Friday, November 5, 2010
some thoughts on STM
I've been thinking a lot about the positive and negative sides of Short-term mission (STM) trips lately. Short-term mission opportunities abound. You can spend a week to a year feeding the poor and preaching to people knowing that there’s an end coming and you’ll be sipping latte’s at Starbucks soon. I have done several (7 in fact) short term stints overseas since the age of 16. Whether it was running soccer camps for AIDS orphans in Africa or building a home for a family in the Dominican Republic, I've always come back with my eyes opened to the harsh reality of need in this world and felt so grateful for what I've been blessed with. These trips have shaped my character and I know that they’ve greatly affected the people I've gone with.
However, the feeling like I've gained more from the experience than the nationals did is sometimes overwhelming. Short term missions should be approached with caution. It requires a step back to examine the reason why we do missions at all in the first place. According to John Piper in his book Let the nations be glad!: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever” (p.17).
Do groups of 20 or so people going to a place with no church and no sustainable economy for a week or two brings forth worship? Perhaps at first. The long-term repercussions may not though. When a community is now so dependent on the groups of westerners that come, it shows that the goal of missions has not been achieved. We go to make people rely on Christ not on us.
Building homes, healing the sick etc. are things we are called to do as Christians. We get joy by loving people through these acts of kindness. However, if we truly love the people we are ministering to we need to find ways to promote independence. Not an independence in the worldly sense but an independence where the nationals are able to teach their own about Christ. There needs to be a consistency at least in the missions or perhaps someone who can minister long-term. So that relationships don’t end when the plane leaves. So mentoring can happen. So great things will go down in the buildings we’ve built for them...for His glory.
There are several mission organizations who have found a way to do STM well- I'll post some later. For now here's some reading: