Six Differences Between Short- and Long-Term Ministry Overseas

Joy hanging laundry in Indonesia

Joy hanging laundry at her current mission assignment in Indonesia

During my teens I went on several mission trips.  Each prepared me in some way for living overseas, but there are definitely some differences between those short trips and the life I now lead.  For example:

  1.  I don’t travel much.  Traveling is an innate part of the short-term experience.  But on our small island program, I don’t go beyond a three-mile radius for months at a time.
  2. Self-care is now crucial.  On short trips I could give 100% of my energy to every ministry opportunity, surviving on bottled water, ten-minute naps and PB&Js.  If I tried that long-term, I’d be useless.
  3. The language barrier has a door.  I remember seeing excitement and gratitude when I would manage a mere “hello” in the local language, and I would fantasize about speaking conversationally.  It makes a world of difference.
  4. I couldn’t escape the culture shock.  I’ve visited about a dozen countries, but never before my seventh month in Indonesia did I experience real culture shock.
  5. I don’t live on a spiritual high.  No one blows a whistle to start my quiet time every morning, and no one serenades me with worship music every night. It’s just a day in, day out, walking with Jesus kind of deal.
  6. I don’t expect to see anything “happen” over the course of a couple weeks.  The pace of life here in Indonesia is slower than in the States, and cross-cultural relationships typically require quantity time.  For me, anyway, it’s been a very different experience than a project-oriented and itinerary-driven trip.

Despite these and many other differences, two things have remained absolutely the same: (1) my team became my family faster than you can shut a shuttle bus door, and (2) I’ll never be the same person I was when I arrived.


  • Bill says:

    I completely agree. When we were missionaries in Romania we would host short-term teams. There was an energy level (fueled by short-term adrenaline) that was hard to keep up with sometimes.

    • Jean Wunsch says:

      I totally agree.There is value in both, but long term allows relationships to develop and a trust and also a track record that allows the local people to know you care enough to stay the course which adds value and impact to what you say. Hang in there, because the rewards are very precious.

  • Joy Neal says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Jean! Bill – I agree… which is why I think short term trips are especially great for projects that require a lot of focused energy!

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