Friday, September 15, 2017

Oaxaca, Earthquakes and Water... an urgent call to help!

Here’s my coffee this morning. I like it in this mug because the shape of it works well if I’m making a latte. I also like what it says… “Life is good.”

Except today, that’s not true. It’s not true because when your friends are suffering, life can’t be good. And that’s happening right now in Oaxaca.

Saturday, September 9 an 8.1 earthquake struck off the coast of Southern Mexico. Immediately life was changed for thousands of people. Because of ruptured phone lines, lack of power and lack of real news reporting, the devastation was not really known the first few days.

Now the news is getting out, and it is not good. Devastated is the word my friend Pastor ChablĂ© used. He said we need to do something. Anything. Because it’s unbelievable. 

The main town affected, Juchitan, lost part of their main hospital, City Hall, an entire hotel and numerous other buildings and houses. But Juchitan is the main city in the area, the one with resources and the money to rebuild… and building codes.

The rest of the region has seen house after house crumble. Streets and roads are destroyed. Infrastructure is essentially gone in many of the small villages across southern Oaxaca and Chiapas. More than 100 people have died and hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless. And the after shocks, more than 1500, keep coming. Homes continue to fall.

Pastor Chablé and Adventures in Life have identified three villages we believe we can help and make a significant long term impact. Those villages are San Mateo del Mar, Reforma de Pineda and Chicapa de Castro. All three are closer to the coast than Juchitan, which means closer to the epicenter of the quake. Houses across these cities are destroyed. Access to food and clean drinking water has been severely limited because of the quake.

As anyone knows, water is life and an inability to get clean water will have life threatening consequences. So here is what I want need you to help us do. Raise $10,500.00. Right now.

With that money, each village will get a water purification system that can be gravity fed, or even hook up to city water lines once they are restored. Additionally, we will put 100 personal water filters in and around the parts of the city too far from the main water source.

The cost is $3500.00 per village, $1500.00 for the village system and $2000.00 for the individual filters. Three villages… $10,500.00. We are already almost 50% of the way there! If we raise more than our goal, we will help other villages as we are able. So…

  • A gift of $1500.00 will give a village a central water purification system.
  • A gift of $1000.00 will provide 50 individual water filters for one of our three villages.
  • A gift of $100.00 will help us give 4 families clean safe drinking water.

That’s the ask. You can give through Adventures in Life, and view our IRS 501(c)3 tax exemption letter on our donation page by clicking here. 

Map of the affected area. The cities we are helping are marked.

In a few weeks, the world’s focus will turn from the hurricanes and fires here in the US and even the earthquake in Mexico. We have short attention spans. We will return to the political wars and the wait for the next disaster to grab our interest. Harvey, Irma and Oaxaca will fade from our minds. We’re already seeing it.

But what will remain, at least in those three villages, will be a lasting legacy of the love and the outpouring of God’s people to help the least of these in their moment of need. Long after the rescue workers return to their homes and locals are left to clean up the fallen brick walls and try and rebuild their lives, the gift of clean water will remain. Each and everyday.

And then because of our work on the temporal side of life, we just might gain a chance to have a conversation about the eternal side of life and living water and maybe, just maybe a few folks in Oaxaca will be able to say once again... Life is good!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

A New Reality... Funding the Great Commission through Short-Term Mission

This is the final piece detailing what I believe the church needs to do to address chronic funding issues as they relate to ongoing missions work around the globe.  

Today I want to offer some real world suggestions for financing the Great Commission work of US churches around the world.  

Let’s start with a few realities.

1. Short-term mission [STM] is here to stay.  Hundreds of thousands of people serve each year and STM is effectively a billion dollar industry when you factor in not only direct costs like fees and offerings, but travel and lodging.

2. Denominations are cutting back on their historical support of in-country missionaries as they scramble to fund their domestic operations and service churches closer to home base. This is forcing many log term people to have to learn themselves how to raise money to support their ministry and mission.

3. Cross-cultural Great Commission work is hard, takes a huge commitment, and is exceedingly costly. 


Case Study 1. Years back, the American Baptist Churches [ABCUSA] responded to a series of bad financial decisions by breaking a historic pledge to their in-country missionaries, telling them that they now had to build teams to help raise part of their personal support. Sadly, this was decided not as good missionary policy, which I believe it is, rather, in response to the denomination’s inability to continue funding their global missions force.

