When we come to Christ, we fall upon His grace and are brought into His amazing death and resurrection; we are also swept up into His family, Kingdom and mission. From the youngest to the most elderly believer, we each have a role in the Mission of God. Every nation, tribe and tongue will one day bow before the throne of heaven, and we have the privilege of being a part of that future. For many of us, this will look like showing the person of Christ to our family, friends and neighbours in the towns and cities that we live through our lives. Each believer is that lamp on a stand that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 5:15, showing people through our sanctified lives that:
For some people though, God puts a different role on their heart within His mission; to spread His gospel to those from different nations than their own. Over the past few years, I have been blessed to see a specific part of what God is doing amongst unreached people groups in East Africa.
When I arrived in Hailsham, I remember Si telling me about the men and women that he knew who were risking their lives to share the gospel in hostile territories. The stories of these men and women inspired me, they took me back to childhood and hearing stories of the early church meeting in secret under the reigns of individuals such as Nero. It reminded me of stories I had heard as a child about missionaries from decades gone by who left all they had to spread the gospel to those who did not know of God’s saving love.
It wasn’t long before I was asking about the conferences, the translation work, the individuals and praying for the work. In April 2018 I was blessed to go out to one of the conferences being run in E. Africa and ever since I have taken every opportunity given to travel to Africa and spend time with the men and women who God loves so dearly, and inspire me.
During these past 3 years I have graduated from Moorlands Bible College with my degree specialising in Cross-Cultural Work. Through that time, I have spoken to many people about different theological frameworks surrounding mission and discussed the merits of both long and short term mission. This article has not been written to pit these against each other, as it would be strange to read an article on the merits of long-term mission from an individual who has not experienced this. I do, however, have experience of short-term mission and over the next couple of articles I want to give a couple of members of the church a space to speak about their experiences on short term mission (STM). For this first blog I would like to speak a little bit about the amazing positives and dangers of short-term mission trips and say about how they can be an amazing tool for local church world-wide.
There are two factors genuinely accepted when defining short term mission:
There is no airtight agreement on minimum and maximum periods for short-term, however most people these days would say that anything beyond a year looks like medium-term and then long-term. STM trips, therefore, can be anything from a few days to over half a year. STM trips often focus on the support of existing projects, working with existing communities and supporting local people. This can be in practical ways such as community outreach programmes, or through teaching and spiritual investment; within church trips there will often be a combination of the two.
One of the biggest dangers when planning STM trips is the motivation. We are called to go on mission to work with our brothers and sisters in Christ to spread the gospel of Jesus. Too often I have seen mission trips that go with colonial goals, to impose Western ideals on local churches; this cultural superiority is often based on pride. This pride can be under the radar in a lot of our everyday thinking but is highlighted when we are put into a different culture and the stresses and strains of missional living. There is also the danger to go on mission trips to dissuade ‘western guilt’ and that the idea of travelling to an impoverished nation to help will let us feel better about the comfy and often consumer-based lifestyle we so often live in. Something I have learnt over the time of being on mission trips, that those who succeed in building missional relationships have the humility to know it is often more important to learn and listen than to teach and do.
When looking at the motivation of mission, one must not look any further than Philippians 2:4-7:
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.Philippians 2:4-7
The example of Jesus is that mission should look like humbling ourselves, mission should look like sacrifice and mission should look like love…God’s love!
An article I recently read spoke about 7 reasons why you should go on a mission trip:
J. Lee Grady, ‘Seven Reasons You Should Go on a Short-Term Mission Trip’, CharismaNews, 2014, https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/44600-7-reasons-you-should-go-on-a-short-term-mission-trip.
If you are passionate about these 7 things, go for mission! If you read this list and your priorities are not there, take some time.
One important point to make is also that this motivation and impact will shift over time. One off trips, or irregular trips often have more impact on the person who is going as they learn more about the new cultures and listen to what God is doing and inspire them in their walk in Christ. On the other hand, as one takes regular short-term mission trips, working with the same churches and organisations the ‘missionary’ will have a larger impact on their surroundings. This will happen naturally as they become more comfortable in the relationships they build, but also they will often be asked to speak into situations more as they have proven themselves to be God focused, teachable and humble. These are the characteristics of someone ready to be used by God.
