|The Short-Term Team From First Baptist Salinas|
with Adventures in Life Ministry in Ensenada, Mexico
I need short-term missionaries!
Yep, you read that right.
I am an on field missionary serving in Mexico and there is no way I could imagine doing ministry without a regular contingent of short-term missionaries coming to serve alongside me and my partners.
I say this because for years short-term mission work in general and Mexico in particular has been vilified by long-term in country missionaries, seminary and bible college professors, pastors, leaders, and even, in an effort to seem hip and knowledgeable about missions, youth pastors and seminary students.
It is a view rooted in ignorance and one that stubbornly clings to the idea that short-term work is still interested in being imperialistic conquering heroes as opposed to the learner servant models many short-term mission organizations are now advocating.
Gone are the days of “Here’s what we are going to do for you.” That viewpoint has been largely replaced with “How can we support and encourage you in the work of God where you are serving?”
In short, short-term mission is growing into maturity and improving with age. Like a fine wine.
In its infancy, the STM movement, arguably started under the direction of Carolyn Koons of Azusa Pacific University, was primarily about those people who got on the bus and headed south to Mexico across the border. It was about giving US based Christians an opportunity to serve the less fortunate and hopefully, through that process, return as changed people ready to influence the Kingdom in their local area.
As the movement grew, Mexico, with its proximity to the US, became almost a right of passage for youth groups and college students trying to mark off a mythical check list of the prerequisites of Christianity.
Each year thousands of students served across the border not just in the program Koons founded, but through many other ministries like Amor, Spectrum, Yugo, Adventures in Missions, YWAM, and yes, my organization, Adventures in Life Ministry.
With that almost explosive growth came a host of problems along the US/Mexico border, that well meaning STM people then exported to other countries around the globe as the movement grew.
We can spend hours debating that statement, but suffice to say, any missiologist worth his or her salt can expound for hours on the failures of STM through the years. Sadly, as the movement has grown into maturity, many critics are choosing to see the bad and ugly of the past without considering the good that is happening around the globe today.
I am under no illusion, nor are my ministry partners in southern Mexico, that many gringos from El Norte are going to have a net positive effect on our efforts to share the Gospel of Jesus where we work in Oaxaca. It is an area dominated by tribal and indigenous cultures, many of which still have no bible, or church in their heart language.
Given this reality we should not expect Americans to be any more productive directly evangelizing the Mexican people than we would the people of say, Vietnam.
But our work, and by extension, the Gospel of Jesus, would be severely hampered, if not halted completely were it not for the work and efforts of dedicated bands of missionaries that come to serve alongside us for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Here’s what effective short-term mission can bring to the table.
Encouragement for the local body of Christ... Nothing soothes the soul of loneliness like a Kingdom visit from God’s angels. Work on the field is hard, tiresome, and most of the time, lonely. Short-termers break up the monotony, come prepared to help, and are generally willing to do whatever you ask. What could be more encouraging?
Recently I was at a church with whom I had worked many years ago. At the end of the day one of the hermanas pulled me aside to let me know we could come back anytime. I said thanks and started to walk away but then she grabbed me. She wanted me to hear something. Hermana Maria wanted me to know that even if we came and did no physical work project on their church, we should still come back. Because our presence was a tangible reminder to them that they were not alone in the body of Christ.
It is amazing that even Jesus understood the ministry of presence when he went to heal Lazarus, but many in the church today have no use for the powerful ministry of just being there.
Financial resources... Let’s be honest here, after salaries, a lot of long-term mission work is chronically underfunded. You want to build a school, house or church for your village? I’ll bet I can find a short-term team to help make that happen.
The ability of short-term mission to respond to legitimate financial needs “over there” cannot be overstated and our failure to connect these dots is, in my opinion, poor stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to us.
Now, many will ask if it is not a better use of our funds to keep the team at home and just send the money. There are two problems with this line of reasoning. First and I am going to speak bluntly here, is that no church, faced with a potential $20,000 cost to do a short-term mission trip, will raise that kind of money and just send it. Believe me, most of us on the field would welcome even 50% of that amount in a lump sum, but I have yet to encounter a church leader who when asked to pony up without sending a team sends the check.
Second, we want people to see and experience our ministries. First hand knowledge is what informs prayer and break hearts for ministry. I can tell you all about my ministry, and so can any other missionary for that matter, but you will have a greater connection to, pray more effectively, and financially support the field if your eyes have personally seen what God is doing “over there.”
People resources... As an American serving “over there” I hear the admonition to use local labor. But what those that advocate this approach fail to recognize is that frequently, Christian pastors and leaders do not know qualified, or trust the local labor many expect them to hire. There is no Angie’s List or Better Business Bureau that you can use in Mexico, China, or most other countries to help you find quality honest labor for the work you need done around your ministry centers.
Let me give a very practical example. I have a gentleman who has served with me on many of my mission sites. He is an auto mechanic and I would trust him with my life. On more than one occasion Rod has been able to find and fix problems with pastors’ cars that the local trusted mechanics simply were unable to identify or repair.
My pastors were 100% willing to pay local mechanics, and frequently, they already had. Sadly, that money was wasted as the problem persisted until Rod, as part of a short-term team from the US arrived, correctly identified and fixed the problem.
Simply put, there are times when short-term teams are able to bring people resources and a level of expertise that the local area or church body simply does have.
Finally, short-term mission allows participants to explore whether God might be calling them into full-time mission service... In today’s world of short attention spans and instant gratification, the value of a short-term mission in the life of a believer cannot be overstated.
As missionaries and church leaders, we can argue existentially that Christians should not “use” STM as a way to explore and develop their faith. We can argue, as I have, that we should be sending only the best we can on short-term mission. And we can try and maintain that stance as thousands of young people leave our shores every year to serve around the globe.
But let’s get real. We need to accept reality, work with it, and start developing a new generation of missionaries, using short-term mission as a spring board towards full-time Christian service either here in the US, or abroad as part of the mission of God to reconcile the people of the world to Him.
Short-term mission is here to stay and is an irreplaceable part of the mission of God around the world. Whether those missionaries are going from our churches in the United States, Mexico, South Korea, or Brazil, the fact is that STM is continuing to play a vital part in sharing the Good News of Jesus.
I need short-term missionaries to help me and my partners in Mexico continue the work that we believe God has called us to do. And frankly, we would be lost without the help of those dedicated servants of God who give of their time, treasure, and talents on short-term mission.
I suspect there are many others like me around the world too.
Does short-term mission have all the answers? Not at all. Has short-term mission been guilty of some pretty terrible missiology over the years? Yes it has.
But there is much good to say about short-term mission too.
Let’s not forget that.