Short-term mission: why and why not

There are compelling reasons not to do short-term mission!  

Climate change

Those impacted the most by climate change (poorer countries without the resources to deal with natural disasters) are often the recipients of well-meaning short-term missionaries (STMs). If a person taking a long-haul flight uses more CO2 in that one flight than the average person in their destination country uses in a whole year, surely that’s doing more harm than good?

Dependence

If we want our STMs to feel they have accomplished something meaningful and significant during their stay, our focus will be on physical things. Things that the locals cannot (for economic reasons) build or fix up themselves. But what is better: a community that pulls together to build a leaky lean-to where they can gather on Sundays to worship or a community that is waiting for the missionaries to return to fix the malfunctioning toilets which have made their brick-built church unusable for the past 10 months?

Culture and Relationship

We cannot engage beyond a superficial level with somebody we have known for just a few weeks. Multiply that by ten if they live in a different culture and by a thousand if they speak a different language. An STM has relatively little opportunity to share the Gospel in a meaningful way. The Lord may be gracious and create the perfect opportunity with somebody whose heart is pre-prepared, but such stories are rare.

So why do we do it?

Crosslinks continues to engage in short-term mission because we see beyond the material. We integrate our short-termers with existing long-term mission partners or with indigenous projects with which we have partnerships. This means that, when the STM arrives, they come under the guiding hand of experienced people, who are a part of the communities in which they serve. They have done the hard work of engaging with, bearing with, loving and being loved by the people in those communities. They have been working hard to build reciprocal relationships of trust.

God's Word to God's World (2 Timothy 3:16)

Crosslinks insists that all its missions are engaged in gospel-focused work – that is, in taking 'God’s Word to God’s World'.  This can only be achieved through intense language learning, cultural integration and relationship building. The focus on word ministry limits the type of dependency that often arises through building type projects.

Training Trainers (Matthew 13:31-33)

Crosslinks focuses on the concept of training trainers. We want a long-term mission partne's legacy to be one that grows and matures (as the word does in Matthew 13), rather than one which deteriorates over time (as with a physical building). We want to see locals being trained and built up, rather than disempowered.

We are united in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29 and Luke 3:11)

Crosslinks recognises that all Christians are united in the Gospel – on every level. The Bible speaks of both the materially poor, and the poor in spirit. Neither is ever elevated above the other (Leviticus 19:15). Christians are encouraged to share all that they have – and that extends beyond material wealth. Luke (3:11) says to share, not give! I allowed my homeless friend to buy me lunch, because he needed to show me that he valued our friendship far more than he needed an extra few dollars in his pocket.  

Conclusion

Great damage has been done by ill thought-out mission (long, short and colonial). But when we focus on a biblical mandate we have a better chance of fulfilling the Great Commission to go and serve the nations.

This blog was written following a round table discussion hosted by Global Connections on 6 April 2022.

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Jaki North

Jaki is part of our London office team. She's involved in all aspects of sending short-term volunteers: interviewing candidates, organising placements, providing training before departure and debriefing people on their return. She organises placements for church and gap year teams as well as individuals and couples. She also looks after our project partners.