Saturday, October 16, 2010

Short-Term Mission, Zeal, and a Little Knowledge

Every year at this time of year, I attend a conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Short-Term Mission Leaders. We have just wrapped up our gathering this year, held in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

Both of these men challenged us but perhaps the highlight of the conference for me was when Bob was speaking Saturday morning.

Let me give you a little background. Bob is an anthropologist. He studies people. And he has come to the point where he believes you cannot effectively serve others until you can really understand them, their culture, and their background.

Repeatedly he quoted Proverbs 19:2. let me share it with you.

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.

Stop and think about that for a few moments. Zeal is not bad. But when it is not accompanied by knowledge, God does not consider it good.

Let me put that into a short-term mission context.

It is not good to go on a short-term mission trip without first taking the time to get some training. Your strong desire to do good is not enough.

Yet this is precisely what many short-term teams will do. Filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and with the best of intentions, they head off to China, Italy, Mexico, and every other corner of the globe armed with nothing other than their bibles.

They know little or nothing of the country they are visiting, lack a basic understanding of how the church functions, do not speak the local language, and perhaps worse of all, don't see a need to become informed at all.

God wants us to be a mix of both zeal, and knowledge. Knowledge of the local customs, mores, culture, and people. Because it will make us better ambassadors for Him on the field.

As you reflect back on your time serving short-term earlier this year, or as you prepare to go later this year, ask yourself these four simple questions.

1. How did the first Gospel witness get to the people I served, or am going to serve?

2. What are some of the cultural traditions in the area I will be serving, or served?

3. What is the average salary for an average adult male in my host country?

4. How much education does the average person have in my host country?

These four questions are not very extensive. But knowing the answers to them will begin the process of educating you about the people with whom you serve.

Consider it a start of what should be a lifelong goal to pair knowledge with zeal for the people you desire to serve. Then your zeal will indeed be good!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ministry and Sustainability... 4 keys to long term mission and ministry

One of the big catch words in ministry these days is sustainability.

As a missionary, I think everyday about sustainability. If I start a project, can I sustain enough momentum to get to the finish line. Once a project is complete, will locals be able, or even desire, to take leadership.

After serving with Adventures in Life Ministry earlier this year, a friend of mine from The Rock Church in San Diego asked to me write in sustainability for his blog. He saw what we are trying to do in the southern part of Mexico and noticed that all of our efforts are aimed at sustainable ministry models.

In other words, if we aren’t around, will those ministries continue? This question focuses us not only on financial resources, but people resources as well.

Sustainability is such a critical issue that it is ignored at the risk of developing ministries that have no chance at long term survival. Yet that is a ministry model many in the United States seem intent on perpetuating both here and abroad.

Let me give you an example.

A few years back, a missionary friend of mine was sharing her disappointment about a coffee house ministry she and her husband had developed in Central Mexico. They were preparing to leave the country at the end of their assignment and she was saying that no one had stepped forward to continue the ministry.

She was upset that at the end of 3 years work, there might be no lasting evidence of their time as missionaries. Soon after their leaving, the coffee house did in fact close. In the end, the ministry that was born through her prayers, effort, and love of the Mexican people was not sustainable.

Everyone liked the ministry, everyone valued the ministry, and the work they did there was good. But it was not sustainable.

Why? Because the ministry was conceived, born, and nurtured without much input from those whom they were serving.

This is a critical flaw in a lot of ministries, again, both here and abroad. We have a lot of great ideas, but along the way, we somehow forget to allow others to shape and take ownership of those ministries.  It is as if we want to maintain our personal fiefdoms.  This is not only selfish and short sighted; it guarantees an interruption in ministry when you have turnover at the top.

A few years back I started talking with people about sustainable agricultural ministry in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. It took years before anyone came along side of me and said they’d love to be part of that ministry.

It took a few more years to actually get moving on the project because we had to get local participation on the concept.

In January of 2010, we planted our first crop. After almost 5 years of dreaming we were finally moving albeit at a glacial pace. In May we had our first harvest and in June we planted again. All done with local help.

Throughout the summer, locals tended our crops, weeded the field, and are now waiting for another harvest in mid-October. In February 2011, we will plant again.

