Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Once again: Short-term mission outreaches!

Once again! And while this blog is up and running, this topic will appear again and again. If you care to see my previous posts about the same topic, click on this link: https://missionissues.wordpress.com/?s=short-term
I’ve just said goodbye to a great team of students from the Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, USA. As I’m writing this, they’re on their way to Miami to be reunited with their families. When I work with a team like this, I always have to ask myself the question whether it is worthwhile. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into an outreach like this. The people making the trip are investing huge amounts of money and when they leave, they want to know that they have made a difference.
Two things sparked this topic today. In July I’m expecting another team from the USA and we are working hard (meaning myself and those who will be coming) on making this a meaningful visit to Swaziland. Wendi Hammond, the one with whom I’m communicating about this trip posted something about her view on short-term outreaches which you can read here. But then I also read an article in Christianity Today about the same topic, which is really worth reading. The title is Global is the New Local.
There’s a number of arguments against short-term outreaches. Wendi touched on one of them in her blog, which is: Why go to a far-off country if there is so much need right where you are? And this is indeed a very valid argument. A few things can be said about this. It’s never one or the other. Michelle Guzman wrote in a comment on Wendi’s post why she feels that she is called to come to Swaziland. Absolutely worth reading! Do what God wants you to do, whether it’s close or far. The downside of this argument (and the most people using this argument, in my experience, fall into this category) is that people are actually saying: If you get involved in another place, you make me feel guilty. Somebody has to take care of the local needs and if you’re not here to do it, then who will? So rather remain behind, take care of the local needs and I can go on with my life. Or something to that effect. If someone goes on a mission trip to avoid getting involved locally, then that is wrong. But the reality is that many people return from a mission trip abroad and get more involved in the local community, because often people undergo a heart change while on a mission trip.
The other argument is that the money could rather have been sent to the country where the outreach would have taken place. This sounds logical. Unfortunately it won’t happen. We need to see and feel and smell and taste the needs of people, before we will really get involved with this. And, in any case, for too long have we seen people writing out cheques while relaxing in front of their TVs, believing that they have then fulfilled their mission obligation. Obviously not everybody can go on a short-term outreach. But those who do, need to go back to their own communities and become advocates for the cause to which they were exposed, wherever that may be.
I have seen the positive effects of short-term outreaches. To be honest, I’ve also seen the negative effects (fortunately, not recently). When done in the right way, with the right attitude, with a teachable spirit, focused on building relationships rather than just solving problems, short-term outreaches can possibly become the greatest learning school that any Christian can be exposed to.


Thursday, June 4, 2009 - Posted by | Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Indigenous church, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology


  1. Thanks for these thoughts.
    A friend of mine recently wrote on some of the same issues:

    Comment by Tom Smith | Thursday, June 4, 2009 | Reply

  2. My time in Swaziland motivated me to get involved with HIV/AIDS in my own community in the USA (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). This is an area that I never would have even thought of before heading to Swaziland. I have now been regularly visiting (every two weeks) an HIV/AIDS residence home along with a few of my friends for over six months.

    Comment by timdel | Sunday, June 7, 2009 | Reply

    • Somehow Timdel, it seems to me like your story is how it’s supposed to work. Mission being a “both/and” type of arrangement. You followed the Lord’s leading to Swaziland and then allowed Him to show you how that experience is to be lived out day-to-day in your mission field at home. That seems like a Ro. 8:28 kind of experience, God using “all things together for good.”

      I told the story on my blog (http://swazi-team.blogspot.com) in an attempt to express emotions I felt about the response so many brothers and sisters here at home had after NOT going on their annual Mexico mission trip this year. I heard comments like; “Wow, we didn’t realize there was so much mission work here in our own back yard,” and “The Lord decided to use us here at home this year,” and “we were so blessed by blessing our nearby neighbor this year.” Working for an organization that has been slugging it out to reach lost kids in our community for 60+ years, it’s hard not to be a little discouraged by comments like these. And, it’s now June and, unlike in your story, we haven’t experienced any higher level of engagement from local churches since the “ah-ha” moments of over 700 people who spread out serving local mission agencies over spring break. Why isn’t it just as (more) “romantic” to reach lost local kids that someone can continue in relationship with as it is to reach a kid in Mexico who I’ll see again?


      Comment by Wendi | Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | Reply

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