Tuesday, June 26, 2012


We've been carefully trying to decide where to go with this series.  On one hand, we have been quick to admit that we're not experts on missions (or anything for that matter).  We will say "we are not experts" one hundred times and tattoo it on our bodies if need be.  On the other hand, we saw a lot of eye-opening realities in Haiti that we believe are valuable to share.  As a matter of fact, we feel responsible to share them.  When God prompted a group of people to financially support our move to Haiti, our donors knew (among other things) we were going to Haiti to ask questions and honestly report back the answers (or lack of answers) we found.  Our family (and the people sending us financially to Haiti) wanted to passionately live out The Great Commission and specifically learn how to love and care for those struggling under the weight of immense poverty.  We were quick to admit that we had (and still have) a lot of uncertainty about how to tangibly live out our convictions to care for the voiceless and the oppressed.  We're thankful for the trust, love, and encouragement of the group that sent us to Haiti.  Through this partnership, we were able to work together and each be a small part of exploring these difficult ideas.

One of our main goals in Haiti was to identify and support sustainable ministries.  Therefore, we purposefully asked hard questions about missions, poverty, and orphan care while we were there.  In most cases, we didn't wait for opportunities to present themselves naturally - we obnoxiously pursued missionaries and Haitians.  We asked them awkward and honest questions.  We were also able to connect with missionaries in other developing countries all over the world.  These far-off connections have been sweet encouragements - true gifts to us.  They have been willing to answer hard questions we've asked.  As a result, these discussions have obviously shaped our views about missions, poverty, and orphan care.  They have opened our eyes to the complexities of these issues. 

In the course of this series of blog posts, several people have asked, "If short term missions are often less than effective, why do long-term missionaries keep hosting them? Isn't it the long-term missionary's responsibility to make sure short term teams are helping - not hurting?"

We asked the same question when we lived in Haiti - of missionaries in Haiti and missionaries around the world.  We believe that for the most part, people who engage in missions do so with hearts that truly and genuinely want to be helpful and obedient to The Great Commission.  Most people who go on short term trips give up their hard earned vacation time and invest a lot financially in their trip.  So shouldn't long term missionaries be considerate of these truths and facilitate healthier connections with missions?  When we asked these questions, there were several common responses given, but one constant and overwhelming theme stood out to us as we listened to missionaries talk about their struggles:  FEAR. 

There seems to be a lot of fear involved when trying to honestly and openly talk about missions.

When listening to missionaries honestly exploring the problems in mission strategies, one thing we realized is this:  Fear is a real player in this important discussion and may be hindering our ability to find tangible solutions.

We all know that fear is never healthy or productive.  A healthy fear of God is great - but that's not what we're referencing.

Instead, we've heard story after story of fear preventing people from doing what they feel is right or best for the people they are serving.  Fear seemed to be a strong deterrent that can keep missionaries and aid workers from living out their convictions about what is right and wrong in relation to missions and aid.  We're going to go so far as to suggest that fear may be tainting honest dialog about missions and aid.  Fear may be preventing honest and open dialog between missionaries and the church - and missionaries and missions organizations.  Fear may also be preventing believers in local, American churches from asking these hard questions and openly discussing them with their church leaders and fellow church members.

When talking about missions, why is fear such a big deal?  We believe if these conversations are clouded with fear, we're not really going to be able to grow and learn.  Fear stifles progress and health. Fear prevents honesty.  Which begs the question - how well informed are our mission strategies if fear is common within these discussions?

We can't say this enough - we are not experts.  Although our goal was to talk to a lot of missionaries, we didn't talk to every missionary on the face of the planet.  We didn't receive emails from every missionary on earth.  We kind of hope the fears we heard (and even experienced ourselves to some degree) are an anomaly.  Nothing would make us happier than to hear that these experiences are not the norm.

Here are a few of the fears that popped up often in conversations about missions and aid:

1.  Some missionaries expressed fear that if they honestly shared their hearts with their home churches, funding would cease to exist.  If teams quit coming, funding would eventually dry up.  They were fearful to share with their church how their ideas about missions were changing.  At times they were fearful about honestly communicating their needs.

2.  Some missionaries expressed fear about being open and honest with their team when differing views on missions arose.  Interpersonal drama within a team is a legitimate fear that keeps missionaries from being vocal about missions related issues.  Think about how hard it is to enter into conflict (even if it's much-needed) with people right here in the US.  Now imagine that person you're about to disagree with is one of your only friends. They may be the only people who speak English within driving distance.  They may also be your church.  Your co-worker. Your next door neighbor.  Your ride.  If things go South - everything goes South.  Everything.

3.  Some missionaries expressed fear about being honest with their team leaders.  They are afraid to challenge long withheld views on missions and aid.  They are fearful to question and initiate conversation about the effectiveness and health of the mission where they are serving.  When a healthy team atmosphere is not in place and leadership is not receptive to new ideas and equates questions with an attack - it's not uncommon for missionaries to remain quiet - even if they have inner conflicts about what their mission is doing and how it may be adversely affecting the community.

4.  Some missionaries expressed fear about speaking openly and honestly on their own personal blogs - about anything.  The health of their marriage.  Their frustration.  Their discouragement.  Or even their much-needed vacation.

5.  Some missionaries expressed fear about speaking out against the American model of engaging with missions because people become instantly defensive.  Any criticism of the American church is quickly dismissed, and the missionary is labeled "arrogant," "judgmental," and "prideful" - even if they try their hardest to approach the conversation with humility.


We can all say, "Well - they should not have fear of man.  They should do what is right - and stand up for what they believe."  No one would argue that fact.  But have you ever been a human?

Knowing what is right is usually a lot easier than actually doing it.  Black and white statements launched at people in the trenches are so nice and tidy.  These statements completely leave out the children that may be uprooted and living in another country with their parents if their parents rock the boat too hard.  Black and white arguments usually fail to take into consideration that standing up for what we believe in often means we lose something.  A job.  A friend.  A home.  A life we've worked hard to create.   It's particularly hard to take a stand on an issue when there's a real chance doing so will lead to major life adjustments.

I've been quiet and gone with the flow because I was afraid, haven't you? I can point to a scene in my past where I literally put my child's life in real danger because I was afraid of offending someone.  In retrospect I could not believe what I did - and was in awe of how fear affects our decision making process.  I'm sure in varying degrees we all know what it is like to passionately disagree with people we work with or are connected to - and remain quiet out of fear (of something). Sometimes fear is real, and sometimes it's perceived - either way it hinders growth and health.

Luke 12:4-7
"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 

We ask God to give missionaries the faith to be brave.  We know (even with our limited understanding) what a horribly complex prayer we're praying.  We pray you feel valued and heard. We are also hopeful that more and more churches and organizations will proactively foster safe environments where missionaries can share their concerns, questions, needs, and concerns without fear.  

Isn't it wondrously frustrating to think about God calling each of us in our own flaws and fears to proclaim His name among the nations? When thinking through the issues discussed out in the open about missions (in books, blogs, churches, and websites) I'm struck by how working through the challenges points to our own brokenness and poverty.  Broken, poor people reaching out to a broken, poor world - it's beautiful and mind boggling.  I'm grateful for the ways these concepts cause us to constantly face our own poverty and remind us that we are the poor.

We welcome other missionaries to speak to the idea of fear in missions.  We want this to be a safe place - so feel free to comment anonymously.

Just to keep these comments together, I'm going to cut and paste previous comments from missionaries who have added their thoughts to mission-related posts on this blog.  We appreciate you and your honesty.

Other Posts In This Series:

Short Term Missions?

When It's About Us


Elizabeth said...

