Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Great STM advice from Mike Gunn
I Just returned from my 17th trip to Visakhapatnam, India and working with my good friend Arjuna and his wonderful ministry, Vision Nationals (). I have been speaking at his pastor’s conferences and training his church planters for the better part of 14 years, and have seen wonderful results and growth. The churches I ministered in have accompanied me on many of these trips to work with the kids in his children’s home, and it has definitely been a blessing to the kids and those on the trip, and a great ongoing partnership for my church and the ministry in India.
Unfortunately, many decry these types of “Short Term” missions as “harmful” to the nationals. Everyone seems to be an expert, especially those that have never lived overseas. The potential dangers are, doing for the nationals what they could be doing for themselves, causing unwarranted dependency on the "Sending" agency, forcing western values on the culture you are “Ministering” in, and ignorantly giving information that is unhelpful, or even hurtful to the culture. All of these things of course are harmful and all too often true, but they do not need to be. The eradication of short-term missions would be a huge knee reaction to the problem (Something the church seems to be very good at). We need to jettison our sad stories, and “Wasted” money mind-set, for some thoughtful re-thinking of this type of mission, and think toward the positive impact they can have on the ongoing ministries they are partnering with. I’ve heard one too many “A group went to build a wall for the poor impoverished people only to be torn down 2 months later for something they really needed.” Or, “They all raised money to vacation in Haiti and called it a mission trip.” Or my favorite, “Why are all these people on mission overseas, when they aren’t on mission in their own back yard?” These may all be true, but they are beside the point. Since when has ignorance, arrogance and misappropriation stopped any church programming? If it did, we ought to all pack up and do something else.
I had our group read “When Helping Hurts” on this last trip and it is a wonderful book on poverty and this very subject, and I am thankful that although they cautioned against short term missions, they, unlike others, did not throw the baby out with the bath water. If everyone stopped doing short-term missions, many useful partnerships would be destroyed, and American individualism would reign. We can no longer have a mentality that if you can’t move overseas, you can’t minister overseas. Thankfully, Paul didn’t have this mentality. He had at least 3 missions in the NT, and except for 3 years in Ephesus and 1 year in Antioch, he traveled quite a bit and maintained relationships through visits and letters. In an age of technology, we can do this through emails, Skype and short term visits!
We are called to “Go” into the whole world with the gospel, but my fear is that we are developing a bunker mentality that works in our back yard, but fails to go to the nations. This is itself a reaction to poor missions during the 19th and 20th centuries. While church planting and training is imperative in the “Reached” world, we need to continue to partner with our brothers and sisters overseas, creating a “Glocal” partnership in all of our churches rather than a “Let them do it themselves mentality.” The authors of “When Helping Hurts” have given us some solid advice to make short-term missions more effective and less hurtful for everyone involved:
1. Make sure the host organization understands the issues behind poverty
2. Make sure the "Mission" is a result of request and need from the host community
3. Design the trip as a “Being” and “Learning” experience more than a “Doing” experience.
4. Ensure that the trip avoids a “Paternalist” mentality
5. Keep the team small
6. Create a solid Assessment for your teams
7. Stay away from the “Go and help save them” mentality, and create a "go an learn" mentality
8. Do not advertise the trip as “Fun” and “Adventurous”
9. Use “Vision Trip” vs. Mission Trip in your presentation of the trip to your people
10. Stay away from presenting trip as “Doing Missions,” when it is not, and denigrates full time mission work
11. Restrict the trip to people who have demonstrated a mission mentality in the US
12. Have the trip be a culmination of a class/learning experience that everyone is required to take (This book is a very good start for a class!)
13. Have a post trip learning experience to capitalize on the trip
14. Require every member to pay a portion of the trip from their own pockets
15. Donate as much of the raised money as you can to the host community
These are some of the suggestions that we have adhered to in the past and are very helpful, and can make an ongoing short term mission a blessing for both those going, and the host community. I would add that creating "Glocal" partnerships in the gospel is the goal, and not doing random, disconnected trips. Paul gave thanks for the Philippians "Partnership" in the gospel, and I believe it is imperative for the health of our churches to be focused on a larger gospel than our own back yards.
I know that expressing these thoughts put me on the chopping block of criticism, but I feel that it needs to be expressed so our own plants do not become ingrown, and self serving. I can take the heat, so what do you think? Blessings!