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Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Transforming Power of Water and the Word
High Impact Mission Trips: Saving Lives and Changing Destinies

By Jerry Wiles, President Emeritus, Living Water International
Special to ASSIST News Service

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- “Words cannot describe this life-changing experience.” Those were the words of a man who recently went to Central America on one of Living Water International’s short-term mission trips.

Some mission trip people like to get their hands dirty and really connect with the people in the community.

Another mission trip participant said, “I thought this trip was about helping people get clean water.” “Now I understand, it’s not just about the water. It’s about people, relationships and seeing God at work.”

There has been an explosion of short-term mission trips in recent years. A number of academic studies have been done to assess their impact. Some question whether they are worth the time and money. Our experience in Living Water International is compelling and convincing that they are, in fact, worth the effort. Over the years we’ve seen numerous lives changed forever, not only among the communities we serve, but also in the transformation that takes place in the lives of those who go on the trips.

Many of the most enthusiastic supporters of missions and Great Commission causes are those who have gone on a short-term mission trip and observed firsthand the impact of water and the Word on the communities. We’ve learned that smaller teams of 8 to 10 people who are well prepared and engaged are more effective than the larger teams of 30 or more.

LWI has had a partnership with Houston Baptist University for several years, taking students on mission trips to Central America during their Spring break. Danny Miller, director of Baptist Student Ministries at HBU, calls these trips MLOs (Mission Learning Opportunities). Over the years, many students have changed their majors and career plans as a result of the mission learning experience. One student said the experience had changed his worldview on what ministry and missions is all about.

Many trip participants tell us they like getting their hands dirty and interacting with the people in the communities or villages. In addition to drilling a well, repairing a broken hand pump or conducting hygiene training and sharing the gospel, trip participants really bond with the other team members, as well as the people in the communities.

It is true that helping communities acquire access to clean, safe drinking water, along with sanitation services and hygiene training, drastically reduces disease and poverty. However, the greatest and most lasting impact is the spiritual transformation and the fact that eternal destinies are changed.

A number of students who have gone on mission trips have changed their majors and chosen a different career path. Others have sensed a call to go into full-time ministry or mission work in a developing country. A teenage boy who went on an LWI trip was touched by the Holy Spirit, went to medical school and is now serving as a medical doctor in a Latin American country.

The mission trip experience is an opportunity to develop patience and endurance, and to learn about team work, flexibility, conflict resolution, and many other valuable lessons. It’s also an opportunity to learn about cultural diversity, different worldviews and how to more effectively share our faith. A friend who had recently attended an Orality Training Workshop went on a mission trip. She told me about the joy she had in being prepared to tell some stories and share the message of Jesus using the methods she had learned at the workshop.

Some people who go on short-term mission trips to developing countries are both amazed and surprised at what we in the Western World can learn from the nationals in those countries. The people are amazingly creative in problem solving skills. They are ingenious at coming up with solutions when things are broken or not working well. Important lessons are learned about relationships and community, about learning together and sharing knowledge.

Many people in more relational and oral cultures of the world are able to learn, remember and retell the gospel story much more effectively than the highly literate and print-based learners of the Western World and North America. We often encounter those in Africa and Asia who speak 5 to 8, or more, languages, even though they may not be able to read or write any of them.

Understanding oral cultures is a great benefit to those of us who have grown up in our Greek-renaissance Western academic cultures. Sometimes we may need to rethink, unlearn and relearn new ways of doing things in order to connect with the worldview and learning preferences of the people we are seeking to serve and reach. There is a big need for us to communicate with people in ways they can understand, respond to and reproduce. The fact is, in most cases we just naturally communicate with and train others the way we have learned.

Teamwork is key in developing
a new well

We have conducted Orality Training Workshops in places where there may be 12 to 15 different language groups represented. We sometimes encounter those who speak 5 to 7, or more, languages. I was in an East African country having breakfast with a team of Living Water workers, and we discussed the different languages each of us spoke. One co-worker spoke Swahili, Kinyarwanda and English, and about 8 other languages as well.

A very important benefit of Orality training is that it allows people to learn the stories and methods in one language and immediately tell them in other languages or dialects. It enables us to cross over the language barriers much faster and more effectively than a highly literate style of communication.

God is doing incredible things these days, and many believe that revival and spiritual awakening are real possibilities for the Western World and North America. What is happening with the spreading of the gospel and the rapidly reproducing disciple-making movements in various places around the world can certainly happen here as well. A prominent Christian leader from the last century said, “Anything God has ever done at any time, He can do now. Anything He has ever done anywhere, He can do here. And, anything He has ever done through anyone else, He can do through you.” That is amazing to think about.

A former pastor and friend closed every worship service with the quote, “With Christ in our hearts, the best is yet to be.” Some of us believe that is still true today and that God’s greatest work may still be in the future. One of our best models for going on mission trips is found in the book of Acts. The mission journeys of the Apostle Paul and others illustrate the reproducing and multiplying impact that the Word of God, the Good News of Jesus, has, and will continue to have, as it takes root in hearts and lives.

If we were to consider a broader understanding of mission, as followers of Christ, we can see that we are all on mission every day, wherever we happen to be. God has placed each of us here on earth for a purpose. We all have a mission and a calling and should seek to discern what He wants to do through us. We have many examples in Scripture of Jesus sending His followers to mission. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the word. He also tells us that as the Father sent Him into the world, so He is sending us into the world.

What if followers of Jesus everywhere were to see themselves as being on mission with God? What would it look like if believers today were to conduct our lives and ministries more like they did in the early Church, as recorded in the book of Acts? It certainly is happening in many parts of the world today, but not so much in North America, Europe and the more highly developed countries of the world.

The good news is that there are pockets of revival and awakening taking place today. People are open to the message of Jesus, when it is shared by a Spirit-led person who is willing to reach out and speak up in the name of Jesus. People may be turned off or offended by Christians or Christianity, or their perceptions of them. However, people everywhere are interested in the life, Spirit and teaching of Jesus, when approached in an appropriate way.

When attempting to share the Lord Jesus with people, it’s important to realize that many times their resistance is because of someone’s false witness or mischaracterization of the Lord. In many cases, institutionalized Christianity or religious belief systems can be barriers to the Gospel of Christ. However, when people are able to observe a demonstration of the love of God, along with a relevant proclamation or telling of the Good News of Jesus, they are interested, receptive and often eager to trust and follow Him.

Mission teams work alongside nationals

When it comes to the personal sharing of our faith in Jesus, there is much we can learn from the first Century Church and from our brothers and sisters in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Pray for godly wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s direction, and see how God will work in your own life and the mission field that you live in. The Lord will allow each of us to be agents of transformation right where we are, in our homes, with our families, neighbors, co-workers and friends and in the marketplace. We don’t have to wait until we can go to some faraway place to see God at work.

Pastors and church leaders in the United States are becoming more interested in Orality and oral methods of evangelism and disciple making. We are observing that when people attend an Orality Training Workshop and really understand how it works, they become passionate about using it. They may initially become interested because of their involvement in short-term mission trips to Latin America, Africa or other places. However, when they see its impact, they recognize that it will work in their own churches and communities.

Jerry Wiles serves as president emeritus of Living Water International (  Living Water is one of the world’s leading faith-based water solutions organizations with operations in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Having gotten involved in orality-based evangelism and disciple making strategies in the 1980s, he has been a paradigm pioneer in the orality movement and presently serves on the advisory council of the International Orality Network. Wiles has more than 35 years experience in ministry and international mission work. He can be contacted at

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