Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Short-term Missions - Good or Bad?

I've been reading a lot lately about the subject of Missions. I'm finding, more and more, that the practice of sending teams on short-term missions is being called into question. It used to be thought that this was one of the best ways to share the love of God with those less fortunate - send a group of compassionate people into a needy area to accomplish a prescribed task and build relationships.

However, some have criticised this practice, (see article) saying that there are rarely long-term positive effects and that, often, it creates an unhealthy dependence on foreigners on the part of locals. It also can draw long-term missionaries away from "real" ministry in order to accommodate short-termers' need to "get something done."

As a pastor, and one who has spent some limited time on the field, I see both sides of this argument. On the one hand, I appreciate that the problems of the majority world (developing countries) are far too complex to solve overnight or in a week or two. On the other hand, I've seen the benefit that exposure to the mission field can have in a person's life; often, it's transformational.

I believe that the answer is both/and. As a local church, we've set a goal of having all of our youth be a part of a short-term missions trip before they graduate from high school. We've taken youth to Northern Ontario to run basketball clinics, do church repairs and community outreach. We've sent teams to The Dream Center in the inner city of Los Angeles and worked on skid row and ministered to children in the streets. We've also sent teams to work with Haitian refugees in the hills above Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. They've built homes, fed children, helped in schools and built relationships.

The reason we've established this goal is that we believe exposure to those less fortunate helps us to expand our worldview and become more compassionate as people. Our hope is that a taste of missions will encourage generosity throughout our lives and even provide the spark for some who will devote their lives to full-time missions work. We also hope that our teams will see the good that is being done elsewhere and adapt some of these tools to help in our own community.

At the same time, we look for ways to be involved in long-term missions. That may mean supporting a North American missionary in another country or providing on-going support and partnership with Christian workers native to those countries. One of the key words emerging lately is that of relationship. Missions, at its base, must be about building long-term, healthy, relationships with people who have the potential to bring about real change.

I know that my 9 week stay in Malta in the early '90's and my trips to the Dominican Republic and The Dream Center have profoundly changed the way I see the church and its role in the world. It has helped me change the way that I think about people, and to understand that each person deserves to have the gospel presented to them in a way that they can understand.

I'd really like to hear from those of you who have been on short-term trips yourself. Where did you go? How has it affected you? What do you think was accomplished? Do you recommend the experience to others? Let me know your thoughts.

Articles of Interest:
Dream On
Life On The Other Side
Dominican Republic - 2010
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