Case Study 2. I've had numerous discussions with pastors and leaders who wonder why churches should pay for anything beyond actual expenses when they serve on short term mission overseas. Many see no need for professional help and guidance, often prefer to go it alone, and believe paying host receivers for their time is bad stewardship of the dollars God had entrusted them.

Case Study 3.  Not too long ago Adventures in Missions, founded by Seth Barnes, had a little survey on their web page. The results showed that cost was the top factor in determining where to serve on short-term mission.

Short-term work, long the bane of career in-country missionaries is a billion dollar growth industry.  

We need only look to the explosion of web sites like gofundme and for evidence. In a tangential way, STM even made it into a Jeopardy episode a while back with the answer being “donor fatigue.” It's the feeling you get when you open the mailbox and see support envelopes from every student you’ve ever known. 

I believe that the future of our ongoing Great Commission work around the globe is dependent on Short-Term Mission and Ministry [STM]. Without the energy, vitality, youth and direct personal experience from these ministries, we are going to struggle to fund and continue our long-term work.

So, what should we do?

First, long-term missionaries need to reorient their ministries to take advantage of this incredible resource and opportunity to call people to a long-term commitment to cross-cultural missions.

Gone are the days when these faithful servants served and lived their lives in isolation from anyone from their home country.  With the availability of relatively cheap, and quick air travel to even the most far off locale, folks are going to visit.

Simply put, there are people back home who want to visit and serve in other countries alongside knowledgable, God-loving people who are involved in God’s work over there. A long-term missionary in a stable country that is not open to short-term work, is a kingdom liability.  

If you are a long-term missionary and are not making use of STM in your ministry, you are robbing yourself and your work of a valuable partner. Worse, you are refusing to develop relationships with the very people most interested in prayerfully and financially supporting your ministry over the long haul.

It is ironic that even as denominations like the ABC recognize the necessity of career missionaries building partnerships with potential donors, those missionaries who will benefit from these partnerships still try to keep STM involvement at arms length. The very people in country missionaries are casting aside as not worthy of their time and effort, are those that will organize people back home to raise money for their work and causes.  

Does the seminary where you teach need a new computer lab? Do you need a financial shot in the arm to jump start a new church plant? Would you like to finally move that long hoped for project from the shelf of dreams to reality? Short-term mission can help you in all of these, and more.

As a career in-country missionary, the short-termer is your friend, not an enemy, or an adversary. He or she, is there in response to a call by God to serve you, your people and your ministry. Make use of them! Encourage them, and maybe one day they will be your biggest supporter, or even the much needed replacement to continue the ministry you spent a lifetime developing.

Next, we need to recognize that it takes strong leadership to do effective mission, and that leadership costs money. It takes even more money to sustain long-term mission. If you are choosing your short-term ministry site primarily because it is a cheap option, you need to rethink your priorities.

Talk to anyone who has served long-term in another country and ask them how long it took before they felt like they were beginning to understand the people and culture where they served. It has taken me more than 20 years to finally feel like I have a grasp on “some” aspects of the Mexican culture. 

Without a doubt, I made a myriad of mistakes in my early years serving. Thankfully those mistakes were forgiven both by God, and those I harmed. Grace and forgiveness were accorded me from many different quarters in those days.But that grace only came as a result of a years of humble learning and servanthood.

However, the presence of grace and forgiveness should not be an excuse to not do all we can to ensure effective ministry. Often that means spending the money necessary to do mission and ministry right. The first step in this is partnering with a person or organization that has invested the time necessary to learn and understand not only the church culture, but the larger cultural issues where you are going to serve.

It is not bad stewardship to make use of an experienced person, or organization, when you go abroad to serve. In fact, it is exactly the opposite! It is bad stewardship not to use a person who is experienced with the people and the culture you are going to serve.  

Church planter and missionary Roberto Guerrero of Del Camino Connection says that any ministry that thinks they can sustain an effective cross cultural partnership without someone standing between those two cultures is "doomed to fail."

Churches, groups and individuals need to repent of their cheap gene. In all my years of hosting short-term groups, the strongest partnerships we had were ones where I knew if something came up, the church, or group was prepared to respond. They had raised extra money for their mission, were looking for God’s guidance, often through the missionary they were supporting, and came with a generous spirit and the resources to back that up.