Building consensus and the networks necessary for the long term health and sustainability of ministries takes a lot of time. For Adventures in Life Ministry, it has taken years for our project in Oaxaca to get to this point. It has taken years of all the unglamorous stuff like planning, researching, praying, asking for help, and connecting with and listening to people.

So let me leave you with a few practical steps that will help ensure the sustainability of your mission and ministry.

1. Have a plan. Many ministries are started with little more than a dream, partially developed. While this method can work, by no means is it preferred. Ministries that have a plan and have thought through the issues have a much better track record of success and sustainability.

2. Involve those whom you plan to serve. It is always better to work alongside people. The only way to get buy in and sustainability in ministry is to involve others. Listen to them!  People support that which they help create. My missionary friends developed ministry for people, not ministry with people.

3. Know that you don’t have all the answers. This is incredibly hard for us “can do” Americans. Listening to others, particularly those different from us does not come naturally. But successful long-term ministry demands it.

4. Develop long-term relationships to facilitate your ministry before you start. This is known as laying the groundwork. You cannot do it alone, so why try? It takes time, often more than we want to commit, but it is worth it.  Even if it means delaying the launch of your dream ministry for a while longer, isn't it better to build your ministry foundation on a strong footing of long-term sustainability?

So there you have it... four steps to help you ensure long-term sustainability in your ministry. Is this list all inclusive? By no means. But if we are really going to consider the true cost of our ministries, we must at least start here.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's Not Wrong, It's Different

I was checking Facebook the other day, and someone noted that they always seem to have a bunch of questions, but not a lot of answers to those questions.

That has stuck with me.

When you have served as long as I have as a missionary, people tend to believe, or at least hope, that you have all the answers about where you are serving.

It often does not go well when I have to explain that yes, as a matter of fact, I have been serving in Mexico for over 20 years, but no, I cannot answer your question.

Sometimes the reason is because I simply do not know the answer.

However, most times, there is just no easy answer. For example, when someone asks why we can’t solve the issue of hunger in a specific country, often the answer is just too complicated for us to consider.

But then there may be another reason. Maybe there is no answer within our framework, and we are unable to consider a response outside of our personal box.

To understand this, take a look at the latest blog post by Brian McLaren at “God’s Politics” titled “Post Colonial Theology.” Here, McLaren asks in a world of “modified theology” i.e. black theology, liberation theology, etc., is theology with no modifier just seen as normal?

If the answer to this, as I suspect, is yes, then, applying his concept to other things, how do we interpret God’s ongoing work outside of our own context?

Or to put it another way, when you ask me a question about the church in Mexico, how can I respond when the answer may be so far outside of your normative box, that you are unable, or maybe even unwilling to understand?

Now you may say Dave this is all well and good, but what’s your point?

Well stay with me here and let’s move the discussion away from theology and concentrate on what McLaren is trying to say.

Paul teaches in Corinthians that [we need to become] all things to all people so that by all possible means, I might save some. How can we do that if we are unable to understand those with whom we serve?

This is big within short-term mission because wrapped up in this issue is the question of who drives the bus.

When locals suggest a certain way to do something that may differ from our ideas on how to do it, if we automatically see our way of doing something as normal, then naturally, we would see another way as wrong, or incorrect.

When that happens, we tend to pull back on participation, support, help, and involvement in foreign aid and mission.

And that is sometimes why those of us on the field have no answers. Because we know that the people asking the questions may not like, or understand our answers. Because those answers may come with what McLaren calls modifiers, thus calling into question the normalcy, or orthodoxy of our responses.

Rather than adopt a position of wanting to learn from those that are different, particularly on the short-term mission field, most participants go with the expectation of doing something, and doing it the American way, because we believe our way is best.

It is as if our way is the normative that McLaren speaks of, thereby making any other method, a modified, or wrong way.

So when you ask your missionary about something, understand there is frequently no easy answer. We have to consider a wide range of realities, and often, those can only be seen from a lens of years of experience where we are serving.

Should you avoid asking the questions? By no means. Just understand that the answer you may receive, while different from what you expected or wanted to hear may not be wrong, just different.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Upon Reflection... 10 Questions to Consider After Your Short-Term Mission

I have finally returned from Mexico. Outside of a few days between travel stops, I have been there since the middle of June.

Now as I return, I get to sit down and begin the process of answering or deleting something like 450 e-mail messages, and responding to a rash of phone messages that have been piling up since my departure.

