Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stories from the Field... Joe Ramirez of Mission Focused Sounds Off...

Dave Miller, Co-Founder of Adventures in Life Ministry

Occasionally I get a chance to write for someone else's blog, magazine, or online journal. My good friend Joe Ramirez of Mission Focused, who has served alongside me in Oaxaca for years saw something that caught his eye.

And it is more than my ugly mug from the picture above.
I was touched by what he had to say about ministry, short-term mission, and trying to follow Jesus. I think you will be too!

Angelina, Louis, and Dave... Some Thoughts on Short-Term Mission 

I’m new to the whole Short Term Missions (STM’s) thang…and much of what I’ve learned has been with Dave Miller and Adventures in Life (AIL) in Oaxaca, Mexico.  A simple definition of short term missons: a group of volunteers coming for limited time period, anywhere from 1 week to 1 month, to “minister” and share the Good News of Christ.  For example it could be men doing construction work, a youth group leading Vacation Bible Schools in orphanages or folks doing street evangelism.
It’s been my pleasure to witness first hand the work AIL is doing in Oaxaca, as they work in partnership with local pastors and missionaries to help them reach the native Zapotec’s  with the Good News of Christ.

I was flipping through an old issue of Time magazine today when I came across this photo of Angelina Jolie, in Cambodia.  It was part of a full page ad for Louis Vuitton.  The tag line for the ad was “A single journey can change the course of a life.”
From a  photographic point of view, it’s a nice photograph.  Let’s be real!  Angelina Jolie plus an exotic locale…not hard to get a great photo.
I know that she represents the United Nations globally so it’s probably safe to say the image is not photo-shopped and I am sure she doesn’t roll with a $1500 tote while visiting third-world countries.
What does this have to do with missions…everything!
Dave shares stories from the missions field of good intentions gone wrong.  A big part of the problem stems from a viewpoint that the church in the United States knows best when it comes to “doing” missions cross-culturally.  From Dave’s experiences in Mexico he has seen short term missionaries from the states come into Mexico with big plans of evangelizing the “lost” for a week or two, only to leave and never return.  Leaving in their wake long term missionaries and the local church to clean up the mess that these short term folks left behind.
One of the things he sees frequently, and he tries to advise those coming on trips with him, is groups who come to work and minister that bring a change of clothes for every day they are there.  On the surface it might not seem like a big deal.  Work hard, get your clothes dirty and stinky, change into clean clothes…start all over again.  Often these short term folks are working alongside fellow Christians who live there and want to serve with them.  They will more often than not, where the same work clothes every day.  For some its because they have no choice, and others out of practicality…you have work clothes and you have non work clothes.
It is an issue of cultural sensitivity.  Like not bringing a $1500 Louis Vuitton tote on your missions trip…not that that has happened.  At least I hope not.  In my experiences, I have seen folks serving meals at the San Diego Rescue Mission in their $150 true religion jeans and $300 Burberry scarves.  I’m not judging them, it is just a question of choice.
I know I’m just scratching the surface here when it come to cultural sensitivity and short term missions, but i felt like I needed to share what out there and what I have see first hand.
Honestly, photographing in Oaxaca and Guatemala, in some areas where folks are truly in need, with some really expensive camera equipment, has made me pause and think.  It does get embarrassing to a certain extent when some of the local Christians I’m serving with ask me how much my cameras cost…knowing that my camera can feed a lot of folks or buy grain to feed the animals they raise for food.
Pastor Norma & Brian Douglas
But this is why I shoot.  I am a short term missions photographer.  Wanting to show the world what’s going on in areas like Oaxaca and to publicize the work of local missionaries and pastors like Americo & Norma. 
Pastor Americo, Paul & Jim

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mission and Presence... the power of being there...

This came across my electronic desk in Oaxaca today and I felt it was well worth sharing.  If you can get past the drama, there are some good points in here.

As one of those guys he talks about who serves in the field, I certainly share his concern for funding the work we are trying to do.  I also like his idea of raising money for the field and have written on that before here.

But in spite of all that he says that can be considered good, he misses a central point.

Jesus himself believed in the power of presence.

If our mission work, both long and short-term, settled for just sending money, how would the body practice the presence of Christ.

Certainly Jesus could have healed Lazarus from afar, yet for some reason he felt there was value in going.  He felt there was value in his being among the people to do His work.

