Comprehending Short Term Missions

In many things, I have learnt not to be too caustic towards other people. I often adopt this tone when I really dislike something–under the guise of sarcasm, I make very disparaging remarks, and the lines between where I’m being serious and joking blur. Unfortunately people get offended easily, especially when something as sacred as the modern pilgrimage to overseas countries, is questioned. It is certainly something that is important as being born again for many Christians today.

A lot time has to be spent at the beginning of any conversation exerting that I was generalising. I wasn’t talking about all missions trips, and I wasn’t judging any specific one. It was a general trend that I’ve been assessing and thinking about, not any specific trip I was thinking about.

Moreover, while on the topic of mission, I feel I have to define a lot of the terminology sharply, in case of mis-comprehension. A lot of what we define as missions, is just humanitarian work–people need to differentiate more clearly between the Great Commandment to love God and our neighbour, and the Great Commission. One was a general command, and another was a specific command to the Apostles. I think it is an important distinction to make between the two, and focuses our work, and the work of the Church better.

There was a time ago when someone on twitter referred to short term missions as a “holy vacation”. I feel I can identify a lot with that–a lot of the time there is a disconnectedness between our lives and *their* lives–whereever we would visit. Whether it be children in Kenya, or unbelievers in Europe, I feel that the knowledge of the transient nature of the trip is not really in the spirit of missions. I don’t think that missions was ever a short term thing and that God’s mission is anything less than a lifetime calling. Boiling it down to its essentials, the intention of short term missions is to satisfy the shallow rootedness of our modern culture.

Short term missions is a sterilised version of what missions is supposed to be. How can you evangelise if we are not willing to/cannot fundamentally engage with the people are to convert? That is, living, and essential becoming one of them. What I understand of the gospel is that there is a certain relational core at the gospel–whether it be between God and us, and our ambassadorship to non-believers. The whole delivery and action of the gospel is a relational gospel. If we are operating on a trip that does not respect that connection, I don’t see how any gospel presentation could be efficacious.
“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonions 2v.8
This is all background to my main reason I have not been on an overseas short-term mission. The real reason is that if I ever went on one is I don’t think I would ever be able to  come back. To live among people who live in a world so diametrically opposed to our system, it would kill me that such injustice exists in this world. I can read about it in books and newspapers, but to be among them, I don’t think I could ever stand to come back.
Call me simple, I still think it’s amazing to twist the tap and seeing clean water to come out–not in meager droplets, but in full flow. It amazes me continually opening the fridge door and pouring out milk from the carton, I’m still looking for where the cow is. How does a fridge even stay so cold? It all blows my mind. This land which we live in is a world away from people who have so much less than what we have. I don’t really have the words to say how peculiar this Western world we live in is. It’s always changing. I’ve been reading a lot on the character of Malcolm X this year. He’s a fascinating character. But the world he in inhabited was vastly different from the world today, and that was merely 40 years ago.
Even reading about Malcolm X, I’m merely halfway through the library’s collection at the moment. All this knowledge is stacked rows upon rows, shelves upon shelves as far as the eye can see, as high as the eye can see. To step back into a developing country, where most of these cultures still might rely on the aural tradition–I would consider it as a time machine to centuries past. It is a real challenge to what we have perceived as the norm.
To immerse oneself in a culture with no amount of resources to even live, let alone consider the realities of the Gospel–I don’t think our Gospel can be complete while we remain firmly rooted in our native countries. I think our modern world and its comfort is a great blessing, and to find people that live with less than we have, I don’t think that we can just leave. I don’t think that if missions is done correctly, that we can possibly share the Gospel, and come away from them without a broken heart for the lost.
I know at the start, I mentioned the importance of distinguishing between good works and the Gospel, but I think the two go hand-in-hand. I don’t think you can build orphanages, you can build houses, you can heal the sick, you can do any good work, without seeing the needy with the eyes of eternity. I don’t think you can preach the Gospel without essentially becoming one of them in their grief and sorrows. The two work together as two hands of the Saviour. That is what missions is to me.
I am terrified perhaps, that I might not come back to the place where comfort is a daily reality.
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About JN
what happened to dignity / never see it on MTV.

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