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Another False Premise of Short-Term Missions

“It will Change Their Lives”

The book I recently read, Serving with Eyes Wide Open, discusses at length some of the shortcomings of short term missions (no pun intended), one of which is the false premise that our missions work will change the lives of the people we go to serve. The book highlights a lot of typical comments of short-termer’s expounding on the lofty benefits their work will be on the recipients. The comments consistently give the impression that without the help and service of the short-termer’s the people would be in utter despair, without God, poor and hopeless.

One example given is a study by Kurt VerBeek, one of the few researchers actually studying the impact of short-term missions upon the local communities. After Hurricane Mitch, a organization raised two million dollars to rebuild homes in Honduras. They used the money both by using Honduran partners who hired Honduran builders to rebuild the homes, and they mobilized 31 short-term teams from the USA. VerBeek studied and compared the impact of the Honduran builders and the short-term groups.

“Through the data collected, VerBeek found no lasting impact, positive or negative, on the Honduran families and communities whose homes were built by North Americans as compared to those who never saw a short-term mission team. In fact, in a moment of candidness, the Hondurans confided that if given the choice, they’d rather see the money raised by each team who traveled to Honduras channeled toward building twenty more homes and employing Hondurans.” -p. 57, Serving With Eyes Wide Open

The point here is not to try and make another case against Short-term missions, but rather to encourage us to again be honest and aware of both the motivation and impact of the work that we are doing. Speaking from a financial outlook, there is are far better ways to steward our resources for the good of the Body of Christ to meet the needs of people worldwide. From a gifts outlook, there are for more equipped followers of Christ (namely people indigenous to the culture) to spread the gospel, train leaders and plant churches.

God chose a stuttering Moses to lead God’s people out of Egypt, an old Abraham and Sarah to father the chosen people, and God used a carpenter to bring salvation to all people, so God might very well use a bunch of teenagers on an adventurous summer trip to further the kingdom. In the mean time, I think it would be wise for us to think long and hard about short term missions work and consider if there might be wiser options.

YouTubesday: Music Makes the World Go Around

I’ve accumulated a lot of music videos of varying kinds in my YouTube favorites folder, so I figured I should post them. They don’t necessarily relate to each other in any way. Enjoy.

Hey Ya! Cover song (4:31)

This Too Shall Be Made Right – Video to Derek Webb’s song (3:47)

Tonya Watts “Cumberland Angels” [I came across this video when searching for some news about the panhandling in downtown Nashville, It’s a neat video, though I’m not normally a country fan. Anyone whose ever hung out downtown with the cool people down there should recognize Emma]

Dmx – Lord Give Me a Sign (3:32)

KT Tunstall “Black Horse & The Cherry Tree” on Jools

Short-term Missions as Wanderlust Adventure

This is a quote from Serving with Eyes Wide Open:

Read the letters and listen to the reports before and after mission trips, and those who go on trips tend to emphasize the so-called spiritual things: the number of souls saved, the lessons learned about prayer and materialism, and the impact made up the church visited. However, sit down for coffee with a friend who has just returned from a trip or eavesdrop on the picture party from a returning group, and the adventure of life in a new place seems to be the emphasis. Such conversations are filled with stories about who got stopped going through customs, what it was like to eat the food, bartering the shopkeeper down to a ridiculous price, and experiencing the driving habits of the locals.
Let’s be honest. Along with the seemingly more noble reasons for going on a short-term mission trip, many of us love the adventure of it all.

Now do a reality check for yourself: If you’ve ever been on a mission trip before, how true is this of you? I remember hearing a speaker when I went to YWAM, who talked at length about how he had been to 53 different countries, etc. I found myself both envious, and starkly aware of how easy it would be for me to fulfill my desire for travel under the guise of ‘missionary.’

Obviously, just because we have ulterior motives doesn’t mean no trip should ever happen, but I think it does call us to question seriously both who goes on trips, and how the trips are advertised, discussed and attended.
For one, I think the ‘fun’ day at the end of the trip (every mission trip I’ve ever been on had something like this) should be completely done away with. This is just my opinion, but I find it to be a terrible idea for a church to take people, especially young people, who’ve just had an eye opening experience into the world, and then encourage (even require) them to suddenly become materialistic, shopping consumerist a moment later.

I’ll leave you with some of the examples given in the book from well known missions organizations. Teen Mania, who have sent tens of thousands of short-term ‘missionaries’ send out full page brochures and advertisements with

“Missions Should Be Fun!” Below it was a picture featuring a group of American youth pushing a really cool-looking canoe down a tropical-like river with a few “natives” in tow.

Or this church bulletin advertising a mission trip to Mexico, including this line:

And this trip isn’t a “rough-roach-in-your-bed” kind of experience either-we’ll be housed in nice clean hotel roomes, eat lots of salsa, and have plenty of time to shop!
…If you’re remotely interested in this adventure-or if you’re just in the mood for Mexico after all this winter weather-call for more details about this fantastic outreach opportunity.

