We were a diverse group - young, old, American, Thai, Tanzanian, men, women. The university sent us on a short-term service trip to Salt Lake City, Utah. I had grown up in a school system that was 75% Latter Day Saints (Mormon) so it made sense that I go along.
The school asked me to supervise a group of college students going to share the gospel and do service projects. We were on a short-term mission trip. Since we weren't from Salt Lake City, this was, for us Pacific Northwesterners, a cross-cultural mission trip. Salt Lake City has a very different culture. We built relationships, had debates with many Mormons, rattled a few cages, encountered the Temple security, and learned a lot more about the culture of the Latter Day Saints.
I have a friend who is a career missionary in Salt Lake City. As a resident there, he is able to develop deep, long-term relationships. Him and his wife have walked through life with the people they've ministered to. They have lived a life that demonstrates the Holy Spirit's transforming power in front of those who don't know God personally yet. There is no question that my friend's investment in Salt Lake City far outpaced our short-term ministry.
The debate in the mission world between short-term and long-term missions provides evidence that short-term missions simply doesn't have the kind of impact career mission has. However, this does not negate the usefulness of short-term mission trips. Short-term trips are often a first step into a longer journey that includes financial and prayer support for all kinds of missions.
Short-term mission tends to affect the goer more than the receiver. The missionary is exposed to other ways of doing life and different perspectives on how the world functions or the values that other people cherish. This can expand their view of the world. Short-term mission trips provides an opportunity to build cross-cultural relationships that can turn into lifelong connections.
These kind of trips hold the potential for growing a sense of humility and perspective about one's own culture. We often hear different cultures claiming to be the "best" culture rather than acknowledging that they are simply a different culture. We don't need to compete for who has the superior culture when we can learn the strengths of other cultures and take them into account.
Our Salt Lake City mission trip resulted in building several relationships with Christian missionaries in the area. Our students were sobered by what we witnessed in Salt Lake City and the power the LDS church has over the whole community. We saw the spirit of God at work with those who were doubting the truth of the LDS faith and how the gospel of Jesus is not represented by the LDS. It strengthened our faith and gave us confidence in what Scripture teaches about the truth of Jesus as our one and only savior.
We were also able to befriend a recent convert to Mormonism who left the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints polygamist movement. He eventually traveled to our school to reconnect with some of the students. He was reading the NIV Bible we had given him and asked plenty of questions about Christianity. I pray his journey to Christ continues.