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The good (and bad) of short-term missions

Missionaries, ministers and short-term workers discuss the pros and cons of Spring Break and summer mission trips around the globe.
What are thebenefits of short-term missions? What difference do these visits make in thelives of participants and the lives of local churchmembers?

Allen Nalley, missionary in Curitiba, Brazil

“The visitors alwaysbring us lots of new contacts. Some souls are saved after follow-up. … Thelocal church members always enjoy the visitors and make new friends. They enjoyhousing them in their homes, too. Brazilians are so hospitable.
“The visitors go homewith a new worldview. Many of them come back as full-time missionaries becauseof this mission experience. Coming to a foreign field, seeing successful works,seeing happy missionary families, seeing the millions of lost souls changesthese young Christians.”
Andy Mankin, director of campus recreation at Lipscomb University,Nashville, Tenn.,who is leading about 50 students on a Spring Break mission to the City of Children, Ensenada, Mexico

“I see the experienceas a blessing for those that are (going for the first time) and the veteransthat go on the trip. We focus on teamwork, and it is very important that eachperson know that we go on the trip with the purpose to serve.
“We plan on having agreat time, but will in no way let anything get in the way of what we have cometo do on our trip.
“I have reallyenjoyed and look forward every year to (visiting) the City of Children. … It is a blessing every year tosee the kids’ smiling faces and to form relationships that will last alifetime.”

Maurice Jadon, minister for the Nazareth,Israel,church
“Yes, they arehelpful, and we need (such teams). People here need to know that they havebrothers and sisters in Christ all over the world.
“In the past we havesuch teams, and they teach the Bible through English, so (students) learn boththe Bible and English. … The teams also learn about our culture and visit holysites. … We can invite non-Christians to come and they get to know the church’slocation and its beliefs.”

Andrew Kelly, worker with Jeremiah’s Hope, aministry for orphans in eastern Ukraine

“The benefits aretwofold. (Short-term missions) bless the lives of the children in Ukraine andtransform the lives of those who came to serve. These children always seem tohelp us Americans step back and put things in focus. (They help us) prioritizeour lives and see what is truly important — not possessions, but relationshipswith each other and with Jesus Christ.
“It also is a greatboost to local church members who work alongside the teams as cooks, Bibleteachers, translators, etc.”

Aziz Sarah, minister for the JerusalemChurch of Christ, an International Churchof Christ

“Those who are fromhere have to focus much more on serving and learning from the visitors. It isimportant for local Christians to remember that we are not alone especiallysince we live in a country that Christianity is (in the) minority.
“For the visitors, it teaches thema lot of things. First, to appreciate the freedom they have in their countriesin evangelism. Bible studies in Israelcan be much deeper (because of the location — being where Jesus was) for them.
“Many (short-termvisitors) shared with me that they do not feel as important in their localchurches as they did on the mission trip. Some were having doubts that thesetrips have helped them overcome. Many took these things back home. I (havebeen) contacted by some church leaders about how the participants have becomemore zealous and joyful after the trip.”

Nick White, campus minister for the Ruston, La.,church, who is accompanying more than 20 students on a Spring Break trip to SanPedro Sula, Honduras, to work with the Lomas del Carmen church
“Our involvement inthese mission trips has greatly changed both my and the students’ outlook onwhat missions are all about. I believe that we really realize what it meanswhen you read the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19.
“You always plan ongoing to Honduras to help out the people down there, but each and every time weget ready to leave we realize that the brethren there have given us far morethan we could have ever given them.
“These mission trips have alsoproven beneficial to our campus ministry when we get home. The students that gohave a renewed passion and zeal for the gospel of Christ and it has reallyshown in our evangelistic efforts on the Louisiana Tech campus.”

Linda Benskin, former missionary in Yendi,Ghana
“Some visitors … have made atremendous positive impact on the local church by being humble and having aservant sprit.
“Dr. Frank Black cameto Yendi and helped see patients at the clinic, working side-by-side with thelocals. When the patients had all been seen, he picked up a paintbrush andhelped paint the clinic walls. That was so huge to the local people. Hisvisit had a very positive impact.”

How did you getinvolved in short-term work? What is the attraction of suchmissions?

Tina Samuel, student at LipscombUniversity, who is leading a team ofmedical missionaries to Indiathis summer

“Ashort-term mission is more convenient of a time frame for most collegestudents, and it’s good to expose the students to the mission field whilehelping (to) meet needs in the community.
“I hopethat I can come away having grown spiritually and having confirmed my desire tobe a medical missionary. I also hopethat — rather than this trip being mostly about our experiences — it will trulybe a help to the people of India… and that, through our work there, they might see the love of Jesus.”

Michael Reed, who will lead a group of 15short-term workers on a Spring Break mission to Monterrey, Mexico, to work withthe Los Nogales church
“I originally wasjust looking for an opportunity to get my youth group involved in across-cultural mission field. God placed this congregation in our path and wewent one summer. I absolutely fell in love with the people there and havereturned twice since then — once with Lipscomb Universityand once with our youth.
“I never go into itlooking for what I can gain. I just want to be there to give to them and lovethem. Of course, that’s what is so awesome about God. When you give to him andlove others, he turns around and gives to you. Even though I never intend togain anything, I always do.”
MichaelMoss, professor of Bible at Lipscomb, who will lead a summer campaign to Bucharest, Romania

“Iinitially went toassist one of our graduates who was serving as a missionary. It is a growthexperience every year for me. I hope to expose the students to a differentculture, give them experience in evangelism.
“Iinitially planned to make one trip. It has become a way of life. I have achurch home in the U.S.,another in Romania andanother in Great Britain.”
Dave Culbreath, who will lead a group of 28 to Morant Bay, Jamaica,for a Spring Break mission trip

“It’s an excellent opportunity across the board. Our team membersbecome exposed to life-changing opportunities, by way of missions, and thechurch in Jamaicais strengthened by the encouragement we do our best to provide them.”

