Missions With a Mission
If we are committed to serving a country and truly helping its people, we should consider one of two things: 1) moving there long-term and dedicating ourselves to learning the practices and the ways of the people as we try to help them, or 2) if we aren’t willing or able to move there long-term, entrusting the ministry to nationals as much as possible.
The latter doesn’t mean we can’t partner with these nationals; in fact, I think it’s beautiful when we do. I know of many churches that send short-term teams to the same location for years in a row to develop relationships there, to work on special projects and to develop national leaders so that when they do move on, the nationals feel confident and equipped to continue the work that has been started.
In order for love to be felt on these trips, sacrifice is demanded of us. We cannot go in expecting to show much love if we’re not willing to listen and learn the needs, language or history of the people. Love is our great goal, and this requires us taking up our cross and choosing the Calvary road.
When it comes to short-term trips, they can serve a good purpose—if we understand what that purpose is. But as Robert Lupton says in Toxic Charity, short-term trips are often more accurately described as “religious tourism.” It’s a venture to view another part of the world and how they live, to have our hearts broken for the things that break God’s, and to be changed because of it.
Simply put, these trips are intended to help us more than it helps others.
And that’s OK so long as we don’t go there with the wrong motive or impression: to erase some sense of guilt, or to do an act of service that will somehow “fix” the world.
The majority of kids who go on short-term trips will not become long-term missionaries, says Lupton. Nevertheless, those kids will always have the memory of what they saw, and this memory will no doubt impact how they live even in the developed world—inspiring them to give more to local charities, to sponsor children, and to shop more consciously and ethically.
But there will always be the few who will commit their lives to serving the poor because of what they’ve seen. And they never would have known—never would have had their hearts broken—if it hadn’t been for that short-term trip.
With Them, for God
Upon returning home from Africa last year, I spent months falling on my knees after my family went to bed. I would bow low on the carpet in front of the woodstove and cry. I didn’t do this because I felt guilty. I did it because my heart had been broken for the things that break God’s.
I kept seeing babies lying in the dirt crying for mothers who won’t come because they’re dead. Teenage boys sniffing glue to numb their hunger pains. Grandmothers working 20-hour days to find enough food for their dead daughter’s children, asleep on the dirt floor while chickens defecate around them.
I kept seeing the child I sponsor, and then his mother—the one who’d walked four hours to the children’s home to meet this white stranger who could pay for her child’s education while she slaved away as a peasant farmer unable to make ends meet. And she could barely look in my eyes for it all.