Imagine participating in the mission of God to see every nation, tribe, people and language worshipping together before the throne of God (Revelation 7:9).
Short-term missions (STM) is currently ubiquitous, but when I was born in 1970 it was a relatively new idea. Missionaries were seen as people who spent their entire lives in another country, spreading the gospel and helping the poor, living in a different culture, and learning a new language. As international travel became easier, we realized that some aspects of sharing the gospel and caring for the poor could also be accomplished in shorter periods of time. The year 2020 marked the PAOC’s 50th anniversary of sending Canadians on short-term missions. In the past few decades, international travel has become so accessible that it’s hard to imagine life any other way.
I love stories … especially when seemingly different stories intersect with each other in unexpected ways. Let’s take a brief look together at the past 50 years.
Imagine Dan MacTavish as he joined the first Ambassadors in Missions (AIM) team to serve in the British West Indies in July 1970. The 23-member team, led by Pastor Fred Fulford, spent their days visiting every house on the island of Carriacou (a Caribbean island belonging to Grenada) and their evenings helping in the nightly evangelism crusades. Dan went three more times. Those AIM trips inspired and prepared him to give his life to spread the gospel around the world. Fifty years later, Dan and his wife, Mardell, have served in Mexico, Spain, Romania, and beyond. They still serve as long-term global workers in Romania and Spain.
By the late 1970s, Volunteers in Missions (VIM) were sent out. Imagine the first VIMer, Denise Huzzey (nee Forsythe), as she worked with Vern and Belva Tisdalle in Lusaka, Zambia. Her time was split between youth, children’s ministry, church office administration, Bible studies at the University of Zambia, and teaching Bible at an elementary school. Upon her return to Canada, Denise settled into life here—work, marriage, and raising a family. With a heart for international missions, she served on the missions committee of her local church, her family took an STM trip to Zambia, and they supported missions around the world. Fast-forward 35 years to where Denise and her husband, Jim, are looking toward retirement. They began to imagine how they could give their time, their health, their professional skills, and their financial stability to go again. Jim and Denise serve for four months each year in Southeast Asia. They minister with their daughter, Megan Wylie, and her husband, Zach, who are long-term global workers with Imagine Thailand. Jim and Denise use their life skills to host short-term teams, join in projects throughout the country, encourage the families of young global workers in the region, and build relationships with university students. How could Denise have imagined that her VIM trip back in 1977 would inspire her daughter to get involved in long-term global work and that her own retirement years would be spent overseas?
In the late 1990s, a young man named Mark Steinfeld had just graduated from Bible college and was imagining life as a pastor in Canada. Invited to serve as a VIMer, he agreed to a six-month term as an itinerant teacher at several European Bible colleges. Twenty years later, he is still teaching and equipping pastors in Europe. Along the way, Mark married Kim McTavish, daughter of Dan McTavish (remember him?), and they have two beautiful daughters and a son who serve alongside them in their ministry in Spain. As he prepared for his first trip, Mark could never have imagined the interconnections and fruitfulness from his initial six-month commitment.
By the mid-2000s, many short-term teams and individuals were arranging their own mission through personal connections. Volunteers were answering the call to go, but there were common stumbling points: early returns due to discouragement and relational conflict; decreased desire for future engagement in missions; and disillusionment with the local church. Volunteers weren’t prepared for the normal experience of culture shock, had insufficient understanding of appropriate and helpful ways to engage in the new culture, and were unprepared for the re-entry stress once back in Canada.
International Missions began to imagine that with careful pre-field training, on-field support, and debriefing, volunteers could engage in healthy mission work and return to Canada with a passionate heart for the unreached and vulnerable around the world. We imagined that many would be inspired to follow the mission of God in a long-term calling overseas. In 2009, Mark Crocker and Matt Janes were asked to reboot the global volunteer program through PAOC International Missions. My family of six was among the first to be sent. We served for one year among Burmese refugees in Southeast Asia through Imagine Thailand. Zach grew up in my husband’s youth ministry and, after hearing about our experience, began to explore the ministry of Imagine Thailand and consider his growing sense of call to vocational missions work. Upon our return to Canada, I joined Mark and Matt to help them with sending other volunteers. Imagine my joy as I prepare and send global volunteers around the world every year!
Looking back over 50 years, it’s been a beautiful relationship of interconnected stories. Most of our current global workers point back to their short-term missions experiences as catalysts and confirmations for their long-term call to missions. High school graduates serve overseas before starting further education. University graduates use their knowledge and skills to empower national leaders. Young couples sacrificially address the injustices they hear about around the world. Families explore long-term calling to missions. Retirees direct their time, money, professional skills, and life experience to more than cruising and golfing their way to the pearly gates.
What is God calling you to imagine?
Irislee Koch lives in West Kelowna, B.C., and serves with International Missions as the global volunteer administrator. Along with her husband, Derek, she gets out of Canada to serve the nations as often as she can.
First image above: Denise (née Forsythe) Huzzey at left, with Vern and Belva Tisdalle and their two children, Stephen and Michelle, in Zambia in 1977.
Second image above: The Koch family in 2009.
This article appeared in the January/February/March 2021 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2021 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos courtesy Denise Huzzey and Irislee Koch.