October 23, 2017

Open Forum for Mission Workers

I believe every Christian is involved in the Missio Dei, God’s mission to make his “kingdom come,” his “will be done on earth as it is in heaven” through Christ.

Some people, however, have sensed a special call to take up vocations directly involved in mission activity.

Like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13, they and their faith communities have heard the voice of the Spirit saying, “Set apart ____________ for the work to which I have called them.” The apostolic church seemed to have an understanding that there was a complementary partnership between local congregations and mission teams in fulfilling God’s mission.

Perhaps the mission workers we are asking to share with us at IM today have left their homelands and moved to foreign fields to evangelize, plant churches, do medical work, encourage development, provide education, serve the poor through works of mercy, or provide support services for others who are doing such things.

Perhaps they are involved in their own lands in focused parachurch ministries — inner city missions, youth work, campus ministry, outreach to other groups that need a gospel witness or Christian assistance.

Some provide ministry to fellow Christians and churches through counseling, camps, retreats, literature and media, etc.

Some of these groups are well-known, many, many are not.

Today, I’d like for us to hear from those who are serving in vocational ministries that complement and extend the work of the local church throughout the world.

Mission workers, sound off!

Tell us about your calling, your work, your setting, and anything else that will help us understand and appreciate what God is doing through those called to vocational mission, as well as some of the unique challenges and opportunities you face.

Comments

  1. The Haggard says:

    I am a self-supported, tent-making, missionary in Taiwan. My wife and I can here on a short term summer mission trip and the plea broke our heart. Not happy with the rules and restrictions of many of the organizations we work with, we came on our own dime and have jobs to sustain us here. We have been here 8 years now and have permanent residency. After nearly 25 years a pastor, I am not sure why I ever was happy behind a pulpit… give the tea table, the shady tree, the street cafe… the people in their lives… any day. We work in the small towns outside of the large metropolises. College towns, farm towns, and tourist free zones. There are more temples and idols here than there are 7-11s and Circle Ks in the states. Every home worships their ancestors and the hungry ghosts with shrines in their homes and on the street in front of their homes… and I have never felt the Spirit of God moving as I have before.

    • Sounds like a wonderful life and a great opportunity to share Christ with others.

    • HammerROC says:

      I’m moving to Taiwan in two weeks without any current plans for what I am going to do. I would love to hook up with you to see what and how you are doing what you are doing.

      • The Haggard says:

        I am in southern Taiwan. Pingtung. Give me a contact number or email and I will get with you!

  2. I would like to hear from some of these full time missions workers on their perspectives of short-term missions trips sponsored by churches and para-church ministries. I have the idea that they are primarily for the benefit of those who go on the trips as opposed to those on the receiving end. Is that a bad thing? Do these groups assist full time missions workers in a positive way? What are your thoughts?

  3. Al Rider says:

    Here’s some good news from the field:

    My wife and I were stated denominational missionaries in central Europe back in the late 80’s-90’s; so we were on hand for the historic opening of the Wall between East and West. As a result, we were privileged to help get the new International Church of Prague nudged into existence (along with dozens of others) just as the Russians were pulling their troops out of the new Czech Republic.

    Last week we went back to Prague for our first visit in 20 years, and what a delight! The congregation has flourished and is now a center for mission to other cultures and even other nations. Three adult baptisms happened that day, one in Chinese, and the ministry of music was extraordinary. Thanks be to God, who takes mustard seeds and grows them into mighty trees with many branches… Which, “by coincidence” was their scripture text that day!

  4. I come from a family of missionaries on my mother’s side of the family.

    My great-grandparents were pioneering missionaries to Africa (Zimbabwe) in 1905.

    Their son-in-law (my grandfather) became a missionary soon after marrying my grandmother. He was the primary translator for the Bemba Bible in Zambia.

    His son, my uncle, continued his translation work in Zambia, and my aunt works with helping prostitutes escape their trade. They have also served as missionaries in India and Pakistan.

