Many of you probably already read the wildly popular blog, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary. Others of you should surely check it out — but not ALL of you. TVWM‘s popularity is due, in my opinion, to unabashed honesty and in-your-face transparency, which is refreshing to many of us. But candid writing of this sort surely is polarizing. So some of you will not like Jamie’s blog.
All of that said, Jamie, a long-term missionary in Costa Rica, has been writing a fair amount lately about short-term missions (a topic which can also be somewhat polarizing). For a taste, read Hugs for Jesus, which is a snapshot of what I consider to be short-term missions at its worst.
As you might suspect, I often find myself thinking about mission strategies, both long- and short-term. And I sometimes — should you catch me in a mood — complain that I’m in favor of doing away with short-term missions. But I suppose, to be more accurate, I should say merely that I fall on the side of wanting to improve short-term missions — but improve them drastically, to the point that most organizers of short-term works would not be willing to put in the time and effort required to do a truly worthwhile trip. [On that note, it’s interesting to me that we’re willing to put thousands of dollars into short-term projects, but we’re not willing to put in an extra 5-10 hours a week in order to make those projects worthwhile.]
Those who call for an end to short-term missions are, in my estimation, both shortsighted and not grounded in reality. We all know short-term mission trips will continue to exist. And I would hope we all realize there are numerous ways to radically improve these works.
It’s likely that many of those calling for an end to short-term missions are long-term missionaries who better understand the difficulties of ministering in another culture and, therefore, more clearly see the short-comings of short-term efforts. It’s also likely, though, that many of these very same long-term missionaries are themselves products of short-term missions on some level or another. I would love to see a show of hands; how many long-term missionaries reading this post first participated in short-term work? [My hand is up.]
Don’t hear me saying “we ought to allow short-term missions to exist as is because they’re working — after all, look at all these long-term missionaries.” That’s not my argument. My point is merely that the answer is not to do away with the entire system of short-term mission efforts.* Rather, the answer is for us to begin to do short-term missions better.
Now — as my regular readers know — I’ve not of late been writing what we’d call… frequently. So I certainly am not willing to call this a series. But I do want to devote some time in the coming weeks to exploring short-term missions. For now, though, I’ll offer just one thought, as it has to do with what I’ve already mentioned:
Creating Long-term Missionaries
If the creation of long-term missionaries gives value to short-term missions (and I’d argue it may be chief among all factors), perhaps we should design our short-term trips with that in mind. We ought to make clear that short-term folks are less doers and more learners. Short-term efforts are less about changing the world today, and more about changing the world tomorrow. We should stress worldview, culture, and language learning. We should model family and team life on the mission field. Participants should spend less time handing out fliers and playing with children, and more time understanding the difficulties of being intentionally subversive in a foreign culture for the sake of the kingdom of God. If short-term missions are truly going to be about the creation of long-term missionaries, let’s make the visitor’s experience as valuable as is possible for the sake of future works.
Your thoughts on short-term missions? Are you a long-term missionary who first spent time in short-term efforts? What would you do to improve short-term trips?