Another danger that some STM trips fall into is not having a clear focus to why they are going; or have not thought about the way that their mission will impact a local community. Darren Carlson in his article on STM for the Gospel Coalition says this:
I have seen with my own eyes or know of houses in Latin America that have been painted 20 times by 20 different short-term teams; fake orphanages in Uganda erected to get Westerners to give money; internet centres in India whose primary purpose is to ask Westerners for money; children in African countries purposefully mutilated by their parents so they would solicit sympathy while they beg; a New England-style church built by a Western team in Cameroon that is never used except when the team comes to visit…
Darren Carlson, ‘Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips’, The Gospel Coalition, 18 June 2012, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-you-should-consider-cancelling-your-short-term-mission-trips/.
This quote breaks my heart; and inspires me in all that we do to make sure that our mission is focused, effective and that we partner with local godly men and women to make sure this does not occur.
When I look to Blessed Hope School, I praise God that we are partnered with Emmanuel and Precious. This couple care for every one of the students at the school and know the community to the point in which they can make sure the neediest are put forward for our sponsorship programme. They know the best use of money for the school and the children; that was the reason behind building the dormitories before the classrooms all had nicely plastered walls. Our western brains tell us “that seems important to have walls on a classroom”, Emmanuel knew that what many of the children needed was a safe place to sleep so that they could continue their education. So often we seek to have an impact and we mould that in our image. It is so much better that the impact is moulded around the need for the community and how they can seek to show Christ within their cultures.
It is also worth mentioning that another danger of STM is efficiency when assessing a situation. There are many examples of western organisations and churches spending large sums of money on buildings that are not in-keeping with the local culture and cost sometimes ten times the amount of local buildings. This is seen within Darren Carlson’s article on the New England church in Cameroon. The answer to this simple: humility. Ask local leaders, believers, friends, on what is going to be the best help in a situation; hand over running of projects to indigenous people where possible to empower and build strong partnerships. This is often the most efficient way to run and succeed in STM.
Hopefully you have seen within my earlier section on motivation that it is not a bad thing for STM trips to have an impact on the traveller. In fact, it is an amazing truth behind sending groups on mission that they will experience new culture, people, lives, and it will change the way that they view the world. Within the next couple of months in the following articles you will hopefully see how STM trips have affected individuals within ChristChurch and inspired them to greater acts of faith in their walk with Christ.
The dangers of STM however comes in the extremes: either there is no visible change, or guilt at normal life can come into play. Both are dangerous, the former showing that the experience has not changed your heart to the point of action; the latter bringing out anxiety and fear. To combat these, we need to look back to that Philippians 2 passage. It is clear from Jesus’ ministry that faith should call us to action, His very mission was one of action, it led him to the cross and out of the grace. To teach of Jesus’ truth but not act on it is not to follow his example. However, to live in condemnation for the life that we have been given by God is also not to follow his example. We are called to give up all that we have for Him; to fear losing what we have gained on this earth for Christ, is to emulate the rich man who comes to Jesus and leaves in sorrow for He has a lot of wealth, the idol was his wealth, but his chain was his fear to lose it. God loves a cheerful giver, one who is a wise steward but gives all that they are to the work of God. This is the narrow road that Jesus calls us to walk.
In conclusion, hopefully you can see that none of these factors suggest that STM is wrong or doomed to fail. It is rather that they should be undertaken far more carefully and prayerfully, so that the ones that run are of lasting benefit and conducted in genuine partnerships with the local community over the long term. We love the partnerships we have with churches in Bulgaria, East Africa, Mexico and more and would love to see more STM trips running over the coming years. There are amazing benefits to short-term mission for both the sending and receiving church, but it must be God focused and Community minded; with a heart attitude of how can I serve rather than what can I teach. It is also important to note the essential nature that the body of Christ has in prayer, though not all are called to travel for mission, all are called to cry out to God for His glory to be spread among the nations, for every tribe and nation and tongue to worship Him as King of Kings.
If you would like to learn more about these trips please contact Si or one of the other leaders in the church.