She was bright-eyed and twenty years old, if she was a day. Her heart, I know, was in the right place. But her words jarred: “I’m a missionary,” she was saying.
What she meant was that she had participated in several week or two week-long mission trips.
I though of my uncle Reece Mitchell who spent 25 years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I thought of another uncle, Dennis Mitchell who worked in Zambia 15 years. I thought of my father Loy Mitchell whose work in Zimbabwe traversed 40 years.
No, gentle student, you are not a missionary.
I acknowledge that good can be done by mission groups in short, sharp bursts, but can we please draw a distinction between that and real mission work?
Sure, twenty zealous Americans can provide a boost to local work. Short, intense service and teaching can do some good, though more good is done to the visitors than the local church.
If a young person decides he is not suited to mission work, better to learn that in two weeks than find out after making a ten-year commitment! If a young person decides this is his life’s work, and returns to ensure the preparation he or she will need to do mission work, so much the better.
Please, however, think of the mission church the week after the zealous Americans return to the United States. Exhausted missionaries pick up the pieces. Curious locals disappear now that interesting Americans are gone. Cultural faux pas are explained, hopefully successfully so the local brother and sister returns to the church. The local members are reminded that they are still on an outpost of the brotherhood.
And I have a polite question to ask: How much does it cost to fly, feed and house 20 Americans? With tickets around $1600 each and conservatively $500 for each to live and eat, about $42,000 for one trip was drawn from the offering.
How many long-term missionaries could be supported in place of, say, ten of these short mission trips?
What advantage does a long-term missionary have over this situation?
- He learns the language.
- He learns the culture.
- He convinces skittish locals that he’s here for the long term (apparently foreigners desire long-term Christian relationships, too).
- He has the time to sharpen his talents and skills for God’s glory.
- He models Christianity by his lifestyle.
- He sees congregations grow and mature, preachers in congregations, elders in churches.
Dear sweet reader, this, this is mission work.
I looked at this young lady. It was not her fault. I said, “That’s nice.”
“I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).