The crew of volunteers from The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas joined TWR Area Director Tommy Williamson for a 2014 mission trip to build walls for the antenna-tuning units at the ministry's transmitter facility on Bonaire. You can a watch brief Woodlands video about the trip here.
The paradigm of how churches support world missions seems to be shifting, and the results are evident as believers roll up their sleeves alongside missionaries.
That’s the view of Wayne Frost, who as director of church partnerships for TWR is frequently active promoting and facilitating short-term mission trips. On these trips, volunteers provide their labor and sometimes the needed materials to complete projects aimed at upgrading the media ministry’s outreach by updating its facilities. Frost said two factors are driving the new approach, the first being the tendency of Generation Xers and millennials to favor hands-on experiences and “going rather than just giving.”
“There’s also a shift in paradigm in that churches are seeking to engage individual mission fields on multiple levels,” Frost said. “The days of churches just supporting missionaries and having those missionaries visit [the churches] every few years, while still important, seem to be changing to more churches wanting to do more with a particular field. Missions sometimes has been a little too wide and not deep enough, and many churches want to be deeper in their mission involvement.”
Make no mistake: The idea of short-term mission trips is not new, and traditional support for missions through faithful prayer and donations remains essential. But the shift toward greater hands-on involvement results in very tangible two-way blessings both for the visitors and for those who are visited – to say nothing of the ultimate beneficiaries, the millions who see or hear or read the gospel message via mass media.
For a visited mission site – the 50-year-old TWR transmitting station on Bonaire, for example – the most obvious benefit is the enhancement of ministry operations made possible through the valuable labor and sometimes the materials provided by volunteers. Among other tasks, small buildings have been built, ramps laid, carpet replaced, walls painted and motors repaired.
As for the visitors, Frost said, “I believe that short-term trips are the best method of engagement of a church congregation. People who go [on a trip] come back, and their enthusiasm is infectious in the congregation. People coming back tend to be catalysts in encouraging other people to become involved.”
David Osborne traveled to Bonaire in March 2015 in a party of 12 from Topeka (Kansas) Bible Church to help install copper shielding in the antenna-tuning units. Many individuals and churches have visited the Caribbean island during the past year to help with the massive Power Up project, which will greatly boost the strength of TWR’s broadcasts to countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil.
“Those of you who have never served overseas or anywhere in a short-term missions opportunity I would encourage to take that opportunity,” the construction-company owner said. “Because of the lifelong fellowship with other people, the bond of friendship that you build and at the same time the understanding that you’re investing in something that is far more reaching than we could ever imagine, far more reaching than we would ever touch in our lives by ourselves – being a part of a much bigger movement of God.”
In addition to the individuals and church groups that have volunteered selflessly, students and faculty members from Waynesburg University in Pennsylvania have pitched in during multiple short-term trips to Bonaire. Another group of students and faculty members, from North Greenville University in South Carolina, spent spring break 2015 shooting video about TWR missionaries and operations in South Africa and Swaziland.
Although Bonaire has been the most common TWR destination for short-term mission trips, largely because of the island’s proximity to the U.S. mainland as well as the recent projects there requiring attention, Frost said he hopes to see the opportunities expand to other ministry sites around the world. As TWR’s primary liaison for U.S. church partnerships, Frost serves as facilitator and can put interested groups in touch with logistical coordinators in other regions – for example, Africa, Europe or Asia.