What are thechallenges of hosting short-term missionaries? In your opinion, do they disruptthe work of the local church?

Gary Green, a coordinator of the World Wide Witnessinternship program at Abilene Christian University,Abilene,Texas.

“I think they aredisruptive to local work no matter what you do. They can disrupt in ways thatare mutually beneficial or mutually detrimental. Intentionality while onthe field and preparation before arriving on the field are keys to success.”
Charles Coulston, overseer of Made in the Streets,a ministry for street children in Nairobi, Kenya

“Wedon’t feel disrupted at all. We plan ahead for (where) they will stay and thework they will do, and we put responsibility on them to get prepared. Our teamhas become very good at continuing their work while including visitors in thetasks.
“Thechallenges have to do with housing and planning. We do have to spend a good bitof time prior to groups coming to get ready for them.”
Mark Miller, young adultminister for the North Atlanta church, who will lead a group of collegestudents on a Spring Break trip to tutor inner-city students in New York City

It can be a disruption, but it all depends on the intention of thetrip and the communication and preparation beforehand.
“I think(short-term missions) are great and lend themselves to encourage students tolive out their lives with a missional lens through which they look at things.”
Grace Nyanga, ministerwith Busoga Churches of Christ in Jinja, Uganda

“Every blessing hassome challenges … The biggest challenge that comes with hosting these groups(comes from within) the blessing itself.
“In the one week theyare around, (short-term workers) reach very many people. (The new converts)come into the ministry or church with so many different expectations. Thisbuilds pressure on the local leadership to (involve) these new converts andredirect their expectations to the right motives.
“We’ve tried toaddress this in Jinja by organizing campaign groups in areas with stableleadership. This way, people are reached, but at the same time the leaders inthat specific location are directly involved (with the new Christians)immediately after their conversion.”
David Bayless,missionary in Belem, Brazil

“We’ve recruitedseveral to work in this area through the short-term trips they have made here.It takes some time from the schedule, but it’s worth it for the future.”
Davison Ndhlovu,minister in the African nation of Malawi

“It is surprisingthat most of these students prefer to go to Europe and not Africa.I witnessed this when I was in England.At the time, some congregations were saying that it is very costly to hostthe students compared to the (cost of the church’s regular work) and sometimesstudents sent do not behave as Christians.
“These studentsshould be deployed all over the word — not just Europe.”
Mike Schrage, workerwith Good News Productions, International, a Joplin, Mo.-based mission groupthat works with churches of Christ and Christian Churches

“Any visit by asingle person, or a group, is going to cause disruption in the day-to-dayoperations and ministries of the church. Grandma visiting her grandkids affectshow mom and dad schedule their day! The same will be true of visitors to amission field.
“So the question isnot, ‘Will there be disruption?’ but, ‘Will the level of disruption harm thenature of the church work they are there to serve?’
“Most of the time,fortunately, there is no damage, but in some cases there is a need for damagecontrol to follow a mission team’s visit to a specific field.
“It all depends onthe size of the visiting group, the experience of the group (have they traveledinternationally before?), the maturity and leadership of the group and even theculture of the group. A group of Christians from the U.S.will be different than a group from Korea for example — even if team isthe same size and age.
“Groups can be largerif the group leader has a good grasp of the missionary community, local cultureand drives home the point that his team is to observe and serve and neveraccept a role of judge or jury.”

How shouldshort-term workers prepare for these trips? What should they expect?
Ruth Levai, missionary in Hungary whosehusband, Ati, was converted by short-term workers and is now aminister
“Expect theunexpected! It’s never going to be what you thought it would be like.
“To prepare, studentsshould learn a few basic words of the local language, (“hello,””please,” “thank you,” “excuse me”). And perhapsread the biography or autobiography of a well-known missionary, if possible,someone who worked in that same country. And pray!”
Andrew Kelly

Pray, pray, prayand pray some more! They need to pray for patience, that God will stretch themand teach them as they teach others.
“On an earthly level,they need to respect deadlines and the framework which the local church theyare going to work with set up. (That framework) is built around our needs forplanning. … Many people do not respect or understand the need for deadlines inrelation to booking tickets, etc., and they wait until the last minute to dotheir fundraising.”
Ruth Tesic, missionary in Croatia

“It’s important forthem to know that people don’t become New Testament Christians very easilyhere, so the group’s biggest help is in making contacts — planting seeds andwatering them.”
Mike Schrage

Read. Get a copy ofthe book Six Dangerous Questions to Transform Your View of theWorld, (Paul Borthwick, InterVarsity Press, 1996) and carefullyprocess it before leaving for the field.
“That little bookplaces U.S. Christians squarely in the focus of the will of God and makes the readerwrestle with some foundational spiritual issues before goingto the mission field. Issues pertaining to the centrality of Christ,materialism, cultural sensitivity, etc., are addressed in this small paperback.
“These questions mustbe dealt with individually prior to leaving for any mission trip.”

Scott Raab, missionary to the Netherlands and Belgium

“Know who Jesus is,who is he in your life! That’s what you need to share and keep straight in yourlife.
“To prepare, be surethat you do enough homework (and do it seriously) about the place, the peopleand the local congregation.
“E-mail the localmembers before you come so that you already have a bit of a reputation — andone e-mail just before you get on the plane doesn’t count.”

Filed under: Dialogue

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