I also have to reflect on my time in Mexico, and think about what God has been trying to say to me through my sometimes thick skull. For those of us in professional ministry, we call this debriefing.

Many missiologists will tell you that the debriefing process, or that time of reflection after your short-term mission, is more important than your actual mission. While not discounting any of the work one may have done serving in another country, or context, real life change comes as people unpack their baggage after returning home and reflect.

So with that in mind, let me offer a few questions to use if you have recently served on a short-term mission trip.

1. What did I learn about myself on my short-term mission [STM]?

2. What did I learn about God on my STM?

3. What did I learn about the people, the church, and the Christian community in the country where I served?

4. What did I learn about how culture impacts the ways people where I served live and understand the Gospel?

5. What did I learn about justice, economics, poverty, and politics during my STM?

6. As a follower of Christ, what did I learn on my STM that can help me be a more fully devoted disciple of Him?

7. How might my faith be different if I had grown up where I was serving as opposed to my home community?

8. What did I learn or experience that will change the way I live and represent Jesus in my home community and church?

9. What have I learned about my own Christian calling as a result of my STM?

10. How can I continue to support the ongoing missionary work in the country where I served?

There you have it. 10 questions for you to consider as you return to your home culture. Know that for many, the lessons learned from serving cross culturally on short-term mission may take you years to fully grasp. But that’s okay. It’s a journey.

[Special thanks to Tim Dearborn and David Livermore, two great missiologists who are really responsible for these questions.]

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Is Short-Term Mission Worth The Investment?

Lately short-term missions [STM] has been taking a beating. As our economy continues to slow, people are rightly asking if STM is worth the continued investment.

Let me share a little story, and you decide.

A little over 15 years ago a skinny little pastor named Alejandro came to me and asked for help in building a worship center. He was newly married, fresh out of seminary, and leading a bible study with his wife out of his childhood home.

I told Alex that I felt we could help and that I would drop by and see him as soon as possible. That turned out to be about a year as we were working in another location at the time.

When I finally got there, Alex showed me the small shack, about 15 x 15, that the new church had built for their Sunday services.

As we talked he asked me to take a walk with him. He had something to show me. About 2 blocks from his home he showed me a vacant piece of land. He told me the cost of the land was about $2500.00 and was wondering if I could help his church purchase the land. I told Alex we could help with about $1500.00 but he would have to raise the other $1000.00.

A few months later Alex called to say his church had their part and asked if we could come and make good on our pledge. It was a fantastic Valentine’s Day for me in 1995 when we made that purchase.

Since that day, hundreds of short-term participants have served with my ministry, Adventures in Life, at Pastor Alejandro’s church. We have poured tons and tons of concrete. We have painted, painted, and then painted again. We have roofed, we have dry-walled, we have plastered, and we have helped in countless other projects, all in partnership with this church in Ensenada.

But this is the easy stuff to see. Anyone can look at a piece of property and see change. Stuff like walls, trusses, roofs, and windows are all quickly evident. But for me, effective STM means changed lives, not just changed landscapes.

Last week I returned to this church for the first time in a couple of years. I was invited by Alex to celebrate his daughter Damaris’ 15th birthday, a big event in Mexico. The church was packed for the celebration.

As I sat there waiting for the service to begin, I was able to look around and see some folks I had not seen in years. Men who had struggled with drug addiction, women who had been prostitutes, and others who, when they showed up at this church years ago had the look of hopelessness etched in their faces.

I remembered a conversation I had a few years ago with a leader of another church we helped build in Guadalajara. This leader, Ignacio, wanted to thank us for helping his church get a place to worship. And he wanted to explain why our help was such a big deal.

Brother Dave he said, many small churches here in Mexico die out before they can ever get a facility, because if they do not have a facility, they can’t grow big enough to survive.

Maybe someone else would have come along and helped Pastor Alejandro and his church get a place to worship 15 years ago. Maybe God would have blessed them in some way to enable their, at that time, small congregation, to be able to afford a facility.

Who knows how it might have worked out had Alejandro never sought me out. But I do know this.

As sure as God used Nehemiah and his team to rebuild the temple using the talents and resources of people from all over the area surrounding Jerusalem, He used young people serving in short-term mission from places like Huntington, West Virginia, Los Angeles, California, and Burns, Oregon to build that church in Ensenada.

