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Juggling missions, long and short

Despite our best intentions, short-term mission projects abroad too often make Christians vulnerable to a Disneyland mentality that does not build a stronger, Christian world view.
As summer plans approach for thousands of youth groups, university students and adult volunteers, it is important to stretch our thinking beyond disposable cameras, two-week trips and short-term commitments to a lost and suffering world.

When we add up thecosts of transportation, time out of the missionaries’ lives and impact on thepeople in the field, something this big deserves thought, study and prayer.

Author Tim Dearbornsaid that Western religious groups as a whole spend as much on short-termmissions as they do on long-term work. Some of the same ministries that havecampaigners on wait lists have a hard time meeting their annual budgets.

Should we insteadpool our money into more effective, long-term ministry? Shouldn’t we be willingto sacrifice the good we want to do ourselves for the greater good we can dofrom afar?

These questions seemclear, but they’re oversimplified. In fact, missions leaders say the costs,results and benefits are mixed and complex. Yes, the costs are high, but thelong-term view of the Kingdom requires that young people become involved, testthe vocation of missions and learn to serve others with time, money and energy.

Leaders involved inshort-term missions should not ignore the costs. Sponsoring churches should becareful to listen to the long-term missionaries. Are they able to speak thetruth about what is best for indigenous church growth? Listen to these commentscarefully and build non-coercive communication channels so that missionariesare free to say what they are thinking.

Prepare short-term workersto avoid the damage of cultural insensitivity and other thoughtlessness.Consider whether the funds could best be spent in the indigenous church’sministry to fuel growth — not airfares. Sometimes the encouragement andrelationships are invaluable. In other contexts, the costs may be too high.

In an era whenknowledge of geography is evaporating and global isolationism is increasing,wise use of short-term missions to enhance long-term efforts may be our besthope for the future of Kingdom work.

Churches must bedifferent — distinct from the cultures of fear, isolation and polarization.Every congregation must raise its children with a world view that is global.Every education program should include missions as a key component ofchildren’s spiritual education.

Those childrenrapidly are growing into the missions generation. Look no farther than thecampuses of our Christian universities and the campus ministries of secularschools for proof. Thousands of young people will travel across the country andaround the globe this spring and summer on short-term trips.

We urge these groupsto practice responsible, respectful missions. Study the local culture andcustoms before you go. Listen to the missionaries and local church leaders andfollow their advice. Learn from them. Soak up the cultural differences andlisten — really listen to people. Learn about their hopes, fears and needs.

We also urgemissionaries and ministers to be patient with their visitors and to give themample opportunities to experience life on the field.

Special trips forconstruction or repairs are wonderful — especially in the hurricane-damagedparts of the country, but, as one Japanese minister said of mission groups, “Wemust know that they are not subcontractors.”

Some of theparticipants in this year’s missions will go on to become full-timemissionaries, but many more will become globally minded teachers, deacons andelders.

Veteran missionaryand scholar Gailyn Van Rheenen says that the study of missions is “a journey intothe world to see the world as it really is — as God sees it — as a culturallydiverse, pluralistic world torn between the opposing forces of Satan and God.”

Whetherfaraway or down the street, for years or for weeks, may all our missionsefforts be fruitful and build up the Kingdom of Christ.
March 1, 2006

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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