Not Thirsty, Still Hungry
Why you should consider a short term trip?
by Steven C. Hawthorne
Who started the short-term mission craze? It might have been Jesus himself. He used short expeditions to train his followers. He sent 12 disciples for a few weeks to visit villages in Galilee. Later, he sent 70 others to do the same thing.
You couldn’t really call these expeditions “missions” in the sense that we use the word today. They went to their own kind of people. They spoke the same language and lived with the same customs. There was nothing cross-cultural about it.
But on one occasion, Jesus took them deep into a foreign culture. What his disciples learned during those few days is pretty much what Jesus still teaches people today during cross-cultural short terms. The story is told in chapter four of John’s gospel.
The disciples were trekking from the Jerusalem area to Galilee. They used a shortcut through Samaria to make the trip in one day. About noon they stopped at a well near one of the leading towns. The disciples all hurried into town for “Mac-Bagles” or something else quick to eat.
Jesus stayed at the well and talked to a lady who was getting a jar of water. He simply asked her for a drink. She was shocked. In that culture and time men didn’t talk with women. But even more amazing was the fact that he, a Jew, had spoken with her, a Samaritan. Samaritans were considered religiously “icky” by Jews. They were part Jew and part Gentile. Jews usually never spoke with them. And Jews certainly never ate or drank with Samaritans. Asking for a drink of water was a fairly radical thing to do.
When the disciples returned, they succeeded in scaring off the lady and began eating lunch in a hurry. They had to make Galilee by sundown.
But Jesus surprised them by not eating a bite. Instead he said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” That comment really set off a discussion. Did he have a secret supply? Had the Samaritan lady given him something to eat? Had Jesus been breaking bread miraculously again?
None of the above: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work”(verse 34).
What did Jesus mean? They had been doing God’s work. They were doing evangelism. They were making disciples. They were even starting to out-baptize John the Baptist (verses 1,2). What more did they need to know about doing God’s work?
They needed to know that God wanted them to serve him with a view to finishing the work of the gospel among everyone. They weren’t going at it as if there were a larger purpose which must be finished. They were merely doing good work for God.
So Jesus told them to lift up their eyes. We don’t know for sure, but it is possible that they looked up and saw the same Samaritan lady coming back, this time with several leading men from the town (verse 30). There were probably six men in particular who were interested in someone who knew every scandalous event in this woman’s life (verse 18,29).
The disciples had just ignored the people around them in the Samaritan town, thinking they were just a source of a snack for the road. Jesus wanted to change their perspective. These people mattered. Right then, not later. The new perspective was that every people were to be touched significantly. God’s purpose wasn’t complete until the gospel was proclaimed fruitfully among every people—even Samaritans.
Not Thirsty, Still Hungry
What Jesus wanted the disciples to see, he also wants us to see today. Somebody has to actually go across borders and social boundaries to bring the gospel to people without witness. Why go on a short-term mission? For the same reason Jesus took these guys to touch some Samaritans: to finish the work that the Father sent us to do. The Father is seeking true worshipers (verse 23). And apparently he wants them from every people (Matthew 28:18-20, Revelation 7:9).
If you go at all, even for a summer, go to get more true worshippers of God. Don’t go into missions to just get a few more people on your side. The rest of the world views missions as just so much religious sport: the Christians win a few and the Muslims win a few, or the Baptists gain while the Catholics lose.
If this is all that world evangelization means to you, you might get tired of it soon. You stand a good chance of becoming secretly cynical about missions and drop out of serving God altogether.
Most Christians have tasted the living water Jesus offered the woman (verse 14). They are no longer thirsty. God has satisfied the longing for eternal life. Life becomes a well, “springing up to eternal life.”
But some Christians are like the disciples, still hungry, but for what they do not know. It seems like there has to be something more than dry church programs, family devotions and being good. Perhaps discipleship makes sense only while living with the life purpose of Jesus. He said that this purpose was as much a part of his life as the food he ate. He had given himself fully to completing God’s purpose in the world, and it was a feast of destiny, significance, meaning and joy.
A Change in Perspective
But Jesus knew that they wouldn’t ever start eating that “food” unless they tasted the realities of bringing the gospel to a people who had not yet heard. That’s why he got them involved pretty heavily in Samaritan culture for a few days (verse 40).
Before Jesus got them working in Samaritan culture, he put two common proverbs in their minds so that they could make sense out of their short term. They’ll help you start in and keep going. The first is, “...four months more and then the harvest...” (verse 35). This proverb was commonly used among grain farmers who really couldn’t do much but wait for rain after they sowed their seed. Irrigation wasn’t an option. They depended on rain. Weeding wasn’t practical. There wasn’t much to do but wait until the right time. We would say something like, “Everything in its time.”
No doubt they believed that God would eventually do something for the Gentiles and Samaritans. But the disciples assumed that it wasn’t really the right time to do anything about all these non-Jews. Jesus challenged them to look again: “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” The disciples had seen these very people only as storeminders from which they could buy bread. Jesus wanted them to see those same people as a harvest for God.
A short term will change your perspective on the world. On a short term you can sense the urgent need of real people. Statistics become people with names. But you can also see how God is touching those very people. You can see how even you can make a difference in meeting significant needs. Perhaps there is no better way to see the world as Jesus sees it but to interrupt your routine and serve overseas for a short time.
A Challenge of Partnership
“One sows and another reaps” (verses 36-38). People often muttered this other proverb when they felt that life was futile: why work hard? Someone else will get the good and glory for all the hard effort. Jesus affirmed the proverb, but in the opposite sense: your life and labor amount to something significant, but only as you team up with others.
The disciples were watching Jesus reap the fruit sown by prophets centuries earlier. These men of God had so sensitized the entire town with expectancy that one day God would do something great through a Messiah (verse 25), that almost the entire town eagerly trusted him. The disciples had “entered into the labor” of others (verse 38, NASB) by finishing what other servants of God had begun long before.
Getting the world evangelized is obviously bigger than any of us. You’ll probably step into someone else’s ministry if you go on a short term. A short term is a great way to discover how valuable and yet how dependent you really are. Jesus said that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. Don’t miss out on the joy of partnership.
The task is so great that God has relentlessly used every generation of his people since Abraham to complete his purpose. You’re stepping into something ancient, as it is urgent. Whether God guides you to return home or to stay overseas for the rest of you life, a short term can help you to sort out your role in it all.
Jesus: Savior of the World
You might discover something fresh about Jesus during a short term. The disciples hadn’t seen it before their cross-cultural experience. But the Samaritans discovered who Jesus really was, “the Savior of the world” (verse 42). If he’s nothing more than a “personal savior” to you, then you might gain a lot from a short-term mission. You might come to know a world-sized God offering you a world-sized part in his plan. Live for a purpose larger than yourself. If you’re hungry for life-purpose, bite into world evangelization.
Steven C. Hawthorne served as Executive Director of Caleb Project. Truths in this article were discovered during a team Bible study while on a short term trip in a Muslim city.