Imagine you work at your church. One day you get a call and it is a pastor from Venezuela who wants to bring thirty eighteen to twenty year olds to your city to do a mission trip. Two weeks they want to “partner” with you and your congregation. You will need to provide housing and food for them, as well as transportation for the whole two weeks. You will need to set up service projects to keep them busy, like painting, feeding the hungry, building a house for someone, and also a few tourist activities so they can experience and enjoy your city too. None of the people coming speak English, so you will need to provide enough translators for the group so that they can communicate. Oh, they will also take over your Sunday morning services to sing, preach through a translator and encourage your people for at least one week, if not both that they are there.
Would this be something that your church would consider a blessing? Would it help the ministry of your church? Would you even consider doing it?
What if you were walking down the street and a Mongolian man walked up to you, gets out “Good morning sir”, and then through his friend, a translator, asks if you can chat. He then proceeds to tell you about a peace that can be found through a god whose name you have never heard, and asks you to convert. He even gives you a little booklet that outlines the basics of his faith.
Would you stop and give him the time of day? Would you have the patience to listen to him talk to you and respond to him through a translator? Would someone from a different country, who speaks a different language and has no idea what your life is like, your values or concerns, have an ability to speak into where you place your hope and trust for eternity?
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
– Matt 28.18-20
Christians have been given the commandment to make disciples of all the nations. Every tribe, every people group, ever language will be represented in eternity (Rev 5.9). And it depends on those who know Jesus to take Him to those who do not. Crossing cultural, language and social barriers is part of the missionary calling. Jesus said,
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”
– Matt 19.29
But this phenomenon of short term mission trips whereby we think we are changing the world by taking our vacation time in a country with a group of thirty of our closest friends is new. And difficult. It is permeated by our narcissism, thinking that we are truly giving these people a benefit by our presence, and our ethnocentricity, thinking that since we have so much, everyone else is unfortunate and lacking because they do not have what we have.
Would you believe that there are Christians in China who pray for the American Church because they think we have too much stuff and we are enslaved to our lifestyles? They feel badly for us because we have too much. We feel badly for them because they have too little.
If a mission trip’s predominant outcome is to bring home the missionaries praising God for what they have, then it was unsuccessful. If the goal is to help the Americans appreciate the blessings that they have, the toys, the church, the house, the food…then it is most certainly not a mission trip, but a reality check. Yes, it is important for Americans to get over themselves and to realize that the rest of the world does not live how the Western World lives. But the solution is not the make them like us.
The more mature churches are living in war-time mentality. What happens in war time? People ration themselves. They give time, energy and supplies to the battle lines. Food is rationed, car factories are turned into airplane factories, people are sent to the front lines, and life revolves around the battle. The persecuted church is not building mega church buildings. They are harboring one another, praying for one another, digging into the Word of God and trusting Him for their provisions and salvation. They do not have multi-million dollar sound systems, lights and a tightly scheduled service. They love God. They enjoy Him. And they fellowship with others who do the same. They are not on a schedule because to unite before God is a great blessing.
So who has the greater blessing? The church who has to preform to attract outsiders, and get them out in time to beat the lunch rush? Or those who give everything they have just to gather secretly to pray, sing and fellowship? Who needs to learn from whom?
Can short term missions be successful? Absolutely. But a few things are necessary to understand. First of all, we must partner with someone on the ground who wants and needs our efforts. It is very possible that a missionary in Cambodia needs help building an orphanage. But will paying for a group of teenagers who have never laid brick before be the best solution? Or would sending the funds to hire a national mason to build it make more sense? With what does the missionary truly need help? What will make an eternal impact?
The second thing we must remember is that a mission trip, while it will impact those who go, should not have the focus of discipleship for the travelers but salvation for the lost. We can not and should not make a spectacle of a foreign country or foreign people for the sake of our own Spiritual growth. Will we grow? Absolutely. But we will grow by seeking their salvation and long-term discipleship. So we must partner with those people on the ground who can disciple, teach, train and grow into churches those people who respond. If we lead someone to the Truth and then abandon them without someone to teach and fellowship with them, we have done them a grave disservice.
So go. Make disciples. But you cannot do that in two weeks. Discipleship is a lifelong process. If you cannot stay long term, then you must, MUST partner with someone who will stay long term. And ask them how you can best fit into their strategy to reach the lost around them. Many missionaries groan to host teams. Let’s become a joy and a pleasure to them by understanding their work, partnering in their work and furthering their effort by being humble, teachable, and realizing that perhaps we do not have to bring physical aid. Perhaps the lost do not need our clothes, our money, our stuff, or workmanship – perhaps they simply need Jesus.