    My cousins have served as Missionaries in Zambia, Indonesia, and as urban Missionaries in Toronto (visit MoveIn.TO for more information.)

    My brother worked as Bible smuggler in Eastern Europe (3 years), a self funded independent missionary in Japan (12 years) as well as working with a “Business as Missions” concept in Kenya.

    As for myself, I worked for a missions agency called Student Mission Advance for three years as a recruiter and researcher in the 1990s. Our mandate was to connect young people who were interested in missions with mission agencies who were looking for candidates. As the Research and Information manager, I set up an online missions opportunity database called Fingertip (some of you may remember it.) I recruited 35 mission agencies to participate, and many/most of them got new candidates through people finding Fingertip on the web.

    As a researcher I surveyed several thousand Canadian Christian young people about their interest and understanding in missions. These surveys were done in both Church Youth Groups, Bible Colleges, and University Christian clubs. At that time (the very early days of the web) we found that a high percentage of Christian young people were interested in missions (80%) but few connected with an agency that was doing what they were interested in. (i.e. I am interested in teaching in Africa, but the only missionary to visit our club / youth group was doing medical work in Latin America.) I think that the explosion that we have seen in web usage would likely make it easier for agencies to find recruits, and I would be interested to hear from agencies with a strong web presence to see if that has been the case.

    To answer Jeff’s question above. I have seen a number of benefits from short term missions.

    1. They strengthen the faith and commitment of those who go. My brother’s first mission trip is what made him be truly committed to being a Christian as strange as that might sound.

    2. It expands the world view of those who go.

    3. It helps them to be more upfront about their faith when they get back.

    4. It makes career missions much more of a distinct possibility (see The Haggard above as an example).

    5. It increases the likelihood of missions giving in their future lives.

    You will note that the benefits I have listed primarily are related to those who are going on the trips, and not those on receiving end. I think in the long term there are other benefits such as those mentioned in the story of the Haggards up above, and in the increase in giving to missions.

    • Mike…

      I have to disagree with you. Short term mission work in many cases was like the grim reaper showing up at my “faith door step”. These were the problems I see…

      1. I grew tired and felt sick doing door to door evangelism when I paid no attention to co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, etc.. Why go to the UK to do a mission? The women next door to me struggles with epilepsy and can’t drive, thereby she’s dependant on people’s help with groceries.
      2. Look at what short term missions are exporting. Prosperity theology, feel good affirmation situations, etc…
      3. Short term missions I would suggest is the “Freddie Krugar” of Third World nations.
      4. Don’t forget for some it’s a vacation from work! 😯
      5. It’s also an opportunity for a church to brainwash their members. The Mormon church does the same thing in a long term sense.
      6. Short term missionaries I would suggest do more harm to foreign cultures. They often lack understanding, could be well intentioned but still could do harm.
      7. Don’t forget you have to beg every Tom, Dick, and Harry for money to fund your “mission”.
      8. The missionary field in many fundagelical churches is focused on abroad. Many churches thereby ignore many local needs within their own culture.

      • Hi Eagle,

        Evaluate your mission trip(s) by the guidelines below. If seems that it would fail a number of the guidelines. This tells me that what you have experienced is a bad missions trip. If more churches and organizations would use guidelines like these, then we would not having as many reports like your own.

      • I think I have to disagree Eagle.
        Short term missions can tell someone that they are either suited to missions life or not. It used to be that people prepared for years and then went, having to discover after all that prep that they were not suited to it.

        I have no idea if it is exporting prosperity theology. We did not (we were poor as church mice), neither does Operation Mobilization (poorer than church mice).

        I have real questions if someone goes for 2 weeks if it ‘harms local culture’ That is very iffy. Do you really think they can have that much impact in 2 weeks? To my mind that is as outrageous as the saying that in 2 weeks you are going to change the nation for God.

        There are weaknesses to short term work, but nothing that cannot be overcome if it is overseen and administered by wise leaders.

