missionaries-at-work

I’m a Missionary

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).

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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2 thoughts on “I’m a Missionary

  1. Many young people use the term ‘missionary’ referring to their short term efforts and I agree that is somewhat afield of the true meaning. I can only hope that these short term excursions into foreign countries will 1. Give an appreciation of the work needed and done in those areas and 2. Make more people sensitive to the need and the call for long-term missions efforts. Short term efforts enable long term ones. People who have visited an area are more apt to help with their pocketbook. I heard a young man call himself a campus missionary and wondered if your description would/could describe his work. Perhaps in one sense it can be descriptive of his work, but the hardships and challenges are often different. I appreciate your perspective and pray that God will raise up more to Go whether it be long or short term!

  2. With all respect, I disagree with most of the message of this article. I believe it totally unnecessary to speak so negatively of short-term missionary work. Your write this with a very broad brush, condemning practically all work done to teach others in foreign lands except by those who live there. While abuses have taken place in short-term work, they have also occurred in long-term work. May I suggest that not all places that need assistance, need an American to move there? How can one American possibly know that EVERY short-term work is lacking, and mostly helps the visitor? Have you been to every country with every group to evaluate the work? Have you spoken with every group to understand their ethics and purpose, those that strive to avoid behaviors that are damaging to the reputation and mission of the church in those communities where they labor? Sir, you did not make any distinction between short-term workers, at all. That is unfair.
    Both long-term and short-term work have their place; both are needed in this vast world. Don’t most long-term workers have groups of short-term workers periodically come help with evangelism? If there are changes that shoud be made, educate those workers to be as effective as possible.
    I, as a veteran short-term worker, do not feel that I need to exalt myself above long-term missionaries. I respect those like your family members, who sacrifice so much to do the Lord’s work. I hold those who do so in very high esteem. I appreciate and admire their work. Not everyone, due to family responsibilities, health concerns, etc., can leave their homeland long-term. From your viewpoint, there is nothing they should do, but to fund the long-term work. I totally disagree. Mission work, in general ,needs interested supporters, who pray, encourage, and give to the work. Such negative, broad sweeping generalizations such as yours, are not helpful. We all need to work together to take the gospel to the lost, not pit one work against another. If someone needs correction, certainly do so, but this article does not accomplish that task. I don’t have to be called a missionary. I am just a Christian who conscientiously does to the best of my ability, to take the gospel to the lost, and encouragement to Christians, wherever that opportunity arises

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