Your thoughts on short-term missions and all that you've shared on your blog have added to my own in so many ways. Thank you for thinking about these things, learning about them, praying about them, and sharing them. It is so needed. Your #3 caught my eye because we are living outside of the US as missionaries in one of the poorest countries spiritually - yet not materially. Still, we have yet to ask for / welcome a short-term team because we can't find anything for them to "do" here that would be worth the resources spent. You said "the most effective forms of ministry are deeply rooted in relationship and trust" - and I couldn't agree more. It is precisely why we moved here. And if I'm still struggling to learn language and build trusted relationships 3.5 years in - then what can someone who's here for 1 week do? Our answer... prayer. And sometimes that prayer takes place here as people visit us to "see our world", but more often than not it takes place back home. The reality is that not every supporter can visit for a "first hand" account to inform their prayers, but yet they CAN all pray - faithfully. You mentioned that financial support for overseas missionaries is huge and needed and more often than not lacking. So, so, so true. But people who are willing to personally invest in prayer, who are willing to "get to know" the people we're ministering to by involving themselves in our lives (not necessarily through coming here, but through caring and staying in touch and praying)... those people are gold. And sadly, also lacking. You're right. The American church does need to rethink missions. And yes, our eyes were opened to missions through short-term trips. We're living and sharing Jesus in another country now in part because of those experiences. No easy answers, but definitely conversations that need to happen. Thanks for this.

Douglass said...

I hear you. My husband and I have been missionaries in latin America for 3 years. We have seen the good the bad and the ugly....and sadly it's mostly been the bad and the ugly the majority of the time. I think the point that we often forget is the one that needs to emphasize the training and equipping of the national people. We should be investing heavily on discipleship and theological education for the faces that SHOULD be the ones giving the gospel in their own countries! Oh the help we could be if we could forget ourselves and just be content to help....in whatever way was needed. SO much dialog is needed on this topic and I am so grateful for the discussion, in places such as your blog, for this to take place. Thank you for being a platform!!
On a side funny/horrible note of an example that is happening THIS WEEK...a group of 22 people (with a BASE cost of $40,000 not including food and visa expenses) is going to a west african country to do a vbs. This vbs is arguably beneficial (using foreign white faces to give gifts of cheap quality and possible dental harm) to be spoken to through a translator (again....is this really beneficial?) with a theme of...wait for it...bugs. Yep. The african country that TWICE in the last 10 years has had its entire economy destroyed by locusts...is getting a team of people who will come over and use cartoon version of bugs to tell them about the gospel. This is bad on so many levels I don't even know where to begin. VERY well intentioned people....but oh my.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading over the posts and comments here and honestly have been reluctant to comment. Mostly because I do like your blog and I think you mean well so I don't want you to take this the wrong way. At the same time there are some things you wrote that bothered me a little. Just for some context I have been a longterm volunteer in Latin America as well as a short term volunteer so I don't have a stake in this either way. I personally don't like to be labeled as a STM or LTM because my purpose was never to convert anyone or evangelize. But that is another subject all together.
I think you had some good points, but two things stand out to me.
1) It was disappointing that this post seemed to be another "Finger Pointing" between LTM at STMs. What I mean by that is that it sounds like you blame the STMs for problems that really are the fault of the LTMs. When a LTM tells a STM "Yes, please come down to our mission. You can help use paint the orphanage" whose fault is it when those people come down and paint an orphanage that doesn't need painting? I agree that STM need to be culturally sensitive and receptive to the message from LTM. But a big part of this is the LTMs need to communicate and set up boundaries and expectations. Nothing wrong with saying, "You know, I know you wanted a construction project but it would be better to hire local workers to paint.But instead you could hire the local women's group to cater your lunch and have a cooking class to teach you how to make a local dish. That way you are learning the culture, building relationships and helping the local economy."
2) It was disappointing that your post like so many others on this topic focuses on just STM's instead of the issues. Some of these same issues that occur with STM also can happen with LTM in one form or another. A bad LTM can do a lot more damage then a bad STM. I have some personal experience with a situation right now where a orphanage partnership with a US church is doing great things and a LTM who got involved is doing a lot of damage. I think these are good issues to discuss, but maybe they should be in the context of mission work and cross-culture volunteer work and not in LTM vs STM. No matter if you are a LTM or STM it is important to learn about the local culture, treat them with respect, listen to their needs, work in partnership with them, and empower them to do for themselves.