      • I’m not completely opposed to short term mission trips, but there a lot of foibles commonly associated with them. This guys really pokes at the common downsides:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9fvlEFRT8o&feature=plcp

      • Eagle, I’ve gone on annual short-term mission trips since 1994, usually with a medical mission but also on construction trips. I appreciate your warnings, and they are legitimate concerns. These are questions that we need to ask ourselves continually before we go and during the trip. But it’s not all bad, even though there is that potential.

        I’m with Mike Bell on all five points of his list, and I’ve especially seen transformation in the young people that go with us, including my three girls. I have seen so many kids focus on their education and career choices after they return to the States, often in foreign language or medicine or international service of some kind.

        But we do have to be aware of the “ugly American” syndrome, doing cultural damage while abroad. I’ve seen enough of that, too. So keep talking. We need to listen.

      • I would definitely agree with you on point #1. Too often the mission field across town is ignored in favor of the more “exciting” or “exotic” mission field halfway around the world. I especially saw this in my previous church. While I have no doubt the intentions were good, the vision for what could be was limited.

        But I do tend to think a lot of time the benefit of short-term mission trips is not necessairily for the people on the receiving end, but the people who are being sent. It can change their perspective on the world and give them an outlook beyond their own narrow slice of life. It can help them realize the staggering poverty, oppression, etc. many parts of the world experience. And it can get the wheels turning on whether this is something they would like to do long-term. It can also serve to remove a lot of the “romance” of the missionary lifestyle when people see what a difficult life it can be.

  5. I worked as a missionary in Ukraine for ten years, and have been back in the States for two now. I was with a denominational mission organization that had the goal of sharing the gospel and planting simple churches.

    Missions in Europe is a bit different because it was ‘reached’ long before our own country was. But many of the old churches stand empty. Not quite so with Ukraine–where there has been greater spiritual revival than in both the East (Russia) and the West (Western Europe). There are many Ukrainian missionaries all over the former Soviet Union today.

    I never felt that my call was more special than that of a plumber or a stay-at-home mom who loves Jesus and does what God tells him/her. In fact, my mother was often an example to me (even while I was in Ukraine) of sacrifice, love, and action in the name of Jesus. Even as as ‘missionary,’ I had a hard time keeping up with her! 🙂

    However, cross-cultural ministry and missions IS something special. There is a scary lack of understanding and emphasis on the need for training and education – especially as many churches begin to jump into major overseas work without understanding all of its cross-cultural implications.

    I write this as I sit in a doctoral missiology class at Biola 🙂 Better get paying attention again….

    • My brother has been a missionary in Zaporozhye for 17 years and it has become his home.

      • Cool. Eastern Ukraine, as far as I know, could use more folks like him! I lived in a rather evangelized area of Ukraine (Western, and four years in the capital)

    • cermak_rd says:

      I’m curious about these European missions efforts because, as you stated, Europe was Christian long before the US existed. Most European nations have their own indigenous expressions of Christianity, for instance, in Ukraine, it would be the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and possibly a mainline Protestant branch with local ties.

      So I would hope that any missions program would be based on trying to expand those historically linked to the local culture churches and not for birthing some new expression of transient Christianity there. I do think that Russia was right to limit missionaries to the churches with a historic toehold in Russia.

      To my mind, bring in foreign expressions of religion (and here I would include bringing Christianity into overwhelmingly Muslim areas) can divide families and communities in unhelpful ways.

  6. If you or your church are interested in doing a short term mission I would highly recommend this best practice guide put out by the World Evangelical Alliance.

    http://www.worldevangelicalalliance.com/commissions/mc/mc_southafrica/resources/short_term_mission_resource_guide.pdf

    • Here are the key points of the best practices (you can read the full document for the reasoning behind them). If your church is doing a missions trip evaluate the trip by these guidelines very early in the process.

