Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Helps and Hurts of Short-Term Missions

By Tiana Murray; adapted from Global City Missions

Short term missions has been on the rise in recent years, primarily among younger generations. Seemingly every youth, college, and young adult group takes at least one a year, if not more. Both local and global missions is at the forefront of Christian culture-- from the inner city ghetto to India-- and Christians are signing up in droves for a week-or-two experience on the field.

This sounds positive, and for good reason. The increased concern for those who do not know the Lord and the ability to think outside of one's own bubble are certainly admirable, but there is a danger in the short-term missions trend.

I remember being in India for an internship and seeing this danger first-hand. I was there for several months working with a local church plant in the slums of Calcutta, and mid-way through my internship we had a high school group come through to help. As excited as I was by their arrival, within a few days I wanted to put them on the next plane back home. They were culturally insensitive, obnoxious, and unaware of their surroundings (in short, they were the stereotype many other cultures have regarding Americans). They took no interest in working alongside of the local church, but rather in doing their own thing. They didn't try to speak the language or learn the local customs. Several times, they took students out of VBS to take pictures with them in the hallways. I was furious by their lack of understanding. But more than anything, I was furious because I knew they were going to go back to their nice hotel that night and debrief about "how much God was doing" and "what an amazing day of ministry" they had had, when in reality they had offended more people than they had shown Christ to. I knew because I had been in groups like that all too often.

The short term missions trend can be dangerous when it is not done in unison with an established, long-term church or missions movement. It is dangerous when missions becomes more about a fun or dangerous experience rather than a lifestyle of commitment that spreads the Kingdom of God. It is dangerous when we bring our American bubble with us rather than present the Gospel in a way that makes sense culturally. It is dangerous when it becomes about taking pictures of the little brown babies to put on facebook rather than truly making disciples of all nations.

Short term mission trips are helpful when, as Global City Missions says, there is a "disciple-making movement and abundant Gospel sowing, [when] they serve compassionately and verbally scatter the seeds of the Gospel with cultural sensitivity. Abundant Gospel sowing through these volunteers multiplies the opportunities to find that one gateway person who is a doorway for the Gospel into a new community of people." In short, mission trips are helpful when the focus remains on God, when the culture is respected and worked within, and when hearts of compassion, service, and boldness spread the Kingdom message in a way that opens doors that have remained closed for too long.

The prayer we must pray is one for workers. As Luke 10:2 says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Pray, therefore, to the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers." Long term workers who will be there after the short-term trip is over are needed to see that discipleship and indigenous church growth is sustained. Short term workers, with hearts of service and cultural awareness, are needed to come alongside of local churches and complement their ongoing ministry.

People of all nations are waiting to hear the good news. May God move the hearts of His people to serve in whatever capacity they can to bring His Kingdom to the city.

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