Monday, April 18, 2005

Students Missions Impact

All of our students that are involved in summer missions this summer desire to make an impact. They want to be involved in something that will help people right away. Something tangible, immediate and lasting. Not a bad desire at all.

I had an interesting conversation last night with a student about a related idea. I think it's a fairly common and current mindset with the students that we work with today. She desperately wants to be involved with a missions trip this summer. She applied for, and was accepted into one of the trips this summer. As the team is now getting into preparations, the exact tasks of the team while on the field were a little bit ambiguous - mostly the intention of the team is some sort of 'evangelism.' She emailed me to ask me about other potential opportunities because she is a little bit unsure of this type of missions trip, she wants to have a bigger, more immediate impact. And she is a bit uncomfortable with a whole 2 week stint in a foreign culture doing 'evangelism' (although we all should be that uncomfortable, wouldn't you say?)

I offered her the following perspectives of thinking. First, what we think may be effective and impactful might, in the long term, be pretty detrimental. Work projects that might seem to be very beneficial (putting up a church, fixing a roof, etc.) in the short term have in fact rendered indigenous, local leadership helpless and dependent upon Western funds, workers and initiative. We need to encourage our students to look at long term missions impact, not just the short term. I used the analogy of students versus adults. Adults might reach a few students, but students will ALWAYS reach way more of their peers. It's the same thing cross culturally. A mission team can do it, but most likely, its going to make a far greater impact long term if people in the host culture do it for themselves.

Secondly, we know that 'evangelism' for the sake of hearing yourself speak doesn't work anymore. People are not persuaded anymore. You can't win a debate and have someone come to follow Jesus. My bet is that her specific team is going to be doing much more than just going door to door asking people about Heaven and Hell. I told her to get some more details from her team leader, who has been to this country with these host missionaries twice. I also reminded her that mission trips never run according to plan. Flexibility is key.

Thirdly, our goal for students should always be for them to encourage the host missionaries. That primary goal should override any other goal that we have there. Once that goal or mission is understood, everything else falls in place. It's no longer about where do we go, we go to where our missionaries already are. What about the ministry activities we will be involved in? Whatever they need help with. We can't be involved in something that destroys host missionary witnesses or activities that make Americans look bad, because we have a tight coupling with our missionaries
from our own body.

I'm convinced that we have to communicate these subtle, yet very significant perspectives to students today. If we don't, we will continue to have token mission trips - trips that look good on paper, mission experiences that all 'quality' student ministries should have, we will continue to build students that are insensitive to concepts of culture and indigenous leadership, and we will continue to contribute to the statistic that 50% of all short term trips do damage to the host missions organizations.

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