28 April, 2016

Wrong name for short cross-cultural ministry trips?

Last night I read an article about short-term missions and the need for a name change. I'm extra tired at the moment and probably shouldn't have read it so late, but I did and here's where it's taken me. (Perhaps not too coherently: it's been hard to write this so obviously I am tired and a bit stressed and should stay away from longer blog posts at the moment.)

I work with short-term coordinators in our mission because I am the portal for enquiries via the OMF Japan website. I'm often sending enquiries off to those who deal with this specialised ministry. And from what I've seen, there are many enquiries and those dealing with them are stressed, overloaded. I think it is good that we're getting more and more of these, but maybe it isn't. 

It's good because it means that lots of people want to come and work in Japan for a short while, often because they feel a tug towards serving overseas or simply that they've got some free time and want to use it for something meaningful.

It's not good because it can mean that people feel once they've been on a trip like that, that they've "ticked the box" on their missions urge and then move on in their lives. It means that they can ignore the fact that people coming for just a short time to Japan isn't going to change the situation in Japan (substitute any country you like in there). In the end a trip to a mission field for a short time is generally more about the person who did it than about the people to whom they've gone. Although I do admit that it a trip like this can be a catalyst to changing to a long-term cross-cultural vocation.

I also wonder if it also diverts funds away from people who are willing to live their lives long-term. After all it is easier for people who want to support mission to give a once-off donation than to give every month for many years. 

There are lots of articles out there about the down-side of these short trips. It's not a new discussion. For example: The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and Center for Student Missions in the US. Short-term missions has been called "Christian Tourism" and a "Waste of Money". What's the truth?

Here is the article I read last night.

The author makes the point that we don't have short-term dentists or social workers, short-term youth workers. Why do we call the trips people do to places like Japan to help cross-cultural workers who live there, "short term"? He's also taken exception to the use of "long-term missions" as it tends to single out those of us doing it as different to anyone else's vocation.

Truly, it is a convenient word "missionary" but I'm beginning to wonder if it's coming to the end of its use. It really has so many misconceptions associated with it that I think in many situations it is more unhelpful than helpful.

Then we go pairing "short term" with it and it becomes even more unhelpful.

In traditional language "I did a short-term trip" to Indonesia in 1993. In actual fact it was called a "Study Tour" and that is what I generally call it. It was clear that we were there learning about missions, we weren't "doing missions". 

The article I read last night suggests several other useful titles like learning exchanges, discernment retreats, and exposure or vision trips. The last one is a term I'm hearing more and more recently. These terms are descriptive, they openly describe the goal of the trip. I like this idea.

What are your thoughts?


Georgia said...

I heard a testimony from a person who is working here with our mission for a couple years. They said that short term missions in their view were more about serving the short termer than the short termer serving missions.

And then there's me.

Cassie said...

I just recently returned from a short-term mission trip to Helene, Honduras. I was in charge of leading our small team of 10 people and I think perhaps it is no different than anything else. If we become caught up in the "title" we lose sight all together. Whether 10 days or 10 years, to go to another place out of faith in the Lord and what He can do and is doing, we are all in the missions field. Our mission is the Great Commission. We were not spectators when we went to Honduras for one week. We fully participated. While our goal was not to "save" the islanders, it was to encourage and support the long-term missionaries. Perhaps you are right though. Perhaps changing the titles will give a better understanding and change the overall vision and outlook. If the title is a hindrance to God's work...we should change it. Simply put, if it has become a stumbling block for our brothers and sisters in Christ than it needs to have a face lift!

Wendy said...

Thanks for stopping by Cassie. I agree that if the title has become a hinderance then it is better that we change it. It does concern me that short-term teams can think that they are helping those who are there for a longer term, but they do often cause a lot of extra work beforehand in preparing for the visit, not to mention during the visit. We love visitors ourselves, but they can be stressful and time-consuming, drawing us away from the work that we're here to do. Of course I don't know your exact situation, but I just say what I know to be true in our own lives and what I've observed of other cross-cultural workers who are located here for the long-term.

Wendy said...

Georgia, yes, there's you! You've been here long enough to not be a big time drain for those of us here are here already. I don't even know what I'd call you, not "short-termer" or "long-termer", maybe "servant hearted"?