Mission takes time. Okay, let me rephrase that... effective mission takes time.
Sadly this is problematic for many people here in the US, especially those pursuing short-term mission strategies that promise quick results, instant impact and life changing ministry, all in the context of five days of dedicated service in some foreign locale.
Here’s the reality.
If a major issue manages to cut through all of the news clutter and become a headline grabber in the US, chances are it will have a limited run with our truncated attention span. That’s because, as soon as, the next disaster, celebrity run amok or political faux pas happens, that cataclysmic story of yesterday is passe.
We are living in an era where if something happens, we need to know about it yesterday. If it happened yesterday, it is almost as if it doesn’t matter. With our hyper-connected lives bringing us the latest news every minute, we have become accustomed to having what we want, where we want it, and at the moment we demand it. In short, we want to be in control of all aspects of our lives from the moment we get up, until our head hits the pillow at night. Instantly.
It is this mindset, and the belief that everything in the world should function with a sense of speed and urgency, that has little by little seeped into our mission philosophy. And it is vastly changing the way those of us in the field go about our mission because so much of what we do over there, is funded here at home.
A Training Center
In the summer of 2005, my ministry, Adventures in Life, began, alongside a group of churches and leaders in Oaxaca, Mexico, the construction of what would one day, become a training center for indigenous Zapotec Pastors and Leaders. Over the next few years, working together, Christian brothers from the US, Canada and Mexico worked side by side, pouring tons of concrete, laying thousands of bricks, and running the electrical and plumbing systems that would one day be necessary.
Fast forward to January of 2014, and in a few weeks, that day will finally be here. Nine years after we began construction, and after a few failed attempts at starting classes, the first classes at that facility will be offered!
Over the years I have listened as many short-term people who have served with me have become discouraged about the perceived slowness and lack of progress of that particular project. Questions as to why it has taken so long to move forward are posed from a mindset which holds that instant is the most important concept in life.
What is interesting is that no one in Oaxaca has asked these questions. People there have been patiently waiting for all the construction to be completed and for all the details to fall in line before getting to work on the next phase of the project, curriculum.
Understand what that means. The people with whom we are serving and working in Oaxaca are satisfied with the progress we have made together. And they are excited to be starting classes on that site later this month.
Tomatoes, Tomatoes Everywhere
In February and July of 2012 we helped a church and a small group of people in the village of San Baltazar Guelavila, Oaxaca, put micro-greenhouses on their properties. Totaling 200 square feet, these greenhouses support about 70 tomato plants each. That’s a potential annual yield of almost 2000 pounds of tomatoes for each greenhouse. Plenty for a family to eat, can, and sell to others in the city. This is a huge economic plus to a family.
Once we got that issue solved, we turned to the tomato plants. Again, needing only a few hundred plants marked us as a small player in the Oaxaca tomato world. After sitting completely framed with no plastic for months, and then finally covered in screen and plastic, we were stuck waiting for tomato plants.
Days and weeks of delay beyond our control turned into months, the kind of delay that drives short-term folks crazy. Finally in June of 2013, a full 16 months after the fist frame was built, those greenhouses were planted.
Recently they were harvested and guess what? Those little greenhouses were a complete success! People across the village reaped the rewards as families gave away, or sold tomatoes at below market prices, helping augment the daily diets of a segment of Mexican society that frequently is gripped by chronic hunger and malnutrition.
Better yet, everyone in San Baltazar knows that those tomatoes came as a result of the work, generosity and love of a local church striving to follow Jesus.
A Way Forward
What are we to make of these two examples? Let me speak honestly here as one who has also struggled to balance the need for speed and the reality of working in another country.
Both of these examples highlight the reality that effective mission, the type of mission that cements long term results and opens the door for the Gospel. Whether you are addressing spiritual, economic or physical health, effective mission takes time. It is a blue chip investment that, like our faith, matures over the long haul. Effective mission is not, and should not be about the quick payoff.
Just as a great portfolio of stocks, bonds and other investments takes time to mature, so does mission. Many of us in long-term cross cultural mission know that we may never get a chance to see the harvest from our work. But, that is okay because we view our work as pioneering and seed planting.
If we could get churches, groups, individuals and short-term teams to think of their time more as an investment, as opposed to a time to reap dividends, maybe short-term mission could see some real and profound improvement.
To do so would be a profound success.