      The Guide to Best Practice in Short-term Mission
      Section 1: Aims and Objectives
      1.1 A Short-term Mission program will have a defined purpose within Christian mission.
      1.2 A Short-term Mission program will have clear and realistic aims and objectives, which include viability, expectations of outcomes, and consideration of how the program serves the long-term objectives of all those involved.
      1.3 The benefits to, and responsibilities of, the participant, the sending organization, the sending local church, the host organization and the host local church will be clearly defined and communicated.
      1.4 Partnerships will be established, as far as possible, with host local churches and communities. These relationships, in the context of unity and love, will be defined in terms of agreed-upon priorities, ownership, and expectations.
      1.5 Appropriate sending local church involvement will be sought. A partnership will be developed, as far as is feasible, among the agency, participant and sending local church.
      1.6 There will be a commitment to the participant to provide opportunities for personal and spiritual development throughout the experience.

      Section 2: Publicity, Selection and Orientation
      2.1 Publicity materials will be accurate, truthful and used with integrity.
      2.2 Publicity will clearly represent the ethos and vision of the sending organization. It will not reflect negatively on the host culture or ministry. It will also define the purpose of the program in the terms of service, discipleship and vocation.
      2.3 The application process, including timeline, all financial obligations and use of funds, will be clear and thorough.
      2.4 A suitable selection process will be established, including selection criteria and screening. A pastoral care element will be included, regardless of whether or not the individual is accepted as a short-term participant.
      2.5 It is essential that there is disclosure of the relevant details concerning the short-term participant between the church, agency and field.
      2.6 Appropriate orientation and training will be given prior to departure, and/or after arrival on the field. Team leaders will be briefed on the orientation and training provided.
      2.7 Preparatory information will be provided as early and as fully as possible.
      2.8 Placement decisions and changes will be made with integrity and communicated clearly to all involved.

      Section 3: Field Management and Pastoral Care
      3.1 Clear task aims, objectives, and job descriptions will be developed jointly by the sending and hosting leadership.
      3.2 Home and field-based communication and reporting guidelines will be identified, implemented and reviewed.
      3.3 Mutually defined lines of authority, supervision, communication, responsibility and accountability will be established and implemented through regular reporting and/or meetings.
      3.4 Pastoral care and support structures will be provided, and respective responsibilities clarified with all parties.
      3.5 Opportunities for spiritual, personal and character development will be provided, promoted and pursued.
      3.6 Participants will agree to follow guidelines on behaviour, relationships and financial management that are appropriate to the host culture.
      3.7 Policies and procedures covering finances, health care and insurance, medical contingencies, security and evacuation, acts of terrorism or political violence, stress management and conflict resolution, misconduct, discipline and grievances will be established, communicated and implemented as is appropriate.
      3.8 Where and when requested, necessary equipping and training of hosts will be provided.

      Section 4: Re-entry support, evaluation and program development
      4.1 Re-entry debriefing and support will be seen as an integral part of the short-term package.
      4.2 Re-entry preparation, including field evaluation, will begin prior to return.

      • Good digging Michael.
        I may pass this along…

      • Excellent information, Michael!! I have been curious about how much of this is truly followed by the groups out there. A lot of people from my church go on these short-term things. I work with folks in Peru, but it is on a regular and sustained level – with the same people all the time when we go. These short-term mission trips seem, well, “feel-good” trips for the well-off people to say “there, I did my duty, I helped somebody paint a school”. My work in Peru is a micro-economic development project that has long-term and very lasting effects on the people we help…and more importantly, their whole community. I might be flamed off this site for saying that I personally knew the Baptist who tried to take those kids across the border after the Haitian earthquake. We are not close and I don’t agree with anything she did. I do know that many of the people she took with her were not long-term missioners and they pretty much broke every rule of mission work in the book. To me, they publicly epitomized the reason why missionaries are distrusted.

        I’d be curious to know if missioners feel distrusted when they show up someplace?

