Examining Short Term Missions – Part 2

Yesterday I opened up a conversation about short term missions and some of our blind spots and shortcomings in this popular system. Thanks to those that have shared the article or commented on Facebook. Share your thoughts in the comment section of this blog that way when people read my thoughts, they can read yours too. Lets keep it going.

I wanted to continue that conversation today and look at a couple other areas that I see as being a bit off. If you didn’t see the post yesterday (Part 1), I definitely suggest it before you continue with this one. The topics of discipleship and effectiveness are fundamental to what we’ll look at today and in my estimation are more important.

Today we’re going to look at a couple other elements and I want to re-iterate what I said yesterday that this not about tearing down what we do or who we are, but building up. We must be aware of our problems, if we are going minister and grow effectively.

MONEY
This is something that I talked about yesterday, but wanted to beat the drum once more. How the trip is funded matters, what money goes towards on the trip matters. The money shouldn’t come in just any way and it shouldn’t be spent flippantly. This gets back to the sacrifice question that I raised yesterday.

I had a team leader on one of my past teams advise us that we could put our tithe into our own individual fundraising account. Now, that is truly between a person and the Lord, but it does make me think. If my offering, which would be going towards my church or another Kingdom work, is now going to fund my short term trip, what does that mean for the others that I was supporting with that money? Sure it kind of kills two birds with one stone; I don’t have to be guilty about not giving an offering to the Lord, and at the same time I get myself that much closer to the plane ride across the globe. But is that best? Is that exhibiting trust in the Lord with my finances? Is there something more that I ought to be giving? Something that really costs me something?

Speaking of pictures with cute orphans, here’s my India 2010 team.

Furthermore, one has to ask if the short term trip is worthy of someone else’s regular offering. I want to raise these questions, because they really matter and too often aren’t addressed. When I went to India in 2010, I had already moved to Tanzania and was living off the support of others in the US. When I felt God lead me to go to India, I didn’t have much opportunity to fundraise for that (which had to be done completely aside from my own organization). Subsequently I had only three people give towards the trip and I paid for nearly 90% of the trip myself. Of the three ladies that supported me, one was a good friend who already supported me at TOA. After reading my blogs from Asia, she told me that she herself often wonders about supporting short termers, because it seems in many cases to be “missionary tourism” as she said. She said that she still supports them, because its not on her to determine their hearts, but the concern is nonetheless there. Especially when the missionaries often stay in the nicest hotel in the city, get a couple days for sightseeing and come back with a bunch of pictures of cute, little orphans.

Furthermore, many of the projects that are done on short term teams ought to be done by nationals. All this money is spent to come across the sea and the team paints houses for a few days. That sounds admirable and I don’t mean to belittle anyone, because I believe their heart is almost always in the right place. Not to mention, this is right up my alley as I’ve had teams help paint my house, friends’ houses and the halls at TOA. But think about the alternative, while you spend that money in getting there and take time to do an unprofessional job, your church could have given a fraction of that money directly to the ministry and they could have hired a national to do it professionally. Hence the short termers spent a lot of money to come over and put a national out of a potential job.

I took this from a book that I’ll recommend later, but play this scenario out: A team from France contacts your church and wants to come over and do a VBS. They have twelve people on their team that would come, they’d put on skits (in French), talk about Jesus through a translator, have crafts and songs, probably do some things that seem a bit odd (I mean it’s a very different culture over there) and after they spend the week at your church, they’ll ask if you could take them to the nearest tourist attractions. They’d then head back to their own country after about a week and a half. The airfare for their team cost nearly $20,000 to travel during the summer and they spent another $10,000 on supplies, food, lodging and sightseeing.

Now, let’s say they’re a forward thinking group and they say “or we could just give you $30,000 to do your own VBS and whatever other ministry the money could help.” What would you do? You’d take the money! And you know what? You’d be way more effective with it than them!

I’m not saying we just throws gobs of money around (because it only works if its strategic… and we do that often enough anyway), but I think you catch my drift that maybe the way we often spend isn’t the best, nor the way that we fundraise.

