Long-Term Impact through Short-Term Missions - Radical

Long-Term Impact through Short-Term Missions

In the early years of our ministry, the Lord used a good friend to challenge me to lead a short-term team to Cuba. As an inexperienced leader still learning how to engage in effective short-term missions, I was less than excited about the idea. Well, to be perfectly honest, I flat-out refused. But, thankfully, the Lord chose a much gentler way of persuasion than casting me into the belly of a giant fish! Rather, just a few days later, a couple of missionaries from Brazil happened to stop by my office. It turned out that they also served on the board of a ministry that hosted short-term teams in Cuba!

God’s Work in Cuba through Short-Term Missions

This was my very first encounter with anyone who serves in Cuban missions, so I could clearly see God’s hand at work and began making plans. I was also in the middle of studying several books on short-term missions, and I deeply desired to do it well. When we arrived in Cuba and the local pastor announced that we would be joining members of local house churches to do door-to-door evangelism, it was definitely not what I had in mind! I was much more comfortable with construction or playing with kids and allowing the local pastors to do the “heavy-lifting” with the gospel.

Deferring to the professionals in full-time ministry had always been my go-to strategy back home. After all, my gifting did not include evangelism. On top of that, I know a pastor would be far more equipped to know and say the right things. I could count on one hand the number of times I have been open about my faith. So, I naturally wondered how I could lead in something that I considered so dreadfully uncomfortable. Thoughts from the adversary were racing through my mind.

“What are they going to think of me? I don’t even know them. I did not sign up for this. Man, this is going to be awkward. I just don’t think I can do it . . . ”

An Unexpected Response

Clearly, my focus was on myself rather than loving the Cuban Nationals and being concerned for their eternal well-being. Why was I so much more concerned with my own comfort than obedience to the Lord’s commands to reach the nations with the gospel? Despite my fear and anxiety, the Lord had big plans for that day.

Thankfully, the house church members led the way, and we received a much different response than I expected. As our local partners eagerly escorted us to visit their friends and neighbors, our team’s presence seemed to generate a great deal of interest. We were greeted with smiles and invited into homes where everyone gathered to listen attentively to all we had to say. The Spirit was clearly at work, as family after family wept as the gospel was presented. I had never seen this level of brokenness and the hunger for hope that can only be found in Christ. As we made our way up the street, several neighbors began to come outside and wave for us to come to their homes next!

God’s Word Moves in Short-Term Missions

Deeply moved by the positive response to the good news of God’s Word, my courage grew as it came closer to my turn to share. Having grown up in church, I had a pretty decent comprehension of theology. So I naturally began in Genesis and rambled on for about thirty to forty-five minutes. It was obvious that I had plenty of knowledge about God’s Word, but I had never truly been prepared to give an answer for the hope that I had (1 Pet 3:15).  It also became clear that I had misinterpreted, or just plain ignored, God’s clear commands throughout Scripture regarding my personal responsibility to reach the lost.

How did I conclude that this was optional for followers of Christ? If I am to truly love my neighbor as myself, then shouldn’t I be as concerned about his or her salvation as I am my own?

As I was “winging it” to the best of my ability, God showed Himself faithful and made it clear that He did not need my perfect presentation but was simply allowing me to join Him in tremendous work. Needless to say, I returned to my room that night overcome with gratitude for the opportunity. The Lord had graciously shown me what it looked like to be obedient in this area and He convicted me of my life of apathy and self-centered faith.

A Life-Changing Realization

As an insurance agent, I was well-versed and prepared to talk with anyone at any time about policy coverages and reasons to do business with me. But when it came to sharing my faith, I had spent comparatively little time preparing what I would say to an unbeliever given the opportunity. My heart broke as I realized I was far more interested in making sales than winning souls. But God’s grace was greater, and He allowed the scales to fall off my eyes that evening in Havana. My life has never been the same.

Upon returning home, I began to study, read books, and listen to sermons about evangelism and apologetics. In addition, the Lord revealed through my own experience that the purpose of our ministry was to work alongside the church in cultivating a passion for the gospel through short-term missions. Helping others unplug from their many responsibilities and distractions to be immersed for a week in sharing the love of Christ has become a tremendous means for encouraging our missionary and church partners, as well as for exposing followers of Christ to hands-on involvement in the Great Commission.

God’s Faithfulness is Clear

God continues to prove faithful by demonstrating how his work is without bounds by the limitations of time and space. He accomplishes eternal things in an instant, using even short-term teams and ordinary believers to impact eternity. I have learned that it is more about our availability and obedience than our intellectual prowess or giftedness. If we are willing to join God on His terms, then He will accomplish far more in and through us than anything we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20)!

I now look back with immense gratitude at how the Lord led me to invest a week serving in Cuba. Not only did He reveal himself to Cubans who were desperately looking for a relationship with their Creator, but He also did a major work of sanctification in my own heart. Since that time, our ministry has grown to serve the local church in 12 countries, and I have come to love sharing my faith at every opportunity. In exchange for a week of service, God allowed me to finally understand that there is nothing more important in the life of a believer than glorifying him by living boldly as a light in the darkness, both at home and abroad.

Michael O’Neal is the Founder and Chairman of Reel Life International. He and his wife and kids live in Birmingham, Alabama, where he attends Tapestry Church.


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