Short Termers, Think Long Term

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I want to encourage short term mission trip planners/participants to think long term commitment.  My wife and I have been a part of 7 trips to the Dominican Republic, every other year since 1999.  Our trips have always been construction trips.  We have talked with Steve Brauning about the "commando" mission trips, where a team drops in, does the work and disappears, never to be seen or heard from again.  Thru 13 years and 7 trips, our teams have built relationships as well as buildings. The benefits and rewards are unbelievable.  

As a part of our last trip, February 2011, our first full day in the DR was spent driving 4 hours, one way, to see our friends Julio and Julia Cadet and their family.  We have known these dear friends since our first trip in 1999.  We have tried very hard to see them every trip.  Even though their house was in the middle of very major remodeling, a new cement roof and other reconstruction and the whole family was living out of the kitchen and one bedroom, they were very happy to have us visit them and let them feed us. 

This whole experience was one of the highlights of the trip and made a big impression on first time members of the team.  I have to admit that this was not a part of our thinking when we organized our first team.  I'm not sure if or how it would have changed the way we planned.  Our initial commitment to returning is because we are Faith Promise supporters of the Brauning family. 

Our experience with short term mission trips is that we have received so much more than we have given, bread cast upon waters.  The long term commitment to returning to the DR has amplified that. 

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As an addition to the post, I want to thank our many supporters that have made these trips possible.  Our church, our families and our community have given generously to allow us to make these trips.  God has truly blessed us thru their generosity and the privilege of serving him, the Braunings and our brothers and sisters in the DR.

Oh, David.  When I "retired" after 35 years as a career missionary, I came back resolved to really study and dialogue on the STM phenomena which I perceived as taking a lot more away from our overall mission effort than it was giving.   Happily I found  Kurt VerBeek et al were doing a lot of that, and other invovlements have kept me from pursuing that closely.  But your post begs jumping in if only with some all-too-brief comments.  I do love your having followed through, which goes a long way in the right direction, but I'm not convinced that it offsets other considerations,  

 Your postscript goes: " ..thank many supporters...given generously..."  Have you ever added up those expenses, and then looked at the flat budget of CRWM during those 13 years versus the ongoing decline of the number of long-term mission-aries? (stats easily available from the office)  Sorry, but the "feel good" fuzzies you describe, and the "benefits and rewards" just are not there as I see it.  Our youth group (OK, still another visit to a different Central American country instead of returning to a former one) just spent $32,500 on ten days, and came back with about the same kind of feelings to relate, but almost no awareness of things that should have been part of the preparation and debriefing learning.   Three of those kinds of trips would sustain a full-time language trained and culturally oriented missionary family for a year; not to mention how many national workers (see the posts under the Forum topic A Global Mission organization).  Ok, these are the things being studied, discussed, but unresolved...our (church) culture goes against negatively questioning this (you can't be a succesful youth leader without this component, it seems).                                                                                                                                  

David and wife and team, thanks for your interst in "missions." But please read the literature under the online "STM debate" - OK, I'll assume you have, and Brauning has talked about the "comandos"; but I also ask "how much real orientation/reading/ workstudy went into the team preparation and debriefing, etc.?  (our team went with an organization supposedly set up to do that, but they went down there not even knowing what they would be doing! So a lot of it looked like "make work" to me. And how meaningful in the long run is sitting hours on end entertaining children in an "orphanage"? VBS, maybe)  And yes, CRWM & CRWRC make real efforts to help churches prepare; yet questions persist.   Tooooo looong, I'll stop here.... Lou

Steve, while the "big cat" is away - I hope your trip to Central America is going well -                                                                                       this "cat" he play!  (serious play!)

Just a short comment on comparison of dollars spent on varying approaches to foreign mission/aid projects.   The comparison of the dollars for one youth trip to sustaining a full-time missionary may not be entirely valid.   These are extra dollars spent that otherwise might be spent on vacations or toys.   These short term mission trips also become an awareness and eye-opening that may very well lead to increased future support of full-time missionaries.   On some work projects, the donated expertise and labor goes far beyond the cost of transportation and lodging.   While a certain number of dollars would indeed support a full-time missionary, those dollars would not be sufficient to get some of the facilities, water projects, agriculture initiatives, and schools and churches built.  I would think that these short term missions could often be an encouragement to the long term missionaries, if done well. 

 

Lou,

First I want to thank you for your 35 years of service; I hope you are enjoying “retirement”. My father was a church planter in Ionia and a home missionary in downtown GR, I understand “retirement”.

Thank you for your open and honest critique that you posted. The team and I are not afraid of honest, informed challenges to our involvement in STM trips. We have been challenged from within our own church and by members of some of our own families. I believe that if we cannot answer the challenges, we shouldn’t be involved in these trips.

We go because there is a need, a need that has been communicated to us thru our contact family in the DR. At no time have we gone to participate in “make work”. The work project that we participate in is chosen by the church leadership in the DR. We always know well in advance where we are going and what we are going to be doing. We participate, we rarely start from nothing and have never completely finished a project. We are there to jump into the middle, help the local congregation for a week and let them finish the project.

From the first trip, Steve Brauning has provided orientation material that we study in advance. On top of that we have used a variety of video programs designed to instruct us in short term mission trips in general. To prepare for our 2011 trip we used the “Round Trip” video series. We were also encouraged to and did read and discuss the books “Foreign to Familiar” and “Serving with Eyes Wide Open…”. Steve and our ServeLink contact person encouraged us to study these books. Upon arriving in the DR, once we are settled, Steve holds orientation. Whether this is your first trip or seventh, there is always something new to learn about the culture and the CRC in the DR. Steve and his entire family are great resources when it comes to DR culture. They have always openly shared with us the good and the bad. We have been greatly blessed to know, support and work with them.

Thru our 7 trips, many members of our congregation have come to know the Brauning family as more than “the missionaries in the DR that we support”, they have become friends. Friends we look forward to seeing when they are in the states on home service. Friends we keep in contact with thru Facebook, email and Skype calls. Friends who know about our families and we know about theirs. Friends we love to visit, every other year in the DR, to support the work that they are doing. Friends we remember in our prayers every day.

There are other benefits that we have noticed. Our church, as a whole, is very excited about the support of all of our missionaries. Whenever a family is in the states on home service and have the time to visit, the congregation comes together to welcome them, encourage them and eat a meal with them. Our Faith Promise pledges have for many years continued to grow and the actual collections are always more than pledges. We have a vibrant, working Missions Committee. Many of the Missions Committee members have participated in DR trips or other STM trips. The Missions Committee has been asked to present a Sunday school class this year on missions, we will be using the “Plugged-in to Missions” program.

Valid questions have been raised concerning STM trips. We believe that we have honestly addressed and answered those questions. I hope that others will seriously consider the questions that you and others have raised. I hope that they will consider a long term commitment to a particular place. I hope that in all we do God’s holy name will be praised and that “not yet Christians” will come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. I love that we can have these discussions to build each other up and encourage others to honestly evaluate their STM plans.

Your brother in Christ,

Dave

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your very thoughtful and thorough explanation of how your church goes about short term missions.  Participating in projects determined to be of value by the partner, repeated connection rather than bopping around, good preparation and debriefing for the team using some of the best resources are all good techniques for making the most of the short term phenomenon.  Maintaining and increasing your commitment to the long-term personnel is also excellent.  This can lead to the whole congregation becoming more alive to what God is doing around the world.  May your tribe increase!