It is that spirit of giving, and the wisdom to plan for it that leads to my final point.

Double up! 

I've proposed this before, but with every passing day, it’s simpleness continues to gnaw at me. It is an idea first floated by Larry Hovis, Executive Director of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina a few years back.

After figuring out your cost for short-term mission, each and every leader and participant on a team should agree to raise double those fees. Let’s face it, those people on short-term teams have huge networks of friends and family that are not even part of our local faith communities. Those networks, and the people that make them up, are going to be personally vested in making sure little Billy raises the money he needs to be successful.

So let’s put little Billy and his networks to work not just for this mission, but the larger Kingdom need. And when that extra support comes in, give it directly in support of the local missionary with whom Billy is working.

Give to their denomination, their organization, or directly to their mission, but make it clear that the funds are a direct gift to the mission and ministry of the missionary you are serving. 

This type of approach will go a long way towards helping our long-term in country missionaries achieve financial stability, fund a vision that often goes unreached for lack of resources and see the value of short term mission.

Imagine the impact this could have on a global scale.

If young people knew they could have financial security on the mission field, they may be more willing to enthusiastically meet the ongoing call for career in-country missionaries.

If those of us in the field knew with certainty that we had the resources available, in many cases, we could move from Christian relief to Christian development. Churches would be planted, workers would be resourced, lives would be changed and God’s Kingdom would grow.

The resources are there. Short-term mission holds great promise for the continued resourcing of vital long-term mission work. It’s proven ability to raise money and potential future missionaries cannot be discounted.

If I could rerun that conversation I had with the pastor who suggested paying host receivers for their time was bad stewardship, here’s what I would say.

Bad stewardship on the part of career missionaries, churches, groups and individuals is a failure to leverage this billion dollar industry for the greater good of the Kingdom and financially provide for our ongoing Great Commission work now and for generations to come.

[The 1.6 million statistic is from Robert Wuthnow, author of Boundless Faith, the Global Outreach of American Churches.  The $20,000.00 STM team statistic is from Asher Sargent, long time friend and Mission Pastor at Cole Community Church in Boise Idaho.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Great Commission and the Role of Short Term Mission

No area of funding Great Commission work is as fraught with peril as when we talk about short-term leadership and host receivers, or long-term missionaries. But before we begin, it is necessary to define the terms so we are all on the same page.

When I use the term Host-Receiver, originally coined by Roger Peterson and Wayne Sneed in their book, “Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission", I am talking about those cross cultural missionaries living in other countries who serve as hosts and receive short-term teams. Typically you know them as long-term missionaries.

Short-term mission [STM] leadership on the other hand are pastors and professionals whose job it is to facilitate effective short-term work around the globe.  In my position as Executive Director of Adventures in Life Ministry, not only do I handle the day to day operation of AIL Ministry, I also spend significant time in the field each year.

Others, at organizations like DELTA Ministries in Vancouver, WA, where my friend Brian Heerwagen works, spend significant time recruiting, training and preparing short-term teams and individuals for their various types of mission work around the globe.

All of these positions need to filled with quality people who are following God’s call on their lives if we are to have consistently effective cross cultural missions work. I believe that anyone who fills these valuable positions, just like a pastor at a local church, deserves a fair salary.

And therein, for many, lies part of the problem.

Many of us on the field, and yes I include myself in that group, would serve for free. Few of us see what we do as a job, because deep down inside, we believe God has called and specially equipped us to be where we are. We cannot stop what we do anymore than a pastor can just walk away from the pulpit.  

But that presents us with some problems as it relates to funding. Let me give you an example.

Friends of mine serve as denominational missionaries in South America.  They are asked, actually expected, to function as host receivers for anyone the denomination decides to send their way on short-term mission.  Skipping past how they must alter their existing ministry schedule, let’s just deal with the finances related to this.

When a team serves with them, they are not allowed to ask that team for additional financial resources beyond what the denomination has predetermined are reasonable expenses.  They are expected to work longer hours, because they must also maintain their current ministries, provide additional materials and do it all, to use a business term, essentially at cost.

Sadly, their case is not the exception to the rule.  I have heard numerous stories of missionaries having to work double time facilitating groups with no extra financial compensation. How many people working in the states would gladly work double shifts for a week with no overtime pay? Yet that is exactly what missionaries are expected to do everyday in the field when STM teams arrive.

