The Short Term Edge

Tags: Alaska, Canada, SEND North, Short Term Missions, Story

There is a common conversation in Christian circles about whether or not short term mission teams are effective in the areas they are serving, or if they bring an inconsistent message to the people they serve and create additional work for anyone serving long term in the area. Here at SEND North, we commit to our communities long term, however, it would be impossible to have the support we need for infrastructure and encouragement without short term volunteers serving with us. Because seasons are so short in the Far North, our members have a lot of work to pack into the summer months, and “short termers” are vital to the completion of such projects.

Seasonal volunteers serve many capacities all around Alaska and Canada, including Bible camp staffers, church builders, firewood choppers, maintenance workers, direct ministry partners, Vacation Bible School leaders, and much more. We are always amazed at the willingness of individuals and groups to push their comfort zones, use their talents productively, and embrace the remoteness of the Far North. In addition to what they do, volunteers uplift our members with their excitement and wisdom that can often bring fresh interaction and perspective. It enlivens the work we do long term to see people enjoy and appreciate the people and the beauty of Alaska and Canada.

Before volunteers begin their work, we encourage team leads to provide some basic cultural training of what to expect from the culture and environment they will be working in. One individual who spent time serving Alaska native college students reflected on the subtle cultural differences he was not expecting, including different mannerisms and interests. “The students were completely comfortable with silence while being together, which I was not used to. It grew on me after time though, and I become more accustomed to sitting with them during meals and just being together. They also started to laugh at some of my jokes even though our senses of humor were different. Having some of these social compromises made it easier for us to trust each other when the bigger conversations happened.” Understanding and interacting with these differences can show our desire to know each person for who they are and lowers the barrier between the different cultures.

While volunteers do not often come up specifically for direct outreach, many still are able to interact with community members and form friendships. Thanks to the growing connection of social media, they are able to stay in communication with those that they meet during their time of service. Even after they leave, volunteers often become outlets for remote individuals to reach out to when they are struggling or want to talk to someone that is removed from the place where they live. This availability and influence is especially vital with teenagers. Though social media does not replace face-to-face interaction, it provides an ever-growing web of support for our communities that allows individuals to receive discipleship and encouragement in their faith from many different angles.

In addition to the direct ministry to our members and communities, short term volunteers become a potential bridge to individuals interested in long term service or church bodies seeking to support our work. SEND North continually seeks out those who believe in our mission of Gospel sharing and teaching local individuals to be discipleship leaders in their own families and towns. Being able to see the work we do and those we serve encourages people to seek out discipleship, cultivate it, and expand it. We continue to be blessed by those who follow God’s prompting to serve with us and offer encouragement. Thank you to our many volunteers who have made great connections possible through your service!

If you are interested in supporting our work monetarily, visit our page about financial support. If you are interested in becoming a short term volunteer or long term member, please visit our page on SEND North members. We look forward to working with you for the Kingdom!