By Anna McShane

Not long ago, we sent three American young people to East Asia — exuberant, lively and excited. Four weeks later, they stood as a more mature, much-sobered trio.

David spoke of the one believer he met — a young woman who is the only believer in her family, who knows no other believers except the foreigners. Her testimony is clear, but her freedom to share that testimony is totally prescribed by her boundaries. He said he had come to realize the freedom he has to shout his faith from the rooftops with no fear. He was sobered by all that he has taken for granted.

Then Alicia talked about how, from the sunny side of California, teaching English in Asia sounded so “fantastic” until she got ready to go and the enormity of it hit her. Arriving, she was hyped the first few days, until the heat, humidity and food brought reality up close.

“One of the foreign teachers took us to a village one day, and a farmer offered to let us help him plant some rice,” she said. “I was SO excited. Imagine me, with my Asian background, actually planting rice in Asia. But when we stepped into the paddy and the mud crept up our ankles, I realized this wasn’t just mud, this was night soil, frogs and other slimy things.

early rice plants

Early rice plants are “spindly little things.” By Fritz Geller-Grimm, via Wikimedia Commons

“The rice shoots were just spindly little things that looked so frail, not the full, lush plants that you see in pictures when they mature. Finally our guide called us to come and get ready to leave and I saw I had only planted a little corner of the paddy.

“This is what God taught me in Asia: That much of my excitement is shallow. That the real work is muddy business. That the planting is just little tiny wisps and that I leave before it’s even half done. That I have to trust the farmer to plant the rest, God to water it and give the harvest.”

Amy went with great expectations. She is bright, talented. Her expectations crumbled quickly. First she was bitten by a spider and spent five days sitting in her room with her foot elevated. “Did God send me here to sit on my duff?” she thought. Then a group of students started visiting her room daily to practice talking in English. She found a freedom to answer their questions that she would never have had in class.

She also struggled with the food, the heat, the humidity, and she felt sick most of the time. Back in the States, she stood with tears streaming down her face. “I learned I am a perfectionist, that I want everything just perfect. As I taught, I realized that the students I was most drawn to were those who didn’t speak perfect English, who made constant mistakes, but who hungrily sat by me and wanted to learn more. God had to hit me hard to realize that what he wanted was not my perfect performance, but obedience to learn whatever he wanted me to learn.”

Sober summers. Lessons learned. That’s what short-term missions are all about.