Monday, June 16, 2014

Stories from the front... Short-term mission with a holistic focus

Let me tell you about Patricio.

Learning culinary skills at Origen Restaurant in Oaxaca

I met him last summer at one of our camps in Oaxaca.  That in itself is no big deal as I meet lots of new students and kids in Mexico as part of my ministry.  What is surprising is that Patricio came to our camp from Veracruz, almost 5 hours away in another state completely.

Abandoned by his parents and now living in a group home in Veracruz, Mexico, somehow Patricio heard about our little camp and made his way by bus to Oaxaca.  Last year I heard a version of that story time and time again from our ministry partner there, Pastor Chable.

We received more than one call from parents in the middle of the night telling us their kids would be at the bus station in Oaxaca at 6:00am in the morning and asking if we could pick them up.  Basically parents, like Patricio, had heard about our camp and were just sending their kids, trusting God that we would have space for their children.
Summer Ministry and pool day at camp in Ensenada
In Ensenada, one of our camp weeks each year in Mexico

Each year these camps, [three in Oaxaca and one in Ensenada] serve between 50 and 80 kids.  Three of the camps are for children ages 5 - 12 and one is for students, ages 12 - 18.  

In addition to the spiritual emphasis of our camps, we also have a vocational focus each year for the student week.  We have learned that if we can teach some life skills, such as music, English, or like last year, culinary skills, then we can help give hope for the future to at least some in Oaxaca.

Adventures in Life Summer Camp Ministry
Our Culinary Team and Chef Yesenia Martinez from Los Angeles, in Oaxaca, last year.
Patricio was part of our Culinary Skills classes last year.  In addition to working with a chef all week at our camp, his team also got a day cooking with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos of Origen Restaurant in Oaxaca City.  Origen is one of the best restaurants in Oaxaca and thanks to Bricia Lopez of Guelaguetza Restaurant in Los Angeles, we were able to give our kids this unbelievable opportunity.

At the end of the day, I was sitting with Patricio, talking.  I asked him what he learned from Chef Rodolfo.  I was stunned by his answer, expecting to hear something about cooking.  “Two things” he said.  “First, love God, then pray every day.”

Chef Rodolfo with Patricio
Patricio with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos of Origen Restaurant in Oaxaca after a day cooking together.

Patricio said nothing Rodolfo had to say about cooking stood out as much as “Love God and pray everyday.”  Literally, that was our message for our camp that week, and Patricio heard it loud and clear.  Not in a church, but in a restaurant as he was learning how to cook.

I think we should celebrate moments and epiphanies like the one Patricio had that day with Chef Rodolfo.  But there's a problem.  I have been told countless times by pastors and leaders both here and in Mexico that the emphasis Adventures in Life, and our ministry partners throughout Mexico put on meeting the physical needs of people takes away from the true Gospel work of evangelism.

It is a criticism we firmly reject and here's why.

AIL Ministry Agricultural Ministry
Here I am with Felix in his personal greenhouse that produced 1000 pounds of tomatoes in the first harvest.
In many areas where we are working, helping families improve their economic station in life, and have access to better health care, gives us the credibility and relationships we need to share about Jesus.  Camps, family portraits, greenhouses, agriculture aid, water wells, water filters, fish farms and medical clinics all say loud and clear, WE LOVE YOU, long before we ever mention Jesus.  It's what we call holistic ministry, focusing on spirital, economic and physical simultaneously as we serve in Mexico. 

This style of mission, where we focus on the person first, tells people that we love them unconditionally, whether they know Jesus or not.  It is a philosophy that helps explain why kids like Patricio get on a bus and why moms and dads across Oaxaca trust us enough to send their kids to us in the middle of the night.

It is an approach that, in the words of Young Life, a long time ministry to high school campuses here in the US, earns us the right to be heard when we share about Jesus.  It is also an approach that models the compassionate love of Jesus to a hurting world, and when done right, leads to an eternal life, growing in Jesus' love.
Want to help?  Here are five specific ways you can bless our ministry and our work in Mexico.

