, who loves these children as much as he loves each one of us.