I am reminded of a conversation I had years ago with a woman named Maria in the village of Camalu, south of Ensenada, Mexico.  She told me to remember that I could come any time I wanted to their church.  Thinking I understood, I nodded my head in agreement and said thank you.

As I got up to leave, she grabbed me and explained what she was trying to say.

Maria wanted to make sure that I knew we didn't have to come and do anything.  Our simple act of being there reminded them that the God of mission was God everywhere and that was a huge encouragement for this small local church.

Our presence reinforced to them the truth that the God they worshipped in Camalu, was the same God people worshipped in Los Angeles, China, France, or Australia.

Just as when Jesus could have stayed where he was and healed his friend, many times we can stay where we are and enable mission.  And we should!

But there are also times when we must go... for the body there, and for the body here.

Remember, while money is important, and us in field folks can always use more regular support, your presence is invaluable to both us, and those we serve on the field.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Church Missions... Is It Time to Rethink Our Approach?

Maybe it is time for us to reroute our global mission GPS.  Like a car stuck in midday traffic in Los Angeles, there has got to be a better route to where we want to go.
For years the Christian Mission Movement has been focused on sending people abroad to preach the Good News of Jesus.  Those missionaries, in the spirit of earlier times when funerals were held prior to departure, dedicated their lives to one place, one people, and one mission...sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are still a few of us out there, but more and more people are sensing God’s call to worldwide mission are choosing to give only part of their lives instead of the whole enchilada.  This is the short-term mission movement.
This is presenting the church with a profound opportunity to rethink and reframe its philosophy of sharing the Gospel, both here and abroad.
Failure to do so will surely result in lost prestige, influence, and a weakening of our message that we could have prevented if only we had seen the coming storm and decided to make the changes necessary to stay engaged in our rapidly evolving cultural world.
Here are my suggestions, gleaned from years of on field experience and conversations with long and short-term missionaries from around the globe. 
Accept the reality of short-term mission [STM].  Many churches and long-term missionaries still look at short-term mission with a jaded eye.  Short-term mission is still being judged by the mistakes of its youth and this is unfair.  While not perfect, many organizations and people connected with short-term mission have worked hard to improve, and are making real substantive changes in the way they carry out their ministry.  
A great example of this are the US Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Mission.  The standards call us to understand that STM is not about us as goers, but those we are trying to serve.  Isn’t the view that STM is primarily concerned with their own participants one of the main criticisms of the long-term in field missionaries?
The STM community is not going away.  Rather than engage this community in a critical way, wouldn’t a more effective approach be to encourage and join in the process of improving the largest group of cross cultural missionaries in the world?  I believe the answer is a resounding yes!
Recruit and develop a new breed of long-term missionaries who understand the realities of, and can embrace the improving short-term mission community for the good of the Kingdom.
Let me explain.  With the current global networking environment, long-term mission will never again happen in a vacuum.  We need people in the field who understand this and are committed to working together for the success of the local church.  

Here is what that might look like.  Instead of working to develop his or her own personal ministry in another country, the new long-term missionary will see their mission as one of supporting and standing behind local leaders to help them become more effective for Christ.  

It is the approach Henry Blackaby championed 15 years ago.  Sadly missionaries today, both long and short-term do not value partnership with others and prefer to work independently, continuing to pursue their own agendas.  
We should expect long-term missionaries to be a encouragers like Barnabas.  Someone who can encourage the local leaders and also sees it as his mission to help mentor and facilitate the hundreds of thousands of short-term missionaries who for whatever reason, are only going to give 2 or 3 weeks of their lives each year for global mission.

Everywhere I go in Mexico, pastors and leaders tell me they can do the majority of reaching their people for Christ, they just need a little help and encouragement for some of the heavy lifting involved in their Herculean task.
Finally, use short-term ministry to fund long-term mission work that supports the STM movement.
Imagine the impact we could have if we developed a more effective way for these STM participants to support in country churches and missionaries.  The empowering effect that this would have on in field ministry, through encouragement, targeted resources, and enthusiasm cannot be overestimated.
I written on this before and am convinced that short-term mission holds the key to financing long-term global mission.  Research shows STM participants are more connected to the field, more enthusiastic givers and more likely to grow into long-term missionaries themselves.
Father Knows Best went off the air long ago.  It is now way past time for the Christian Church to rethink and re-imagine our global mission and leave Jim and his family behind.  The days of missionary Bill and the kids waving goodbye from the deck of the good ship Endeavor as the congregation weeps will never return.
Isn’t it about time we adjusted our mission strategy for dealing with this reality?