Short-term mission is not perfect. Those of us in this type of ministry are constantly trying to improve our serve, but let’s not lose sight of the good that does happen through STM.

Lives have been changed forever by the power of the Gospel preached in that small church in Lazaro Cardenas, Ensenada. For that, I think God is happy and the angels are rejoicing because indeed, the investment was worth it!

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Little Billy, Money, and Short-Term Mission

If you have not read it yet, I recommend you check out what Troy Jackson at God's Politics has to say in his provocatively titled essay, Time to Declare a Mission Trip Moratorium.

In a few short words he challenges the very heart of short-term mission [STM], perhaps without even knowing it.

Cutting through all of the clutter, he questions the entire practice of Americans spending over $2 billion each year on global short-term mission trips.

Wouldn’t it be better he asks, if instead of spending all that money on the travel, meals, and facilitation costs associated with STM, we invested it in economic and community development programs led by indigenous people themselves?

Troy, that is a great question. But there are no easy answers.

As Seth Barnes of Adventures in Missions has argued, without the personal involvement of American people in STM, the amount of money available would be nowhere near the $2 billion annually spent.

Basically it looks like this. Unless little Billy from Kansas sends a letter to his grandmother asking her to give financially and help him go to Mexico, Africa, or some other far flung location, we are not going to be seeing a lot of money from her for missions, no matter how effective, or worthy the cause may be.

I wish that were not true, but I cannot deny the demoralizing and cheapening effect of this on those of us serving in other countries.

Let me give you a concrete example. I am currently working with a group of people to get a sustainable co-op demonstration project up and running in Oaxaca, Mexico. Once we are fully operational, we will be able to work alongside indigenous Zapotec farmers to increase crop yields, conserve precious water resources, and help provide economic stability to some of the poorest people in Mexico.

The biggest impediment we face is the lack of an effective well. It will cost about $20,000 to have the well professionally done. Or, we could buy the necessary rig ourselves and drill it for about half that. We could then also use that rig all around the area to the benefit of thousands of local, indigenous, subsistence farmers.

But I cannot get anyone to help make that happen.

Understand what I am saying here. Because it does not involve personal participation, I cannot get anyone to help purchase a portable well rig that will literally save lives and, as part of a holistic Gospel ministry, give the local indigenous church an incredibly effective method for reaching the people of their own communities.

While it may indeed be time to rethink short-term missions, calling for a STM moratorium will not result in that money currently spent on STM being redirected to those of us serving in the field, and may in fact, lead to a dwindling of the precious resources necessary to sustain an outward focus global outreach.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Your Missionary

As more and more of our missionaries become agents of specific churches, as opposed to denominations, I see a trend emerging that is troubling.

We are neglecting some basic issues related to the care, health, and encouragement of the very missionaries we are supporting and sending to the ends of the earth.

Let me give you an example.

I work with a missionary couple in Mexico who are supported not by their denomination, but by their local church. For over 7 years, this local church has stood where others would not, and month by month financially supported this couple and their family in their work.

As a result of that work, churches have been built, lives have been changed, and Gods’ Word has been proclaimed. But I am troubled. And here is why.

Nowhere in the budget that was worked out for this couple when they were commissioned was any amount for pastoral care. Nothing for occasional raises, no vacation money, and nothing for regular visits from any members of the congregation to serve as an encouragement.

Sadly, this is more the rule, than the exception.

Luke 14 gives us a great account of Jesus’ words that I believe apply here. Verse 28 says “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and consider the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?”

I want to suggest that if your church is considering supporting a missionary, then you need to be more involved than just sending your money. I want you to consider investing in the total package, with all of your hearts, all of your wallets, and all of the gifts and talents that God has given to your church. I want you to, as Jesus says, count the cost.

Here are some concrete steps you can take that will be an incredible encouragement to your missionaries in the field.

Regularly, the sending or supporting US church should make a vacation happen for their missionaries. Here in the US, many people own time shares. It should not be hard to find a member or friend who could donate a week every so often to give that couple a place to stay away from their home base.

Since the support we offer is generally at a subsistence level, you will need to couple that with a donation to cover travel and meals. This will ensure your missionary gets a break from the frequently draining daily routine and is energized for his or her work.