Anonymous said...

You make many valid points, but there are many more layers to this discussion. I agree that STM can be less than helpful - no doubt about it. I was a LTM and I saw it happen - no ifs, ands, or buts, this is entirely true.

On the other hand, I disagree when you imply that STM are up and donations to missions are down - as if these are necessarily related. I have yet to meet a person who has been involved in STM that didn't substantially increase their giving to missions. Prior to being a LTM I had never specifically given any real sum of money to missions, but after a few STM I started faithfully giving to missions. I know many, many people with the same story. Yes, spending $2000 to fly to Equador and paint a few buildings might not accomplish as much as sending that $2000 down to a LTM or local relief group on a one-time basis, but if that trip changes a person to increase their giving to missions on the order of $10-20,000 over their lifetime, the net impact is much greater.

I know more than one person who went on a few STM trips and have become involved enough that they have raised tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of supplies that have all made it to the LTMs in areas with great needs. This would not have happened without those STM trips and those people getting an eyeful of what is really happening on the ground. Just a second perspective.

John and Perla said...

I understand your stance on STMs. I agree in a large part with you about the subject. No one who has never been on the mission field longer than say, six months, will ever understand. Ever.

It is a moot point to even have the conversation. There is no mind we can change with words. It was the experience that changed "us" and it will be experience that changes "them".

The fact is that we know things that others will never, ever know or have the ability to comprehend.

That being said, ministry takes money. A major reason we had to come home was because of lack of support. However, recently a friend went on a one week trip to Haiti with their church. The experience was so life-changing for THEM, that they arranged for their church to buy the ministry in Haiti new vehicle - a much needed vehicle.

That kind of impact is the right kind in my eyes. Some go. Some sow. And it takes both of them to be successful in the field.

Lovin' the Hendricks!

Rebecca said...

A beautifully compelling post written with wise council and love for the world church. Thank-you for continuing the conversation that needs to be continued.

Serdan said...

Brilliant. I remember my dad saying he wished he could tie a big rope around Haiti and drag it far out to sea so that Americans would not be able to get to it so easily. And that was 30 years ago. I agree with a previous comment--sharing this with my mission's pastor would be pretty daunting. But that is exactly why nothing changes. Thanks for saying the hard things.

Anonymous said...

This is definately true also for the UK church... As having spent 6 years as a missionary I have been very disturbed by the negative impact of many (not all) short term trips. Something we even found was that some UK churches didn't really want to listen to the thoughts of the missionaries on the ground, but preferred to deal exclusively with the locals, who feared them and desperately needed the money that came with the trips. So as missionaries we were only able to stand back and watch trip after trip.. and the aftermath of them. Now back in the UK and finding we are involved in sending teams (ironically) we are putting much more emphasis on the trips being about the experience for those going and also seeking to simply encourage missionaries and workers on the field; rather than what will be 'achieved'. We look forward to the Gospel Coalitions tips to help in this.

Rachel said...

This is one of the best articles I've read on this subject. You so poignantly stated so many of the things I've been unable to put into words for the last 4 years I've been a LTM. (Unable and afraid!)

Judy said...

Before the days of jump-on-a-plane-and-voluntour-in-Somewhere, missions awareness was intentionally fostered and taught and pushed in churches by groups like GA's and Women's Auxiliary.

Those groups have lost popularity and are almost gone. Yet, they kept missions and missionaries in the minds and prayers and piggy banks of generations of believers who would never consider short term missions a possibility.