Even if those field missionaries are short on raising their financial support, often they are not allowed by their denominations or organizations to appeal directly to the teams the “home office” sends for additional financial support.  

Is it any wonder long-term host receivers who deal with short-term teams, teams that often raise an amount equivalent to 50% of the long-term missionaries annual salary, are frustrated?

Long-term missionaries are expected to raise enough money not only to cover their salary and benefits, but their ministry as well and a chunk of change for the office back home.  All without asking the very people serving alongside them for additional help! 

As someone who has to raise every dime my ministry spends, I can tell you this is no small feat for people who live a significant portion of their lives in another culture.

We need to change this equation now. 

In my opinion, failure to do so now, and to recognize the financial reality of cross cultural Great Commission work will have a long lasting negative effect not just on our current work around the globe. We can expect a greater difficulty in recruiting and keeping future generations of long term missionaries deployed on the field.

So what should we do?

First, we need to accept reality. Short-term mission is here to stay!  As much as many long-term missionaries might wish it away, that is not going to happen. So instead of complaining that STM siphons off valuable funds from effective long-term work, in country host receivers need to reframe their ministries.

Long-term missionaries need to look for ways short-term teams can empower the people they serve to accomplish their ministry goals. Almost every leader I encounter wants to be effective when they serve short-term. In fact, they are begging to know what to do. So let's tell them!  As they are beginning the process of planning their time with you, an effective host receiver needs be honest and let them know how they can support your ministry.

One pastor who has served repeatedly with me in Mexico never fails to check all of his ideas by asking me if what he wants to do will actually be beneficial to my ministry. It is his goal he says to make sure that his short-term teams are actually serving the goals of the long term people he is serving.

Now for some, this is going to be extremely difficult. Many long term missionaries have never thought of, or have never wanted to work alongside short-term teams.  But folks, if short-term mission is not going away, and it isn’t, wouldn’t it be a better strategy to figure out how to use this resource in a way that improves your ministry?

Here's an example.

My ministry, Adventures in Life is currently working in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Our partners in this area had a desire years ago to provide Christian camp experience to kids from some of the poorest indigenous areas in the state. The hope was that by giving children an opportunity to have a great week in the presence of people living out a joyful faith in Jesus, they would begin to have a positive impression of Jesus and Christianity. This positive experience would then open doors for local pastors and leaders to sit and share the Gospel with families and adults in this vastly underreached area.   

There was one problem.  There were no resources to make this happen, so the dream went unfulfilled. Until we came alongside these leaders, these potential host receivers, and helped make their ministry dream a reality.

Now we have regular teams from the US that come as support staff for this camp. They don’t teach at all, as we prefer that to be done by trusted local leadership. But they can wash dishes, sweep floors, clean dorms, play with and love kids. And they bring the financial resources necessary for a successful camping experience.

AIL Ministry had no plan for this. We never went to our partners and said we’ll do this for you. We simply asked what ministry dreams they had, and we tried to help make them happen, under their leadership.

If you are a long-term missionary serving in some far off land, don't you have long deferred projects that your ministry needs help with? What ministry dreams do you have that are sitting on a shelf because of a lack of resources, both people and financial? Think about this... hard. Because the answer contains the key to continuing to the funding of your ministry and that of future generations.

The second thing we must understand, and this relates directly to my friends in South America, is that cross cultural, ends of the earth ministry is expensive. Sadly, many church leaders, especially when they think about short-term mission, don’t like to hear that. So instead of really thinking about what they are doing, they want to design ministry on the cheap.

Apart from the travel required to get somewhere, there are a myriad of expenses related to hosting a group. Things like lodging, utilities, offerings, transportation and insurance are all part of this. But these are the easy expenses. Every church or group expects to pay these and generally does not struggle with them.

Problems arise however when we get to leadership. Churches and groups that want to design ministry on the cheap do not believe they should have to pay for professional leadership. 

I’ve been told by group leaders many times that they believe paying for on site field leadership is bad stewardship. I’ve also been told that those of us on the field have been gifted specifically by God to live with less. The implication being that while we might deserve more, we should be content with whatever we get.

I believe the future of long-term Great Commission work hinges on this... Unless we can insure that on-field host receivers are fairly compensated and their families adequately cared for financially, we will see a steady downward trend in people following a call to serve overseas.

So, what should we do? That will be the topic of the third and final part of this series.