The Impact of Short-Term Missions
An interview with Tom Buursma, the Field Director of World Team in the Philippines
Daniel: How did you get started in missions?
Tom: The story kind of starts at Urbana in 1996 for me. Some 20,000 students gathered there, and George Verwer, the head of OM (Operation Mobilisation), gets on stage with his global jacket and massive inflatable earth ball, you know. It was an experience for me; not just hearing his passion for the lost, not just the call to missions that he gave – what really moved my heart, more than anything else, was the way he prayed for the world and how he prayed for specific people groups and their needs.
I graduated from college in 1997 and thought it would be good for me to have a 2-3 month missions experience overseas. So, I used the internet to do my research – many missions organizations did not even have an internet presence then (back in 1997!). But SIM had information about all kinds of other agencies on their website. So I went through those organizations, over 100 of them. I reached out to all those missions agencies, and World Team really left a good impression with me. They answered my questions and were intentional in reaching out to me. I also liked that World Team said they would work with Kristin and me to set up the kind of internship experience we wanted, with the dates we wanted.
Daniel: How did things unfold with this short-term experience?
Tom: At that time, I was engaged to Kristin, so we went on the trip as a couple. Two other individuals joined us, so in total, we were four participants. Kristin and I had a great experience, both during our preparatory time at World Team’s center in the US (in Warrington, PA). We were also very impressed with all the World Team missionaries we met during our trip to the Philippines.
During the evaluation at the end of the trip, they reached out to Kristin and me and invited us to consider joining World Team. We got married in December 1998 and were invited to RACE. By going through this process with World Team, we were on track to become long-term missionaries. Actually, we were part of a denomination that also sends out missionaries within its own structure, but what moved our hearts to go with World Team was the positive experience we had with our short-term trip to the Philippines.
Daniel: Recently, short-term mission trips have been criticized quite a bit. How would you evaluate short-term opportunities in missions?
Tom: Granted, there are negatives to short-term ministry. The kind of ministry we do at World Team is church planting, which requires language skills and is very relational. Also, it takes a lot of work for the hosting missionaries; taking care of the visiting team is something we are happy to do, but it also takes time away from our main ministry here in the Philippines.
The positive is that a lot of people who desire to do long-term missions want to get their feet wet first – meaning, they want to start by having a short-term (or mid-term) experience. So, for the cause of global missions, short-term trips can move the needle for us to eventually send out more missionaries.
In addition, short-termers can be a real blessing by giving the local believers a sense that they are part of the wider body of Christ. Where we work, there are usually only very few evangelical believers. So, just having people come out as Christians – even if they do nothing else – local believers are encouraged by these visitors, giving them a sense that they are not alone in their quest of following Jesus.
Daniel: What has your long-term involvement in missions looked like?
Tom: We – my wife or I – were not the kind of people who received a call into missions when we were three years old, you know. As I mentioned above, George Verver ignited something in me, but it came to fruition through the World Team experience we had. At this point, we have been on the mission field for 21 years, and this call to missions is now being passed on to the next generation. We have four daughters, and one of them is considering that she may become a missionary herself one day.
It’s been quite a journey, and we are grateful for how God has used us over the years. But it all began with learning the language first, in the north of Manila. After that, we were assigned to the island of Catanduanes, where we started doing church planting in a town called Payo. Then, in San Andres, our second allocation, we also did some community development. In 2018 we moved to Manila, and in 2019 I became the Field Director for World Team in the Philippines.
Daniel: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Philippines Internship that is coming up this summer?
Tom: I think the strength of this trip is that participants will be ministering alongside a diversity of missionaries, in a diversity of locations, ministering to a diversity of people. You start in Manila, the capital, with the Happy Family team, ministering to the urban poor, which will be the first part of the trip. Participants will then be going to a provincial town to do community work, and the final destination is the island of Catanduanes to be with the rural poor – which is a very different kind of experience, working alongside Filipino missionaries who are in charge of this particular ministry. So, participants will be serving at three very different places, working with three quite different people groups, but also experiencing three different ways of doing ministry.
We are looking for people for this internship. Come and join us for this unique opportunity to experience missions firsthand!