Sounds to me like we are now looking for a way to accomplish their same goals - to cause people to love and pray and give to missions in places they will never see, for people they will never meet.

It can happen. It can.

Anonymous said...

My family and I have been in a huge SE Asian city for 7 years. Our experience with volunteers has been very different, but the group we are trying to reach is also very different. Our focus is on a middle class part of the population, people who do not have any physical needs. We are able to bring in volunteers to help teach Christians GOOD theology and also to help us reach out to more people. There's no better way to meet new people than to dump 10 American college kids on an Asian university campus. We have no experience in a place like Haiti, but are very thankful for the volunteers that we can get to come all the way to our city.
I have lots of colleagues that deal with these volunteer issues constantly, but I wanted to show how volunteers can be used in a positive way.

Anonymous said...

I want to jump up and down and yell AMEN and beg everyone to PLEASE LISTEN to this ... it is not encouraging to anyone to come take jobs from people who need work. Painting a cement wall is work ANYONE can do with a tiny bit of instruction ... flying across the ocean to paint a wall while unemployed natives look on is embarrassing. I don't think a smart ministry would have you do that.

Also ... for more skilled jobs ...

Let's say you are a plumber in Omaha, NE. You make a decent living and feed your three kids and own a modest home. Things are pretty good. One day a small country in the Caribbean decides that they want to "help" you - how nice!!! They send four teams over the next year with plumbers that come and do work in the Omaha area for free !!! How awesome for the people of Omaha! Sadly, the free plumbing puts you out of work and your kids have to go on Gov't assistance ... but hey, those plumbers got to feel good about helping in Omaha. That's what is important, right?


IAM1040 said...

Many define mission efforts in economic terms: locations, ministries and missionaries in perceivably horrendous poverty. In reality many of these places are, while a challenge economically, highly exposed to the gospel and welcoming to the growth of existing churches. This is what much of our society feels good about - they see great need and want to fix it. This is no different from other religions and NGOs who want to help Haiti, Peru, Eastern Europe or Sub Saharan Africa.

What if we more carefully evaluated our motivation to ensure they are aligned with Gods? What about promises of Isaiah 61 to preach the good news, bind up the broken hearted, set captives free and so much more? These are not solely monetary, they are spiritual. How many of those in mission’s relationships with Haiti, Peru, or other – relatively safe- western hemisphere countries, would be willing to go somewhere else? Somewhere resistant to the gospel? Where the people are materialistic? Where it is illegal to be Christian, let alone a formal missionary?

Who in the bunch would sign up for a short term trip to Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Central Asia or Libya? If not willing, why? Because it’s too dangerous? Maybe Saudi Arabia is too rich; Libya too foreign; North Korea too hard to get in; Central Asia too far. What does that say about our motivations? Are we only willing to go to close, poor, (relatively) politically stable countries?

Who will start English blogs intentionally geared towards the youth of the Arab Spring, Muslims crying out for hope, peace and restoration? What about the Indian upper class - would that not dramatically change reality for the poor?

Few go to these places that do not fit into the neat package Heather so clearly described. Others, because they think it doesn’t make economic sense to go to Dubai for 3 weeks: the flight alone is the same cost as a 2 week trip to Mexico. With that logic, millions of people around the world will continue to die without ever hearing the gospel. Because it is too expensive for us to bother going so far….what a tragedy.

Others have bought into the lie that you cannot do anything worthwhile in that amount of time. What about prayer walking where the name of Jesus has NEVER been lifted up? Distributing bibles where there are none? Can you do this in 3 weeks, absolutely - I did. It was amazing and motivated me to commit my entire life to ministry to unengaged peoples…I’d say that was a worthwhile short term trip, imagine if I’d never gone?

I would plead for caution with this movement; this is a trend among US churches and can lead to radical changes in mission policy. Having worked in a missions department, I’ve seen it firsthand …elder’s boards, missionary sending, short term trips gone wrong and all the politics involved.