What Carrying Out the ‘Go’ Command Looks Like

The church I attended in Nashville took a group on a short term missions trip to Brazil this past November. In discussing the topic of ‘Missions’ I was trying to think about the biblical precedent for ‘missions’ work as we consider it. I wrote this post on the church forum…

The oft referenced verse for Christian mission work is this:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
-Matt 28:16-20

We have called this the ‘Great Commission’, though neither Jesus, nor anyone else in scripture, ever gives it that title. Since it’s the last instruction Jesus gives before he departs we feel it deserves the weight of ‘great’ and I’d agree, except that it should also be seen in light of the entire life and teachings of Jesus as well.
The other important thing to note is that Jesus gives this command to the 12 disciples. We tend to think of it as a blanket calling to anyone who is a Christian, but it is possible Jesus was specifically commissioning his 12 disciples to ‘go’.

We see further precedent for this specific commissioning in the early church stories in the book of Acts.

Acts 13:3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 22:21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ “

Acts 9:15 “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings.”

Gal. 2:7-9 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

If anything, I think we see clearly that there is a precedent for the commissioning and sending out of specific full-time missionaries.

What I also see in the stories of the early church, is a precedent for the role of home churches as supporters and commissioners of missionaries.

you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 3 John 5-6

And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! Romans 10:15

There are also plenty of passages in Paul’s letters, too big and out of context to quote, that acknowledge the support from the churches he’s writing to.

I am advocating that not everyone is called to a life of full-time ‘mission’ work. (I am also implying that Short term missions might not be so biblical either, though that’s a discussion for another topic thread). However, I am not advocating that, if you are not ‘called,’ you have permission to sit back and live a lavish ‘American’ lifestyle, feeling guilt free by sending your small missionary support check out each
EVERY Christian is called to follow the teachings of Christ. We ‘Christians’ in the United States should be living radical lives, shedding materialism, and supporting our Christians brothers and sisters globally.

As I mentioned I wrote the above post on our church forum. It created a tiny bit of dialog, but I think was mostly seen as divisive. What I’ve been trying to do is look at scripture through an unbiased lens regarding what we typically call ‘missions.’ I feel like every time I’ve gone on short term missions trips (three in high school and then a YWAM outreach), there was almost no discussion regarding the Biblical basis for the missions work. We all just memorize and repeat that we are to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ I think what I’ve begun to see in scripture as that we as the Body of Christ are called to make disciples of ALL nations, however, I think that should probably look different than our multi-billion dollar short term missions business that we currently run.

Christian Anarchy

The Kingdom Jesus established is anarchistic in that it recognizes God alone as the arche (supreme power). It thus lives free from all other powers (an-arche [anarchy] means without authority). Governments are part of the fallen, oppressed world system that has been done away with in Christ. –Greg Boyd

Book Review: Serving With Eyes Wide Open

This past week I read the book, Serving With Eyes Wide Open, by David A. Livermore. I had picked up this book at the suggestion of some people I attend church with in Nashville. We had been having a discussion about what ‘missions’ looked like for the church and about the decision to take a short term trip to Brazil. I got in a little bit of trouble for it, mainly because I was asking questions about the decisions. The suggestion was for me to read this book to get a better understanding of some of the thought process and decisions behind going. I in turn suggested they read the book, Revolution in World Missions. Unfortunately, I’ve finished the book, but no one seems interested in dialogging with me about it. Oh well, on with the review.

The book is split up into three parts. First we get a broad global perspective, then we focus on short term missions as they are currently done, then it discusses CQ (like IQ) or Cultural Intelligence and how to go about doing cross-cultural ministry properly.

I really like the information presented in the book. The first section regarding a global perspective is a glimpse into the harsh realities of the world we live in. Everything from the stories and statistics of global poverty to the impact of globalization. It was poignant and accurate.

The second section discussed the shortcomings of our current short term missions. This section was excellent. It raised important questions and provided some tough realities about the ignorance and naivety many short-termer’s bring when they travel abroad. It talked about the underlying motivations of adventure concealed in the guise of altruistic motives in our trips. I might post some quotes and further discussion later in the week.

The third section is a suggestion of how to do Short-term missions intelligently. It was valuable information. The kind of things you’d probably learn in a sociology class regarding culture. It is the type of information that is helpful for everyone, whether you ever leave the country or stay right where you are. We constantly are encountering people from different backgrounds and cultures and it would do us well to be conscience of our cultural assumptions.

Overall, I felt like this was a good book. However, I don’t feel like the third section regarding how to do short term missions effectively, in any way negates the concerns brought up in section two of the book. The reality is we spend far too much on short term missions as a international church, it is often ineffective, often motivated by much more then pure motives to help others and spread the gospel, and often is a complete waste of valuable resources that could be used to further the kingdom through the people who have the desire and the skills, but simply lack the financial resources (native missionaries).

This is a good book for us as individuals in a multicultural society to read, it does not, however, serve as a certification to then embark on short term missions without seriously considering the purposes, motivations, impact, and other possibilities within the body of Christ.

Help Me Pick a Book Cover

Okay, nothing fancy this time, just wanted to ask for you to do me a favor and take a quick survey. I wrote a novel back in November and I’m working on self-publishing it. My brother is doing the cover design and I’ve picked three I like to have you choose from. Take a minute and do this for me I would appreciate it.

Cover Survey

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This is What I’ve read:

A lot of times we cry about not having everything we want, even though
we’ve got plenty more than we need. It’s ironic that we whine and moan
about our own individual deficits when so many more need so much more.
We are quick to mourn what we don’t have, forgetting to juxtapose our lives next to others who seem to manage despite not having what they really need.