Friday, March 18, 2011

After 21 Years, A Long View of Short-Term Mission

Time for a little reflection.

21 years ago this month I participated in my first short-term mission trip to Mexico. I went as the new youth pastor from a church in Santa Monica, CA.

My group at that time was a bunch of interesting guys. Most of them wore black, carried brief cases, had some type of weapon on them, and loved rap music. The violent, thuggish kind. Think Two Live Crew here, most famous for their album “Nasty As They Wanna Be.”

I can still remember coming home from that week and thanking God that I would never have to return to Mexico. Boy, did He have other plans.

Tonight I am sitting in a small cafe in Ensenada where I annually return as faithfully as the swallows return to Capistrano. Every spring, after a few months away, I long for this little slice of heaven on earth and a chance to renew friendships, serve, and be reminded of God’s sense of humor.

Who else but some supreme all powerful being could possibly have imagined a nerd of all nerds white guy, marrying a beautiful black woman, speaking Spanish, and serving in Mexico with a group of Asian students from UCLA?

And so, here I am. Ready to serve again.

This week I will be helping a pastor on his house before I head south in Mexico for Oaxaca. I have known this pastor’s wife since she was a little girl. She has literally grown up around our ministry, first helping in the kitchen, then as part of our ministry team serving in Guadalajara and Oaxaca. Her daughter calls me Abuelo Dr. House.

Tomorrow I will get a chance to see their new son. In the words her husband, my new grandson, Esteban.

There is a lot of talk in mission circles about whether or not short-term missions are effective. I think, like many long-term missions, that some are more effective than others.

But the key is relationship.

If your short-term mission is founded on a belief that before you begin sharing about Jesus, you must build a relationship on mutual respect, you’ll be fine. If your short-term mission is built on a foundational principle of an ongoing partnership for the Gospel, you’ll be fine. If your short-term mission is focused on serving and learning from those whom you are visiting, you’ll be fine.

When the Apostle Paul talked about longing to visit the church in Rome, he spoke of just this type of relationship.

But if your short-term mission is like so many from the US, and is focused on the spiritual development of the participants without a long-term view of ministry together, then you’ll be playing right into the hands of those who are critical of short-term mission service.

Next up, we'll look at how short-term mission really can have the long-term impact we all want to see.