We would never think of not giving our pastors here in the US a vacation, we should expect no less for our missionaries over there.

Go and visit. But not just once. Send some people from your church a few times a year. Just to hang out, serve your missionaries, and see what life is like where they are serving. Not only will this be an encouragement to them, but the people you send will become the eyes and ears of your congregation into your mission and your continuing work “over there.”

You will be surprised at how much something like this will encourage not only your missionaries, but your church body as well when your visitors return home with their stories from the front.

No missionary wants to feel that they are isolated in ministry. Regular visits by friends from home remind those of us on the field that we are loved and not alone.

Take us to dinner. Often those of us on the field make do with slim financial resources. Why not make it possible for your missionaries to occasionally have a nice meal out and maybe see a movie?

The cost to you would be negligible, but the impact on your missionary will be unbelievable. Just make sure to tell them the extra gift is for them, and not for the ministry. Sometimes we need those words.

Finally, don’t forget, we are part of your body. As missionaries, we are expected to report regularly on what is happening “in the field.” It would be nice for our sponsoring churches to do the same.

How can we as missionaries pray for the needs of our home churches if those needs are never shared or expressed?

Frequently we forget that missionaries from our churches have left friends and family behind. Regular newsletters from home, made easier these days by e-mail, can be a real point of continuing connection between a sending church and their missionaries.

Now I know a lot of this stuff costs money. Thus the passage I cite from Luke on counting the cost. Too often, in the rush and excitement to send someone out, we don’t consider the long term implications of our actions.

That is from the church side. From the mission side, all too often we are not going to speak up on our own behalf. It is as if we have an almost dysfunctional belief that “God will provide.”

Missions work in the field can be incredibly lonely, hard, and depressing, and wonderful, exciting, and life changing, all at the same time.

Are you doing a good job counting the cost and tending to the care and feeding of your missionaries?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesus is the Answer Short-Term Missions

The following is a paid mission advertisement. The views expressed in this advertisement do not necessarily reflect those of the blog owner, however, as a struggling group of missionaries, we are glad they paid us to advertise here.

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We now return this blog to the regular seriousness you have come to expect!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How Money Can Impact Short-Term Mission

I have had two significant conversations with pastors in the last couple of weeks. Both conversations were related generally to short-term missions and specifically concerned finances for this type of ministry.

Let me explain.

In one of those conversations I was talking with a pastor about bringing some of his people to serve alongside our ministries in Oaxaca. He was concerned about the price and before they had even started down the road to discover their support and raise funding for their mission, was asking for us to provide scholarships to his people.

He said the cost was too high.

It reminded me of the time I was speaking at an inner city Los Angeles church and the youth leader said his students couldn’t afford to pay $250.00 for a week of ministry. When I mentioned that most of his students were wearing $100.00 Air Jordans and expensive designer clothes, he admitted that maybe they could afford the cost if they had the right priorities.

The second conversation was completely different. The pastor asked me why I did not charge churches when I visit them to help recruit or train their students. I replied that I would love to do that, but that many churches are reluctant to pay to cover those expenses.

And then he asked me the $64,000 question.

Dave he said, do you really want to serve with people who are trying to low ball you?

I have to admit, those two conversations were a struggle for me, because I want to offer those scholarships, but there is a cost to do ministry. Unfortunately, many do not want to pay that cost.

A few years back, a major US mission organization had a poll on its web site asking people what was the most important factor in choosing a mission location or mission organization. The number one priority was price.

Yes, you read that correctly. More important than relationship, integrity of the organization, or even the people with whom you might serve, was money.

It seems to me that there is something wrong when money becomes the primary determining factor for our ministries.

I understand that money can be a struggle for any church, individual, or group participating in short-term mission, but if that is our primary determinant, where is the faith in that?

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dependence and Missions... A Good Thing?

If you are involved with short-term missions, one of the issues you will deal with is dependance.

American short-term participants worry that we may be creating a system when we serve “over there” whereby the national, or other church, will come to depend on us.

For some reason we are troubled by that. Frankly, I’ve always thought that was the way it should be. The church over there should depend on us, because that church is part of the body of Christ to which we all belong. Sounds like straight Pauline teaching to me.

