Concerns and Clarity Around Short-Term Missions

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Last month, I had the privilege of accompanying a work team from a church in Minnesota as they visited schools and churches in five communities in Guatemala. Three years ago they did an exploratory trip to these communities via Vid y Pampanos (Vine and Branches), a World Renew Partner in the region. Last year another group went (with some overlap of members), and again this year. I was there to learn about World Renew field work as well as how we do church partnerships. On one of the last nights, the team's designated blogger asked each of us to answer a question for the blog. My question had two parts: What do you question about missions? What clarity do you have about missions? Below is my response, I share it here for the edification of the greater Body of Christ.

You asked me to reflect on missions, and share my concerns and questions. You also asked about what clarity I may have. Let me start there.

First, I am convinced of the necessity of the church to respond in obedience to the call to Go, when called. And I mean the church as a body as well as individuals within that body. The call to go to the ends of the earth That The World May Know is no small potatoes. It’s serious stuff. God, through the Holy Spirit, works in amazing ways to draw people to Himself, and sometimes that doesn't involve us. Dreams and visions still happen. But when we know that we are called and we Don't go, I believe that we are being disobedient. We Must listen for and respond to the voice of God.

Let me also point out that not every one is called to Go. Called to Stay or Send is an important aspect of missions as well — we mustn't forget our neighbors and families, and we mustn't forget that every Go-er needs supporters and senders "back home," prayer warriors on our side in the storms — and I mean that both literally and spiritually — that come when we respond in obedience to the call to go. The timing of that blizzard and the rocky start it created were not just a coincidence. We have an enemy and he is real and he really wants us to be in discord and frustration — because it wrecks our testimony. I give thanks to God for the way this team functioned within and through the storms that tried to frustrate and cause discord. There were many moments that I could see an active enemy. But our God is Greater and He got glory to His Great Name this week.

However, concerns. Of course, I have some. I question and doubt whether our measly efforts accomplish anything. But that's it isn't it? It is the Lord's job to save; it is our job to do what He tells us.

I do have some concerns that missions in the short-term sense have been trending toward tourism, with groups after groups trouping to the impoverished areas of our planet to see the poverty and try to ease their collective conscience by being present for a day or two, without intent to be in real fellowship or relationship with the host community or culture. I say host because "they" are not to be viewed as "recipients" of our works. To call them recipients or beneficiaries of our mission trip demeans and even insults them and demeans us as travelers, too. I believe it is imperative to remember that we are just as much recipients as travelers. We received perspective, training, and humility — did we not? — by working and walking alongside our brothers and sisters in the five communities we visited this week. They showed me just how much material poverty does Not equal spiritual poverty or poverty of relationship. I noticed a deeper level of community (interdependence) in the places we visited than I see in my own neighborhood and a stronger faith in God as well. We have So much to learn from our sisters and brothers who live in material poverty.

I commend this year's travel team for the attitude and spirit of humility they exhibited. I believe that the very fact that you wrestle and grapple with what or how much to give and what projects to do means that you're on the right track. I would be remiss if I didn't make a couple recommendations, however. First and foremost, I would recommend that Everyone learn a couple dozen phrases in Spanish before the next trip. More would be better of course but make every effort to go further than "por favor" and "muchas gracias" to "que Dios les bendiga" and "desculpe" and even "agua pura" and "buen provecho" and when to use them. I will work on getting more of these in future field guides. Second, I would encourage a broader involvement from the congregation, ie: get more people visiting the partner sites. I believe that a congregation should have more than 5% involved in the partnership for it to truly be a congregational project. This means that not everyone that goes can go every year. There’s not a formula for this but while there needs to be some consistency in the faces that show up in the communities, it's critical to continue to foster full-congregational involvement. Maintaining a group size of 10 to keep size nimble, it might look like "not more than 3 from last year and not more than 6 veterans." As you reach saturation in the congregation that might go up but that's gonna be a number of years.

I would like to thank you, each one, for welcoming me as part of your team. You didn't invite me, but you made me feel welcome and I am ever so grateful. In the process, I learned a lot about our work in Guatemala and I learned a ton about church partnerships.

Grace + peace,
Carrie

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