  7. Also check out http://www.SOE.org to see a set of 7 Standards developed over several years by many great mission organizations in the US to help groups really do their mission trips well. The Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions (www.SOE.org) along with the Fellowship of Short Term Mission Leaders (www.FSTML.org) have worked long and hard over the years to raise the quality of mission trips.

    The 2nd and 3rd Standards are:

    2. Empowering Partnerships – An excellent short-term mission establishes healthy, interdependent, on-going relationships between sending and receiving partners, and is expressed by:

    Primary focus on intended receptors
    Plans which benefit all participants
    Mutual trust and accountability

    3. Mutual Design – An excellent short-term mission collaboratively plans each specific outreach for the benefit of all participants, and is expressed by:

    On-field methods and activities aligned to long-term strategies of the partnership
    Goer-guests’ ability to implement their part of the plan
    Host receivers’ ability to implement their part of the plan

    A couple things to keep in mind when evaluating mission trips: about 60% of all those who go on mission trips do so through their local church. Some church leaders do a fantastic job of training their youth and adults for the service they are about to engage in. Others don’t. All the mission organizations I am aware of who recruit and train teams, and I know hundreds, do a very good job of seeing that they benefit both the receivers as well as the goers. (Many church groups go to help a missionary they know without going through the training offered by that missionary’s agency.)

    Somewhere around 40% of those who go on mission trips never leave the borders of the US. They serve with inner city ministries, community service in disaster areas or Appalachia, and Native American ministries. Excellent ministries and of great value to many folks, but very different from those going to India or Kazakhstan.

    Please be careful about making broad stroke generalizations about mission trips. The experience ad results of a 2 month “missionary internship” alongside a long term church planter in Thailand is vastly different from a group of youth laying block for an orphanage in Brazil. They are each done for totally different reasons and produce totally different results.

    Are there problems with some of what passes as mission trips? Absolutely! It grieves many of us involved long term in sending folk out. Is God using 2 week to 12 month volunteers to accomplish some incredible things? Absolutely! I hope more will share those exciting stories.

  8. Those who are creative and seriously consider how to benefit both goers and receivers can really benefit from mission trips.

    TIME Ministries out of Dallas, TX partners teams of youth and adults to build church buildings in new barrios in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

    When city officials open up a new area for building homes, the mother church buys a lot that is centrally located and sends one of their recent Bible School graduates to build a home and facilitate the building of their church. The groups from the US the next summer provide the funds and muscles to build the church building under the direction of a couple local workers.

    That church building serves as a center for the community as the community develops and the young pastor is out visiting with everyone who has bought a lot and is building. It has resulted in over a dozen churches being established. A creative use of short term mission groups for long term results!

    I had the privilege of tagging along with an adult-youth group from Louisiana one summer as they spent a week sweating and working in the Monterrey sun. It was worth it!

  9. Brittany S. says:

    I’m involved with long-term missions in China. I’m currently on an extended leave and just returned from a short visit there as well. I myself have never been involved in short-term missions, and I’ve seen plenty and talked to many people who have been but I can’t really speak about the impact it has on the individual who goes. What I can address is what I’ve seen of the impact on the people left behind after they leave.

    About once or twice a year a short term missions group would roll into town and start visiting our university. We would know they were coming because the government would inform the school, who would tell students and teachers, and they would tell the foreign teachers. The short term group would show up in the student dormitories and go door to door talking to students. They usually did this until it made the school mad and then they weren’t allowed in dormitories.

    As quickly as they came, they left just as fast. Those of us who had made our lives there, and spent years building relationships and working with the local church, rarely met any of them. The school was usually upset by the time they left and began to crackdown on student and faculty believers. For my students this was often being pulled into an office by an adviser and questioned intensely on their religious activities, sometimes threatened. For my fellow faculty who were believers these crackdowns (which happen at other times as well) resulted in much the same, but could also result in the loss of their job. It happens. The local church would quiet its own work among students and cancel any outreach events they had planned. Myself and the other foreign teachers would be required to have students register and submit their IDs before entering our apartment building for visits and class activities. Overall, a visit from a short-term group meant more vigilance on the part of those of us who actually lived in China.