I have been reading "Experiences in Theology, Ways and Forms of Christian Theology" by Jürgen Moltmann. Moltmann is one of the great theologians of the 20th Century and worked alongside Hans Küng, also of Germany for many years.

In his chapter on Latin American Liberation Theology, he talks a little economics. He states that “the theory of economic dependance says that between equally strong economic entities, independencies [independence] develop[s], but between entities of unequal strength, dependencies will develop."

Let’s think about that.

What he is saying is that when there is not equality economically, dependence will be the natural result.

But what about in a ministry context? Can we apply the same principle to ministry, and relationships? Maybe we can.

Let me explain, and as I do, know that I will be using my broad brush.

Typically, when US churches go to other countries to serve, someone in the group gets an invitation to preach in the host church. One of the reasons for this is a heartfelt need to be good hosts to those who have travelled many miles to serve.

But it can also be more than that. There is a genuine belief that it is good for God’s people to hear other voices from the pulpit, so getting a chance to learn how someone else comes to a text can be a real blessing. Or it just may be that the local pastor wants a break from preaching.

Whatever the reason, the sight of Americans preaching in foreign lands is a frequent sight.

This reality was brought home to me recently in a conversation I had with Paul Borthwick, noted short-term missiologist. He said that in his travels, he too has seen this many times. Paul however, went one step further. He asked why, when people from the churches “over there” visit our churches, they are not accorded the same honor.

What a great question for us to consider.

I asked a mission pastor at a large Atlanta church if a pastor from one of their partner churches was to visit his church, would he be offered the opportunity to preach. Looking shocked, he said of course not, his pastor was famous and was not going to be opening up his pulpit to just anyone!

This leads to another issue raised by a pastor with whom I work in Mexico. He wanted to know why when an American church invites people from a Mexican church to visit, it is expected that the Senior Pastor will come for that visit. Yet it is very unlikely that the American Senior Pastor will be visiting the mission sites where his church regularly serves.

These examples bring me back to Moltmann’s economic point, which I will now try to relate to ministry.

Do we perceive, when we go to other countries, that those typically small churches are just as valuable to the Kingdom as ours? Do our words and deeds in our dealings with those churches give witness to a belief that their church is on equal footing with ours?

If not, could it be that there is within the relationship a belief, however subtle, that the American church, her pastors, her methods, her theology, and even her money, are just a little better?

If so, then using Moltmann’s point, perhaps the reason we see dependance in short-term mission has less to do with them, and more to do with us. If we see the relationship as unequal, and behave in a way that perpetuates that inequality, even unknowingly, can there be any result other than dependence?

I stated that I want the church “over there” to depend on us. I also want us to depend on them, in a symbiotic interdependent relationship where each of our churches tries to live out Paul’s teachings in Corinthians 12 together, as the body of Christ. One hundred percent dependent on the other.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When Short-Term Mission Gets Messy

You’ve bought your airline tickets and you’ve been reading up on where you’re going. You have been earnestly praying, and now you’re ready to get on the plane. After a long flight you finally arrive at your destination, only to find that everything is not as you had planned, or expected.

Close, but no cigar.

You were told there would be hot water, and now it is only cold. You were promised a real bed only to find out that all you are getting is a couple of cushions on the floor instead of that the plush platform you were dreaming about.

Perhaps the expected bus for your transportation turned out to be an overcrowded jeepney, or you learned late in the game that your favorite {insert country name here} food was not going to be on the menu.

And now you’re upset. You’re wondering why everything was not as you expected, ready when you got there, or all prepared for your arrival. You sent your money, so what’s the problem?

If there is one area where short-term mission frustrates participants this is it. We expect our hosts, whether they are American, or nationals, to have control of every aspect of our short-term mission experiences.

From the moment many of us are picked up at the airport until we are safely back home in the arms of loved ones, it is as if the primary job of the local missionaries is to be focused on our welfare, often at the expense of the local congregation.

Let me give you an example.

I recently hosted a team of men in the southern Mexico State of Oaxaca. On our last day of scheduled work, the area where we were serving experienced a huge rainstorm. Apart from the rain, our local hosts were late getting back to take care of the men because they were with our other team of doctors serving in another area and were overwhelmed with patients. They wanted to stay as late as possible to care for those who needed help.