As a missionary to the most unreached parts of the world I have experienced being in desperate need of a group of believers to just come visit, pray and build a passion for this place.

What most serving in the unreached world say to this: if you don’t want teams to go where you have been going, great….but don’t tell them to stay home. We need them here! Even if it is for just 2 weeks.

Part of what Aaron and Heather are saying is very true: way too many trips to the reached world. However, there needs to be a clarification to that….hardly anyone is going to the unreached 2/3s of our planet. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mySe0pjNwfo

Unreached means much more than merely being unevangelized. Unreached means there is no access to the gospel among that people group. There is no witness for Jesus among them! Nearly 2 billion people (27.9 % of the world’s population) live in these unreached segments of society (people groups). These peoples are cut off from any access to the gospel and are largely ignored or unknown by the Christian world. Sadly, nearly 90% of the missionary work force and finances are targeting already reached regions with the gospel.

Google Short term trips to the unreached - that's how I got started!

Brandon said...

A good resource that I have come across on STM is "Striking The Match" by George Robinson. Dr. Robinson was my Missions and Evangelism professors at SEBTS in North Carolina. He served as an M overseas and is not a professor.

In this book he connects STM teams with the larger strategy of the long-term team. He shows how the STM team can impact Church Planting and uses the analogy of "Striking a Match" to starting Church Planting among a target group.

This is a great resources and I highly recommend it to anyone I hear going on STM. In fact, it is hardly on my book shelf because it is constantly being passed around and read by people who are going.

Thanks for this blog and your faithfulness to our King.


Anonymous said...

Thank-you for sharing this post. I was so encouraged to read it. I never comment on blogs but when i saw this post i felt convicted to throw in my hat. I have lived overseas working in international aid and development for 9 years so far. As soon as I received Jesus at the age of 24, i hd left my world behind within months to follow him. I am a Christian and engaged with my church and run my own ministry in the country i live in. If I may be so bold, short term missions break my heart. I have only very very rarely seen them done well. Although i agree churches and STM attendees come with good intentions, they cause so much damage. In a village near mine, a group came in to 'love on orphans' and hand out goods like toothbrushes etc. The local shopkeeper, himself poor, sat with tears in his eyes and he saw all of his potential sales wiped away. The team made him poorer. And while the kids had fun, they didnt care when the team left. I heard some children say 'those forigners are so stupid, they come all this way just to bring a toothbrush!' One team organised a worship concert and did an alter call. No-one responded. they had only invited kids from churches and they were all christians. one kid got confused when they kept calling so he put his hand up, thinking he was getting something for free. The visitor near him broke down weeping praising God for saving this boy. This boy had been a passionate follower of Jesus for 3 years already. everyone just scratched their heads and stared at the girl.

Some of the ugly truths about STMs is that everyone loves the cute orphans, but no-one will go and share a meal with the drunk traumatised man down the road, or stay long enough to know the woman who hides in her house cause she is beaten everyday and could really use a hug and a friend. I know it sounds harsh, but most STMs fall into the category of poverty porn. Its ugly, I'm sorry, but i see it constantly.

i just cant help but think, if God leads you to live overseas to serve, but you dont trust him enough until you try it a few times - how much faith are you putting in His plan? We all leave a footprint when we are a guest in someones's land, and it is our duty to be wise about it. It is not our right to 'see' everything for ourselves in order to trust. choose partners wisely and have faith in them. I get STM visitors weeping at my home for girls, promising the world and a changed heart. 1 in 100 only every really do anything. They take my time, they treat my community like a zoo, and they are always forgotten, and often ridiculed once they leave. I'm so sorry for sharing such harsh words, but if Jesus wants you to love the poor there isnt a compromise - you dont get the american dream and get to help the 'poor' twice a year. if the gospels rock your world, they call us to change everything, for some to leave our nations and families, and for others to change our own nations. Not to 'look' at someone else in the suffering and take a photo with a camera that costs 2 grand. it is a frightening to witness to how we really value the poor. becuse injustice seems like a $2,000 trip to deliver one week of fun and a lifetime of silence.

thank-you once again for touching on this issue that burns my heart and brings me shame as a missionary.

we can honour God by being wise.