PERCEPTIONS
Africa. Pause for a second and tell me, what comes to mind when I say that?

Source: The Times Atlas

I’ve called Moshi, Tanzania my home for the last two and a half years. Moshi is merely a small town on a massive continent. Check the photo inset that I think is ingenious. And its not just land mass, but the population of Africa is over 1 billion. Nonetheless, I constantly hear people make these bold claims after only a couple days in Moshi about “Africa is this” or “Africans do that.” I’ll tell you that it bugs me and people, even other missionaries, have told me that it’s just a pet peeve of mine, but I truly think that we are walking on thin ice with these broad generalizations.

First off, they very often aren’t accurate. Certainly not of the entire continent which is so incredibly populous and diverse. But often coming to any conclusion of a totally new culture after only a couple days or couple weeks is just unfair. There are so many layers to culture and teams hardly scratch the surface. There are friends of mine that have been there for so much longer than me and even they haven’t plunged the furthest depths. After fifteen, twenty years, they’re still learning. Furthermore, when we come up with these generalizations, we not only miss the point, but we miss the heart of the people who behave in a way that we don’t understand at the surface.

For example, Tanzanians, especially the Masai people, practice very long greetings for one another. I kid you not that in a normal conversation, people will just greet one another for a couple minutes. Americans say, hi, how are you, and then cut to the chase. Tanzanians often ask not only how are you, but they’ll ask how their family is doing, what’s the news at their home, and all sorts of other greetings that wouldn’t even make sense to you if I translated them into this post. To an American, they could conclude that Africans waste time in conversation and aren’t straightforward. They then post some broad generalization on their Facebook.

In reality, Tanzanians are very relationship-based more so than Americans in many ways. They greet one another, because they enjoy talking with one another, they want to see how they’re friend is doing and be polite, cover all their bases even. It makes the utmost sense in their own cultural setting.

Beyond that, I’m willing to bet that people in Tanzania (Africans) are a lot different from Algerians (Africans), Namibians (Africans), Egyptians (Africans) or even the neighboring people of Mozambique (Africans). Cultures are different, languages are different, customs, religions and standard of living are all very different.

Imagine if I took four Tanzanians and sent one of them to Idaho for a couple weeks, then another to Guatemala, another to Quebec and still another to Cuba. I then ask each of them to tell me what North America is like. What would their responses be? “Its cold there,” “Its hot there,” “They speak English,” “They speak Spanish,” “They speak French,” “They’re rich,” They’re poor,” “They’re capitalist,” “They’re communist,” “They’re welcoming,” “They’re snobby” and so on.

Aside from being insulting and belittling to those to whom we ought to be serving, false perceptions end up perpetuating poor development practices.

When I told you to think of Africa, did the word “poor” come to mind? It probably did. The truth is many Africans, across country lines live off far less then Americans do. The majority are indeed impoverished. However, when the main perception becomes strictly “poor,” we typically jump to some form of relief (which I discussed yesterday), not realizing that many African countries are rich. They’re rich in natural resources and in man power. They have the ability to become a thriving 21st-century country, but won’t do so if everyone just thinks “poor” then sends relief. Furthermore what’s needed in Cameroon will probably differ a lot from Libya or Madagascar.

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As you can easily gather, so much of these false perceptions are remedied by a humble approach to relationship which gets us back to the discipleship that I discussed yesterday. Discipleship is the hinge on which effective global outreach hangs. I hope you’ll come back and check the blog in a couple days to hear some ideas that I believe would get us to more effective discipleship in missions. I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit stirring up compassion and justice in our hearts. So check back in on Monday to hear more.

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Author: Brandon Stiver

I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, living and working in Moshi, Tanzania. My wife is named Melissa and we have three children: Moses, Promise and Shepherd. We are directors over an orphan care ministry called Kingdom Families; advocating for the needs of orphans and vulnerable children and assisting families to welcome them into their homes as sons and daughters.

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