As a result of that rainstorm, we lost a day of work, had to change our transportation plan, and got soaked to the bone. We then ended up eating a haphazard dinner late in the evening standing around in a dismayed group. Definitely not a picture of organization

I bring all of this up because when you serve with others, in their churches, in other countries, to be effective, you must cede a share of control. And when you cede that control, things like efficiency and order, at least as we see them, sometimes seem to go out the window.

The problem for many of us from the United States is that we struggle with this. Not being in control, and submitting to the leadership of people from other countries can be incredibly difficult. Especially when decisions are made that differ from the ones we might have made. Yet, if we are to serve with the attitude that Paul calls us to in Philippians, that of humble submission, considering others better than ourselves, what choice do we have?

Are the decisions locals make always the ones we would choose? No. Are they ones that will always be the best at that moment? Again, no. But, they just may be the best decisions for the long term health of the ministry, and the relationship between the local body and the visiting short-term team.

That day in Oaxaca was a frustrating day not only for the American team, but for the locals as well. They knew the day had ended badly. The local pastor, with whom I have worked for almost ten years said this was one of the toughest days he had ever experienced in ministry.

It was a day that was beyond our control. As I believe all short-term mission should be. Because I believe if we are to serve alongside foreign ministries, ultimate control of the mission must rest with locals, not with us.

And sometimes that can be messy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chillin' in Oaxaca

Follow the next week of our ministry in Oaxaca through one of my friends blogs, called The Rock Photographers. He's a big shutterbug guy from The Rock Church in San Diego and is serving here alongside us. His first post is called "Chillin' in Oaxaca."

I think you'll like what you see from Brother Joe Ramirez!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Santa Rosa

For all of us in short-term ministry, there are defining moments. Here is one of mine.

I made the call early one October morning to some ministry partners in Ensenada, Mexico to see how they were doing. As I was bringing a short-term team in a few weeks, I wanted to make sure everything was still on schedule.

When Eduardo answered the telephone, I asked how he was doing. Now Eduardo was a positive kind of guy so I was unprepared when he told me stuff was not going well. He said that the government was in the process of evicting every resident of Santa Rosa, a small village where the Mexican Baptists had planted a church about three years earlier.

I listened as he told me that apparently there had been a land dispute, and the people of this tiny pueblo were caught in the middle of it. He told me how the government of Mexico, backed by federal troops was in the process of going door to door, telling the people to get what they could carry in five minutes, and get out.

Over the next few days they entered the houses and threw everything that was left into the back of a semi truck. House by house they went until the village was empty of people and belongings. They then drove the truck about 5 miles away, and dumped all the belongings along the side of the road, leaving what for many were a lifetime of memories shattered and broken.

Then the bulldozers moved in. Systematically they demolished every single house there. Then they crushed the school house that had been built by the federal government, toppled the pole that the day before had flown the Mexican flag and turned to the church, which I had helped build over the last year. It was gone in a few minutes.

Once everything was gone, they strung barbed wire around the area and posted armed guards at the former entrance so no one could reenter the area.

As a bit player in this drama that playing out in front of me, I got on the telephone to one of my board members who was well connected with the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles. At his urging, they looked into the situation and found that at the very least, the way the federal troops were acting was a clear violation of Mexican law.

They said that if one of the leaders of the village would swear a formal complaint in Ensenada, they could stop the action, save the peoples belongings, and maybe their houses. I relayed this info to both the American missionary and the Mexican pastor serving there and received the same answer.

Their work was concerned with souls. Fighting for the rights of the very people they were serving was not their calling. That was government work.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

O Youth Pastor, Where Art Thou

A while back I had the opportunity to run into Drew Dyck, one of the people responsible for putting together and getting the word out about a new resource from Christianity Today called Round Trip Missions. Round Trip Missions is a web based resource to help short-term team leaders rethink, plan, raise funds, and generally do all the stuff necessary for a successful short-term mission experience.

Drew asked me to consider writing an article for them based on one of my earlier blog posts. After about ten seconds, I of course said yes and am pleased to say they liked it and you can now read it online here.

If you like it, and even if you don't, please take a moment to leave your thoughts over at Round Trip Missions. The truth is there are some problems within the short-term mission industry. We need people to weigh in and let us know how we are doing.

Only by hearing the voices of those we serve, and those who serve with us, will we be able to improve.

Thanks, and enjoy the read!