Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Short Term Mission Trips


I am putting together a small handout to give to short term teams that visit us, and thought, "Hey, I will post it on my blog, maybe someone else can benefit from it." So here you go.

Why Do Short Term Missions? 
There is a debate in the evangelical church about the effectiveness of short term missions.  The idea is pretty straightforward and has two main points. The first one is financial.  If 10 people go on a s/t trip which cost $1,500 each, then they just spent $15,000—most of it going to an airline.  The argument asks the question, “Wouldn’t it be better to give a career missionary on the field a love offering of $15,000 and have the missionary use it to further their mission?”  

The other main objection to s/t trips is that people cannot understand and appreciate the culture of another people group and therefore truly be effective in a s/t trip.

Both of these arguments make sense, but they miss the purpose of a short term trip.  I do not believe that the purpose of a s/t trip is for someone with a ‘silver bullet’ to ride in and save the day by ministering to those poor lost souls in another cultural context.  I would go so far as to say that I do not believe that the purpose of the s/t trip is really, in the end, to minister to the target group of the career missionary.  They DO serve the people, but that is a by-product of the purpose.  It is a purpose, but not the primary one.  

As a long term missionary who BELIEVES in s/t mission trips, let me explain the purpose of your trip as I see it.  You can see these purposes in the verses below. 

1.    To promote and give the vision of world evangelism.

Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.        (John 4:35)

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. (Matthew 9:35-38) 

This is the most important part of s/t trips.  It opens up the worldview, expands the horizons, and gives a missionary experience to people.  A s/t trip allows someone to see the needs of others in the world, and to see themselves as God’s instrument to meet those needs.  In North American culture we are bombarded constantly with information and statistics about the pain and suffering in the world.  More than that, Evangelical Christians are given Bible lessons, shown videos, and hear messages about the lost, unreached people groups, pain and suffering.  The sad fact is, that instead of giving us a challenge, it has given us an inoculation.  We simply tune out the images we see on TV, and daydream during the missionary’s talk.  For most of us, the best case scenario is that we feel empathy towards the person in the photo/video; empathy that is lost as soon as the closing prayer or the next commercial.  Short term missions is, in my opinion, the most powerful weapon that is at our disposal to motivate people towards World Missions.  It bombards the senses, attacks our emotions, and knocks down our preconceptions.  The s/t person EXPERIENCES the reality of a lost world.  They smell, see, hear, taste, feel, and perceive the fact that God sent His Son for the WORLD, not just for middle class North America.  It allows them, in most cases, to see the huge disparity of wealth around the globe.  S/T missions shakes up the world of wealthy Christians (if you are reading this then you are one of the wealthy I am talking about—even if you do not realize it) and causes them to rethink how they spend their money in light of poverty and social injustice.  In summary, a s/t mission trip changes you.  Consider this fact.  Every long term, career missionary that I know went on a s/t trip before becoming, and in many cases even considering becoming, a career missionary.  I believe that this is the most important aspect of a s/t trip, and one that cannot be evaluated financially.  Short Term missions is an instrument of God to expand the vision of Global Discipleship.  He uses it to create senders, people who will financially support world evangelism, and to call others to become long term missionaries.  The primary reason that we want people to come to Bolivia on a short term trip is because we are praying for God to use our ministry to call 100 people into career missions.  This is the means to that end!  Come to Bolivia and you will stop hearing about the plight of the world and begin to experience it.

2.    To encourage and support the long term missionary.

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.  But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1Thessalonians 5:11-14)

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1Corinthians 15:58) 

Long term missionaries have a tough job.  It seems self-serving to be writing this, but it is the hard truth.  Missionaries are unappreciated and forgotten.  I asked 10 different missionaries this question: “What is the hardest part of being a missionary?”  All 10 of them answered with the same exact word—not even a synonym.  Add to this the fact that not one of these missionaries was in the presence of another when I asked, and not one of them even knew that we had asked the same question to someone else.  The answer?  “Loneliness”.  

I believe that s/t missions is an opportunity to EXPRESS gratitude and appreciation to the missionary.  It is a chance to let these forgotten servants of Christ know that their labor is not in vain and that you believe that no matter how insignificant they feel, both what they do and who they are is important. Sometimes a missionary can serve for years without a single convert.  Other times, the work that we do is completely one-sided where we are the ones always giving and after a while we simply feel drained.  We have all the problems that people in the States experience, plus the issues that come up from being in ministry, and add to that the cross cultural frustrations and obstacles.  We are thousands of miles from our parents, adult children and grandchildren.  This is compounded by the fact that many missionaries live next to or in financial hardship.   Since I am explaining what it is like to be a missionary, let me add one more thing.  When we go to the States, people avoid us (even previous friends).  I think this is because they are scared we are going to ask for money or maybe our lives are now so different that they feel that we don’t have much in common anymore.  Bottom line: it is emotionally hard to be a missionary.  I am not saying that it is not worth it.  Nor am I saying that all of the platitudes and the verses don’t apply.  What I am saying is that several times in the Bible God tells us to encourage one another, and this really applies to the missionary.

When you go on a s/t trip, you can encourage the missionary, strengthen them, speak affirmation into their lives, and help them catch their breath to stay in the game.  Think about this, affirmation is so important that on every occasion the Father spoke out loud to the Son, He publicly affirmed Him. You can do this by bringing them special treats, by bringing things to their children, by paying for a ‘luxury’.  You can write them nice notes, point out areas where they are like Jesus, and remind them of the difference in eternity that they are making.  Encouragement, appreciation, and affirmation is HUGE, and a s/t trip gives you the opportunity to do this face to face/heart to heart.

3.    To help those in the missionary’s people group.

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. (Matthew 9:35-38)

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

This is the reason that most people think we do s/t missions.  As I said in the beginning, this is a purpose, but I think it is the smallest one.  However, while you are here, you can tremendously bless those whom Jesus died for. So what are you to do?  Take the heart of a servant.  Humble yourself and become obedient from the heart to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  Seek to build up the least of these.  Strive to make the people group better in every area of their lives.  Do what Jesus did for us.  Step into their world, seek to see and understand their needs, and then in compassion meet those needs.  The key is simple: love them.  Love them as you love yourself.  You are here to serve.  The Biblical principle that you will discover is this.  The more you serve, the more you are blessed.

In summary, short term trips are incredible.  They can honor Christ and bless everyone involved. They can give a world vision to the short term person, encouragement to the missionary, and help to the people group.  If we place ourselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit, then this trip will be one of the most important things that you ever do!  May God bless you!


donna cruger said...

Love it! Having had children go on short term mission trips, I know you point out a very common reason poeple express when we ask for support. I think you made very valid points in a way people can understand it...I will be passing this along. thanks. GOd Bless you and your family.

Lauren said...

Autumn and Elisabeth just gave me $7 more today to put in the Bolivia trip fund. They earned it from making bracelets with girls' names on them and selling 2 to our neighbors. Hopefully Autumn and I will see you in 2013!

Amy K said...

Have you read the book, "When Helping Hurts?" There is a lot of food for thought in there on this topic and on missions (both local and global) in general. It is one of the best books I read in 2011.