1.  A new dorm at our site in Oaxaca so more people like Patricio can have a week at camp, learn some new job skills, and hear about Jesus and his love. [$12,000.00]

2. Sponsor an entire week of camp in Oaxaca, or Ensenada. [$5000.00]

3. Provide enough medicine for our Annual Spring Medical Clinic. [$3000.00]

4. Provide a personal greenhouse like the one above for a family in Oaxaca.  [$400.00]

5. Provide a Sawyer Water filter like the one in this video, for a family in Oaxaca. [$100.00]

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Short-term Mission... the indispensable key to funding effective long-term global mission

Short term mission stats

Now we move on to the heavy lifting.  In Part I of this series, I wrote about direct support of missionaries and pastors in other countries.  Part II focused on Short-Term Mission and how funding this important missions work can be a positive part of effective Great Commission work.

Part III, the last part of our series will offer some real world suggestions for financing the ongoing mission work of the church around the globe.

Let’s start with a few realities.

1. Short-term mission [STM] is here to stay.  Hundreds of thousands of people serve each year and STM is effectively a billion dollar industry when you factor in not only direct costs like fees and offerings, but travel and lodging as well.

2. Denominations are cutting back on their historical support of in-country missionaries as they scramble to fund their domestic operations and service churches closer to home base.

3. Cross-cultural Great Commission work is hard, takes a huge commitment, and is exceedingly costly. 


Case Study 1.  A few years back, the American Baptist Churches [ABC] responded to a series of bad financial decisions by breaking a historic pledge to their in-country missionaries, telling them that they now had to build teams to help raise part of their personal support.  Sadly, this was decided not as good missionary policy, which I believe it is, rather, in response to the denomination’s inability to continue funding their global missions force.


Case Study 2.  Recently I had a discussion with a pastor who wondered why his church should pay for anything beyond actual expenses if his church group served overseas.  He saw no need for professional help and guidance, preferred to go it alone, and said paying host receivers for their time was bad stewardship of the dollars God had entrusted them.


Case Study 3.  Not too long ago Adventures in Missions, founded by Seth Barnes had a little survey on their web page.  The results showed that cost was the top factor in determining where to serve on short-term mission.


Short-term work, long the bane of career in-country missionaries is a growth industry.  We need only look to the explosion of web sites like gofundme and You Caring for evidence.  In a tangential way, STM even made it into a recent Jeopardy episode with the answer being “donor fatigue,” that feeling you get when you open the mailbox and see envelopes from every student you’ve ever known. 

I believe that the future of our ongoing Great Commission work around the globe is dependent on Short-term Mission and Ministry [STM].  Without the energy, vitality, youth and direct personal experience from these ministries, we are going to struggle to fund and continue our long-term work.

So, what should we do?

First, long-term missionaries need to reorient their ministries to take advantage of this incredible resource and opportunity to call people to a long-term commitment to cross-cultural missions.

Gone are the days when these faithful servants served and lived their lives in isolation from anyone from their home country.  With the availability of relatively cheap, and quick, air travel to even the most far off locale, folks are going to visit.

Simply put, there are people back home that want to visit and serve in other countries alongside knowledgable, God-loving people who are involved in God’s work over there.  A long-term missionary in a stable country that is not open to short-term work, is a liability.  

If you are a long-term missionary and are not making use of STM in your ministry, you are robbing yourself and your work of a valuable partner.  Worse, you are refusing to develop relationships with the very people most interested in prayerfully and financially supporting your ministry over the long haul.

It is ironic that even as denominations like the ABC recognize the necessity of career missionaries building partnerships with potential donors, those missionaries who will benefit from these partnerships still try to keep STM at arms length.

The very people you cast aside as not worthy of your time and effort, are those that will organize people back home to raise money for your work and causes.  Does the seminary where you teach need a new computer lab?  Do you need a financial shot in the arm to jump start a new church plant?  Would you like to finally move that long hoped for project from the shelf to reality?  Short-term mission can help you in all of these, and more.