Leslie said...

Wow. What an excellent post. I have a lot of the same thoughts living in Costa Rica - we see countless teams come through, and it needs to be re-thought. Just wanted to touch on your comments about orphanages. We work with children at risk and I wanted to recommend an excellent blog for people working with children - about deep and wide solutions. Seeing that you are thinkers and questioners, I think you will get a lot out of this site that will challenge your work - explore the blog as well as the CasaViva website. Wonderful food for thought about re-thinking solutions for children.




Dan said...

As a former missionary kid (I'm now 42) I saw many, many short term mission groups blow through West Africa. At the least, the logistics challenges and the often embarrassing ethnocentric comments they would make made life very difficult for the hosting missionaries. I can honestly say that none of the short term mission trippers made an impact, although folks who would stay a 1 year or so, could. If you have a rare and valuable skill and you can solve some practical problems in a short time period, go for it. If you're planning on a trip that is more or less limited to giving out hugs, candy and a few bible verses, I would suggest you send money instead.

Anonymous said...

I am a missionary and have spent many moments in tears after hearing STM members complain about not having enough shopping or tourism time or missing their families after three days. I watched half a youth team huddled around an iPad watching youtube videos as we all rushed to set up for Sunday morning service.

STM is not a chance for "Christian Tourism." We have had a couple teams leave us feeling encouraged, but most leave us feeling drained and exhausted. It's counterproductive.

I agree with everything you've said, thank you for saying it.

Hendrick Family said...

Just wanted to mention that all the comments above are from LTM's who were brave enough to comment on previous mission-related posts. They offer valuable perspective, and I'm grateful for their voice.

Anything below this post is a new comment.


Catherine T. said...

Something I keep thinking about as I read all your insightful, much needed words of wisdom regarding SMT trips is Mother Theresa. There are so many interesting stories of people calling her ministry wanting to volunteer and being told to “come” (Shane Claibourne, to name one famous example). They came, found their own housing, showed up and were put to work. Now I’m sure that Mother Teresa’s ministry attracted lots of crazies--how could it not? But she seemed to understand that people needed to come and see in order to be transformed.

Is it that really so surprising? Or un-true? The disciples needed to see and touch the hands of our resurrected Lord. There does seem to be a powerful precedent for bearing witness in the flesh. Perhaps we are wired in such a way that “being there” imprints us in a more permanent way than reading about something or hearing stories second hand.

Maybe the problem is not that people are going, but they are going for the wrong reasons. Maybe we should re-frame missions away from “helping” to “bearing witness”. Should we send fewer people? Probably, yes. Fifteen year olds more interested in adventure than call should probably be discouraged. Should our fundraising be more focused on the ministry we’re supporting than getting ourselves there? Yes. Should be we be better prepared and more ready to listen? Yes.

But should we stop going?

That gives me pause.

Thank you so much for consolidating all this great information on missions and for sharing the stories and adventures of your family life in such a winsome manner.


Catherine T.

Hendrick Family said...

Catherine -

That was so beautiful to read.

We can't quit going - surely that's not the answer - but going better probably is.

Thanks for your comment. It adds much to this discussion.


Catherine T. said...


Do you ever have this fantasy where you’re on a plane trip, and the stranger who sits down next to you ends up being your favorite blogger who you’ve followed for a couple of years but never met or spoken to, or have any friends in common with at all? You two spend the trip in deep conversation where you share joys and confidences, then leave going your separate ways at the end of the trip, as people do but confirmed in your suspicion that if you lived in the same town or actually knew one another at all, you’d be good friend and kindred spirits?

