I’ve seen a lot of articles floating around on the interwebz lately about “short-term missions” and since I have spent most of my life overseas on the mission field, I though I might throw a few of my random thoughts around. These articles, combined with my tiny bit of experience, have raised some of the following questions in my mind:
Are short-term mission trips effective in advancing the KOG (kingdom of God)?
Does a handful of rich, white kids spending a week in Guatemala or Kenya or the Philippines really have any eternal impact? Or are they just wasting time and resources that could be put towards other things?
Is this what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 28: 18-19 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
I am so freaking analytically. It is something that God has really been trying to show me the futility of lately. Whenever I look at these questions I just want to gather up all the numbers and punch them into a giant formula. All the people saved. All the kids who decide to be missionaries. All the dollars spent on the trips. I somehow think that if I can just factor everything into the mother of all equations, I will be able to press the big, fat ENTER button and watch as it spits out the universal YES/NO answer that I wish existed. But alas, that’s just not how it works.
Every situation is different, and for every situation God’s perfect will might be different. Any time we, as finite humans, try to pretend we know exactly what God’s will in a situation is, I believe that He sees that as an opportunity to completely wreck our sense of who He is. In a wonderful way. Because any time we think we have Father’s plan figured out, we place ourselves on the same level with Him. Which means we have a long, long way to fall when what we expect or believe turns out to be not quite equal to reality.
SO… I’m not actually going to answer any of those questions. I don’t think Father wants me to.
Instead, I want to draw attention to a little story. It can be found in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8. I would encourage you to meditate on it if the Holy Spirit has ever called you to do something that other people tell you is illogical and wasteful. Even other people who follow Jesus.
“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
The Disciples, the very people who had followed Jesus around for the last three years were simply being logical. the perfume was known as “nard” and it was worth a small fortune. Approximately a million dollars in today’s economy. imagine how many orphans and widows could have been provided for with that money? Yet Mary wastes it all by smearing it on Jesus. What the heck Mary? Way to be wasteful….
But that is not what Jesus says, instead, He sees her heart and knows that she is giving Him the most valuable thing she owns. This sacrifice seems like a complete waste to the rest of the world because they can’t grasp the bigger picture. They had no idea that the son of God would be with them for only another week before His death. Everywhere He went for the next week, the scent of nard followed Him. Its beautiful smell permeated every situation and conversation by reminding Jesus of His ultimate purpose on earth; to redeem all of humanity by His sacrifice.
In the same way the disciples couldn’t see the eternal effects of Mary’s illogical sacrifice, I often overlook the eternal impact that short-term mission trips have on the KOG.
Where I might be guilty of seeing an expensive, inefficient, needy group of white kids wondering helpless around a foreign country whining about mosquito bites and sunburn, Father sees an unstoppable army of Jesus-followers rising up to break down the gates of hell.
And where I see an effective, experienced long-term missionary giving their life away in the jungles of who-knows-where, God might see a wolf spreading false truth and yoking people with religion. Our perceptions are often not parallel with reality.
In that case, It really all comes down to the Holy Spirit’s leading, If He tells you to go, then GO with boldness. If He tells you to give, then GIVE with joy. If He tells you to dump perfume all over someone… then… DUMP AWAY!
By the way, check out this Chica’s blog, it doesn’t reflect my opinion entirely, but It does spark some very interesting thoughts. http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2012/04/healthy-short-term-missions-do-it-like.html
Also, I am planning on approaching this topic again in the near future, so I would greatly appreciate any experiences and thoughts you would care to share. Thanks!