“Short-term missions doesn’t change the world but it does create world changers.”
We typically categorize a short-term missionary as someone who is planning on living in a particular country from anywhere between three months to two years. Short-term missionaries are a vital part of boosting a long-term work. They come alongside to undergird the work that the long-term missionaries are doing and help bring fresh vision, energy and fellowship. They come with excitement and then after a short time are able to take back real life updates to their churches to help boost the excitement back home. Also, it is these short-term missionaries that will more often then not become long-term missionaries or will greatly impact their home culture for the Gospel (hence the “create world changers” part of the quote). Here are some does and don’ts for the short-term missionary:
- Come as a learner. Remember you are not in-charge and you don’t know everything (to put it bluntly). The long-term missionaries have been there and they will probably be there after you are gone. It is their ministry that you are coming to support. You need to learn from them and heed their council.
- Listen to what you are told. The long-term missionary is in charge. Of coarse you have a vision for a specific task and you should have already communicated and received approval from the long-term missionary way before your plane landed. However, you need to listen to the methods that they give you. They have learned a lot more about the do’s and don’ts of the culture and are your best guides towards success. Also, remember that someone is going to need to pic up the torch and carry it after you are gone. So you need to build it in a way that is sustainable for the mission team that is there long-term.
- Recognize that you are an under-rower. You are going to support a ministry not lead the charge or come in as “God’s gift to the ministry.” Excursus a little humility. You can make mistakes out of ignorance that will affect the ministry for years after you are gone. I have spoken with many long-term missionaries that have been greatly frustrated as hosting short-term missionaries/team. Because they don’t come in with a vision to support but to lead and now it becomes the long term missionary’s job to babysit and follow while the missionary/team is on the ground instead of leading the ministry he/she was called to do.
- Always defer to the long-term missionary. Never make any promises or commitment without speaking to the long-term missionary. When I was in Africa we would host short-term teams a few times a year. I would always tell them to never make any promises and to remember that anything besides a sharp sounding “no” in this culture is a “yes.” Inevitably, when the team would leave I would have a line of Africans at my door coming to claim the promises that the short-term team made. Usually is sounded something like this – “I asked so-and-so-short-term’er for help with school fees and they told me that they would pray about it (remember anything but a sharp sounding “no” is a “yes.”). So I have come to collect my school fees.” Now I was stuck in a rock and a hard place of having to pay for this individuals school fees or risk the ministry/missionaries as getting labeled as liars in the community. We dealt with this by assigning one individual long-term missionary as the point guy for all requests. We would tell everyone on the team that if anyone asks you for anything you tell them to go and speak with so-and-so.
- Don’t be self-centered. Often times short-term team members motivation for going on a trip revolves around adventure, sit seeing, experience, etc… none of these things are bad and every short-term team should have these elements in their plan. However, you need to recognize that it is not ultimately about you but about the ministry the Lord has prepared. Ultimately, make sure your (or your teams) focus is in check.
- Don’t be critical. This is similar to a few of the points listed above. You need to recognize that even though you might have ministry experience back home you are in a radically different context and things on the mission field are not going to function like they do in America (for example). In Africa the concept of “on time” is a very open idea. They are not time oriented like the west. They have a task and as long as they get it done it does not matter if it takes one hour or five and it does not matter how many times they need to stop their for interruptions like people stopping to say hello. You need to understand the culture and expertise a little patience. If you do not understand something or think something could be done in a better way go to the long term missionary and in a very humble way ask them to explain why they do certain things in a certain way. You will probably learn a lot of things that at first will completely conflict with your cultural world view but recognize that is ok and that is the process of stripping that you need to go through to be useful in that particular cross cultural ministry.