    On occasion, we would get someone coming to class or coming to an activity that had met the short-term group and had further questions. Usually these were people we never would have met otherwise and this proved to be a great blessing.

    I don’t know how other short-term missions are run and the impact they have. I’m sure a mission focused on relief would have a much different impact than one focused on evangelism. I just wanted to this experience and a different perspective.

  10. I am wrapping up my day of mission work here at “the mission.”

    I am not overseas, i am just down town, on the wrong side of the tracks. we are on a mission to rescue, so we set up shop where we are needed most.

    I have written letters to judges and probation officers. I have given out bus passes and advice on how to interview for a job. I have listened to devotions and lectures. I have counseled men brave enough to try and live life in a new way, and the fear and discomfort that comes from that decision. I have talked two men out of a fist fight. I have encouraged one man to continue his passionate search for his identity in Christ. I ate really spicy chili for lunch, cooked by the guys in our mission. i handed out mail, i arranged clinic visits, i looked up birth certificates and read incident reports.

    Another day down here at the mission.

  11. +1

  12. I want to say “thank you” to all of you that have chosen missions as your vocation. It is noble and selfless work. Like Michael Bell I come from a “missionary family.” Half of my immediate family holds US citizenship and the other half holds dual US/Brazilian or just Brazilian citizenship. As a younger man I was sure that Brazil is where I would end up too. Sometimes I still experience guilt that I am not down there reaching out to river villages or looking after orphans like some of my siblings and nieces/nephews. Actually IM has given me a great measure of comfort that I am still involved in “Missio Dei” here as CM put it. But I am aware of the sort of extraordinary sacrifices each of you has made to do what you do. So Thank You!

    • “Sometimes I still experience guilt that I am not down there reaching out to river villages or looking after orphans like some of my siblings and nieces/nephews. ”

      Yeah, me too. I was pretty sure missions was where I was headed. So sure that I did my M.Div. in cross cultural studies.

      • +1. I went to Bible College for the same reason. When I graduated I thought I would cut my teeth in local church ministry and then head down south. After 7-8 years on staff I ended up in secular employment. Life is a funny road…

  13. I may be a little late with this, but I found this article, by Steve Saint, to be insightful. My family lived 6 years in Central Asia and now, my husband and I continue, mostly self-supported, in the Middle East.

  14. Ken Anwari says:

    I’ve served in SE Asia for 33+ years & we’ve seen the full range of short term “M” teams, the good, the bad and the ugly (American).

    One team last year in particular had traveled throughout the the world & bragged about how many souls had been saved by their intensive how-to-get-to-heaven hard-sell sales pitch. They knew nothing of the local culture & had no interest in learning more. They horrified their hapless translators with their triumphalist, pushy attitudes. The adjective most associated with Americans here (& worldwide, I hear) is “arogan”, and those guys only magnifed that stereotype. Each of the 7 who “prayed the sinners prayer” was followed up, but not one of them was interested in following Christ after they discovered that they would not be monetarily rewarded!

    On the other hand we have seen truly marvelous results from summer teams of 5 – 7 US students who come for 1 – 2 months to relate redemptively to local students primarily. These guys & gals are keen to learn as much as they can about local cultures & hold lively, well attended “Cross-Cultural Exchange” programs on many campuses throughout our city of 5 million. They actively establish relationships with local students & respectfully steer conversations to spiritual matters. Many have come to faith in the LORD thru these friendships as they are followed up by local workers. The friendships often continue via Facebook & SKYPE. The teams also have developed trusting friendships with a number of students who are secret believers & helped them progress along the path of “followship”.

    So the difference all boils down to having a humble, welcoming, compassionate attitude. The others should stay home as far as we are concerned.