Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Short-term Outreaches (5)

Bob Roberts starts one paragraph in his book, Glocalization, with the heading: Stop Thinking Short Term. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed when reading this, because I sincerely believe that short-term outreaches are beneficial in more than one way. Do a search on my blog for short-term and you will find a number of places where I shared my thoughts on this topic – many of them very positive.
It was only after I read the paragraph that I grasped what he was trying to say and this made me excited, because he was saying what I also firmly believe, just using other words in which to describe it. He writes: Stop thinking of short-term trips! Instead, think of global business, education, health, art, and so on.
If I understand him correctly, the problem with many people going on short-term outreaches, is that they only focus on that specific trip. The trip is their goal, the single visit to the foreign country is their vision. Returning from that trip, they have accomplished their goal and can concentrate on a new goal.
For short-term outreaches to be really effective, we need to have another vision and another goal. The short-term outreach then becomes one of the methods in which we achieve our goal. Does this make sense? Instead of just concentrating on getting a team together and handling all the logistics in order for the outreach to take place, we need to be better focussed on what we are intending to do in the country that we plan to visit. How are we going to get involved on the long term in order to influence the ministry and country which we intend to support in a more permanent way. One of the ways in which to do this would then be a short-term outreach, possibly undertaken annually, but always with the intention of reaching a greater goal than only undertaking the trip.
I can think of a number of reasons why people are not always keen to do things this way. Many of those going on short-term outreaches are naturally adventurous and to go back to the same place year after year may seem very boring after a while. Churches also seem to be reluctant to make long term commitments. Could this be because of small faith? I’m not always sure why, but I see very few churches really able to commit themselves to a long term relationship with a church in another country or within another community. Another reason may well be because churches do not always know why they are going on a short-term outreach.
Having received scores of short-term outreach groups in Swaziland over the past 23 years and having experienced the good and the bad of these trips, I believe that there are ways in which these trips could be planned to have a more lasting effect. Prior communication, and by this I mean in depth discussions, is essential. I have had groups coming to visit where the discussions beforehand consisted mainly on issues such as sleeping and cooking facilities. I have also had teams coming to visit where long discussions were held on what they could expect, how they could become involved, what the real needs are, sometimes even preceded by a visit from one or two leaders to see for themselves how the team should be prepared.
Yet, in spite of proper preparation, the majority of these short-term outreaches take place once and then very little happens afterwards.
I therefore absolutely agree that we need to think long term. Which all boils down (again) to the issue of relationships between Christians from different backgrounds and the willingness to get truly involved with each other.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007 - Posted by | Bob Roberts, Building relations, Church, Dialogue, Mission, Partnership, Short-term outreaches, Sustainability, Swaziland

1 Comment »

  1. […] Outreaches (6) Exactly one day after previously posting (once again!) some thoughts on short-term outreaches, an article appeared in Christianity Today’s electronic version about the same topic. You can […]

    Pingback by Short-term Outreaches (6) « Mission Issues | Tuesday, December 11, 2007 | Reply

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