As a career in-country missionary, the short-termer is your friend, not an enemy, or an adversary.  He, or she, is there in response to a call by God to serve you, your people and your ministry.  Make use of them, encourage them and maybe one day they will be your biggest supporter, or even the much needed replacement to continue the ministry you spent a lifetime developing.

Next, we need to recognize that it takes strong leadership to do effective mission, and that leadership costs money.  It takes even more money to sustain long-term mission.  If you are choosing your short-term ministry site primarily because it is a cheap option, you need to rethink your priorities.

Talk to anyone who has served long-term in another country and ask them how long it took before they felt like they were beginning to understand the people and culture where they served.  It has taken me more than 20 years to finally feel like I have a grasp on “some” aspects of the Mexican culture.  Without a doubt, I made a myriad of mistakes in my early years serving.  Mistakes that thankfully were forgiven both by God, and those I harmed.  Grace and forgiveness were accorded me from many different quarters in those days.

However, the presence of grace and forgiveness should not be an excuse to not do all we can to ensure effective ministry.  Often that means spending the money necessary to do mission and ministry right.  The first step in this is partnering with a person or organization that has invested the time necessary to learn and understand not only the church culture, but the larger cultural issues where you are going to serve.

It is not bad stewardship to make use of an experienced person, or organization, when you go abroad to serve.  In fact, it is exactly the opposite!  It is bad stewardship not to use a person who is experienced with the people and the culture you are going to serve.  

Church planter and missionary Roberto Guerrero of Del Camino Connection says  that any ministry that thinks they can sustain an effective cross cultural partnership without someone standing between those two cultures is "doomed to fail."

Churches, groups and individuals need to repent of their cheap gene.  In all my years of hosting short-term groups, the strongest partnerships we had were ones where I knew if something came up, the church, or group was prepared to respond.  They had raised extra money for their mission, were looking for God’s guidance, often through the missionary they were supporting, and came with a generous spirit and the resources to back that up.

It is that spirit of giving, and the wisdom to plan for it that leads to my final point.

Finally, double up.  I’ve proposed this before but with every passing day, it’s simpleness continues to gnaw at me.  It is an idea first floated by Larry Hovis, the head of a local Baptist organization for their area a few years back.

After getting a price for a short-term mission, each and every leader and participant on a team should agree to raise double those fees.  Let’s face it, those people on short-term teams have huge networks of friends and family that are not even part of our local faith communities.  Those networks, and the people that make them up, are going to be personally vested in making sure little Billy raises the money he needs to be successful.

Let’s put little Billy and his networks to work for not just his mission, but the larger Kingdom need.  And when that extra support comes in, give it directly in support of the local missionary with whom they are working.

Give to their denomination, their organization, or directly to their mission, but make it clear that the funds are a direct gift to the mission and ministry of the missionary you are serving.   

Think of it as a gift.

This type of approach will go a long way towards helping our long-term in country missionaries achieve financial stability and fund a vision that often goes unreached for lack of resources.

Imagine the impact this could have on a global scale.

If young people knew they could have financial security on the mission field, they may be more willing to enthusiastically meet the ongoing call for career in-country missionaries.

If those of us in the field knew with certainty that we had the resources available, in many cases, we could move from Christian relief to Christian development.  Churches would be planted, workers would be resourced, lives would be changed and God’s Kingdom would grow.

The resources are there.  Short-term mission holds great promise for the continued resourcing of vital long-term mission work.  It’s proven ability to raise money and potential future missionaries cannot be discounted.

If I could rerun that conversation I had with the pastor who suggested paying host receivers for their time was bad stewardship, here’s what I would say.

Bad stewardship on the part of career missionaries, churches, groups and individuals is a failure to leverage this billion dollar industry for the greater good of the Kingdom and financially provide for our ongoing Great Commission work now and for generations to come.

[The 1.6 million statistic is from Robert Wuthnow, author of Boundless Faith, the Global Outreach of American Churches.  The $20,000.00 STM team statistic is from Asher Sargent, Church Missions Coach at sixteen:fifteen.]