You are that blogger for me!

Catherine T.

Bruce said...

Thanks for your words on this subject but I come at it from a different perspective. I come at it as a pastor and as a former missionary to a third world country. We were trying to reach 2.5 million people spread out in 400 villages and the work for one missionary family was immense, especially with the poverty that we experienced on a daily basis. We used many short term missionary teams to support our overall mission efforts. Many medical, dental and eye clinics were held as well as a few construction teams and children's ministries. Overall these individuals allowed us to make inroads into the communities where we served and sped up our ability to impact the lostness that was so prevalent.

Through the use of these missionaries we were able to see countless people come to Christ, two churches started and two cell groups started. Light began to appear in the darkness as people discovered that God loves them and cares for them. Today that ministry is still thriving even though we have been gone for several years. Because we left in place a core group of locals, schools have been created and compassionate ministries are in place, and also many other churches have been started. But it began with someone caring enough to come and demonstrate the love of Christ.

In addition many of my former missionary colleagues received their call to missions because of a short term mission trip. As a pastor who has led churches on mission trips I have seen mission giving increase and a greater sense of compassion for needs in general.

It also might be remembered that Paul was a short term missionary as well. In many places where he planted a church he stayed a very short time. He traveled througout the region telling the good news to people and started churches in almost every place he visited. But yet he never planted himself in one location for an extended period of time.

Can short term missions be a hindrance? Yes they can if people become more concerned about the physical needs of people and less about their spiritual needs. Their poverty may remain even after short or long term missionaries have left, but if we share the good news of Jesus Christ with them, their eternity will be secure.

God can use all of us in His kingdom and he wants all of us doing what we can to impact lostness in the world. The greatest message we have to share is the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the words of Paul, "I have become all things to all men that I may somehow save some."


Hendrick Family said...

That's great to read, Bruce - and I think proves that there can't be a one size fits all for mission trip strategies.

While it's probably great to rethink missions and especially short term missions - there are always stories like these that should play a part in these discussions.

We're probably coming at this discussion with much more emphasis on how to responsibly meet the needs of the poor/orphan/oppressed and live out Jesus' words about caring for them.

While I agree the greatest need a person has is spiritual - there are a lot of people who are already believers who are suffering. I think it's okay for the church to want to expend time and energy to help alleviate their pain and the injustices they face (if that's possible and we can do it in a responsible way).

When we're talking about mission trips to countries with severe poverty related issues, we're simply saying that there is a general outcry in the aid community about the church learning to "help" in a way that's more helpful - and our old strategies may not be doing so.

Again - it was good to read your thoughts about how large teams can help spread the gospel to areas that have been unreached.

If nothing else, we hope this discussion causes people to simply start asking questions and acknowledge that these issues are complex and should be prayerfully reexamined.


... said...

As a many time short term missionary I see the good of the short termer but ONLY with the right attitude and to the right place. I believe that short termers are to serve the long termers in whatever they may need. I do not believe we can do the greater good when we go for a week (even if it is for several weeks a year.) We can do projects that the missionaries need, bring in supplies, maybe even a VBS program. In my experience there is always a buiding to build, repairs to be made, a wall/room/etc to paint.

... said...

Sorry, I didn't finish....I also wanted to say that going on a mission trip not only changes a persons attitude and gives them a whole new perspective and usually a new and better relationship with God, but it also helps us to see the everyday life of the long termers and see what we are or may support. I do see the drawbacks and problems and I do see those with the wrong attitude/expectations, but I believe that can be "cured" if the churches and organizations that send the groups do some required prescreening and pretraining. There is a healthy balance somewhere in there and I believe we should all be striving to find it!

Susan, wife of 1, mother of 4 said...

I loved your post, Heather, and will join you in praying for missionaries, fear and the church/their support teams. Thank you, again, for the honesty!