The print version of February’s Christianity Today arrived at my home. In it is a short story about Teen Missions International(TMI) based in Merritt Island, FL. I can’t find the article on the web yet, but here’s why I enjoyed seeing the pictures and reading the short story:
24 years ago (1983) I reluctantly agreed with my parents to register for a TMI summer missions team. I would be giving up the summer between my junior and senior years in high-school to go with a group of teens somewhere in the world in order to do construction and evangelism. Why didn’t I want to go? I wouldn’t be able to train for the fall cross-country season and I was intent on being the #2 runner on the team (#1 was impossible since he was the New England regional champ). So, I set limits. I would go only if I got my first choice: Austria. Not sure why that was my first choice having never been to Europe. I would only go if the money I raised came in without me having to do much asking, since I hated sales. Well, I got my first choice and the money “magically” appeared within very short order. So I had to go.
I know that some have significant doubts about the value of short-term missions trips. Is it worth the cost? Who really benefits? And while the concerns are not without merit, I am fully persuaded that the summer of 1983 changed the course of my life. No, I wasn’t on the road to drugs and alcohol. But, the faith of my parents really hadn’t become mine. But by the end, I had begun to mature in my faith and committed myself to some sort of full-time Christian service.
So, what is this TMI, you might be asking. Youth and adults join teams at Merritt Island, FL. You live in tents for 2 weeks in a true bootcamp environment. The water smells like rotten eggs. There are chiggers and mosquitoes. Daily, you do bible study, learn construction skills (e.g., laying brick, mixing cement, digging footers), and train as a team on a serious obstacle course. No phones, no ipods. You wash in a bucket and you flush with a bucket. You wear work-boots all the time. Then after 2 weeks of work and bonding, you gather your army bags and travel with your team to your part of the world for the rest of the summer to do whatever your team intended to do. My team traveled to Austria by plane and train. We were to begin construction of a building for a ministry to addicts (if memory serves). We had all sorts of trouble with the site (mud slides) but accomplished building some of the base structure. We did some evangelism. But the largest construction was to our souls. I went from knowing about Christ to knowing Christ. When you are out of your comfort zone and away from family, you have the opportunity to consider your life, your values, and are primed to hear from the Lord.
There are a million great stories and experiences (e.g., riding the train across Germany at night only sitting on a jump seat, being accosted by a hoodlum in the train station, staying up all night to shoot scenes in a film called, “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers”, bathing in a ice cold stream and using pit toilets in the woods). I won’t bore you with them but they were life shaping. You cannot easily live the same once you see the world from the perspective of another. You cannot easily live the same when you expose yourself to the larger Kingdom of God.
I still have one friend from that summer who drops by this site. Maybe Don will give his take on the time. Oh, I came back weighing about 25 lbs less due to a food shortage on the team and because of the muscle loss, I was fourth on the x-country team. Disappointing but in the scope of things, not important.
If you ever have the opportunity to send a youth to this (or go as an adult), take the chance. It will change your life.