Jesus was, we are told, going through the cities and villages of Israel, seeing their needs and struggles. I am not suggesting that other methods of outreach are not helpful – the internet, shortwave radio, Bible correspondence courses, short-term trips, but the best way to do mission work is to be there, with the people, for a prolonged period of time (Matthew 9:35-38).
At times, Paul was forced by circumstances to leave an area of work. In Thessalonians he was only able to preach in the synagogue for three weeks before being driven out (Acts 17:1,2). “That very night,” Luke recalls, “the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea” (Acts 17:10).
There are advantages to doing short-term mission trips (though it should be emphasized that Paul did not plan on doing it this way in Thessalonica). There are greater numbers in a concentrated period of time. The work receives energy, a shot in the arm! The group provides encouragement to local Christians and the missionary. In spite of politics, American young people are considered “cool.” Short term work gives the campaigners a vision of their possible future work. It also helps them see what they need to work on personally. They benefit from the wisdom and guidance of the older, more experienced missionary. And, what is more, there is no perceived failure surrounding a return to the US.
To be candid there are drawbacks to short-term methods: First, there is no time to ground and mature converts. It is impossible for those who stay a few weeks to learn the cues and language of local culture. There is a drop off when the “cool” American young people leave. Perhaps more fundamentally, there is a failure to develop the deep relationships needed in any true church work. Also, in a prolonged work, you get better at it; the longer you work there, the better servant of the Lord you become. You earn the trust of the local people, overcome prejudices and prove that you care!
At times, people will suggest that Paul, too, was a short-term missionary, that in fact, it was his method to move from place to place. There is another way to look at this, however: If we estimate that Paul crossed the Aegean Sea from Troas at about 50 A.D. (Acts 16:6), and was arrested for the final time probably in Ephesus around 66 or 67 (2 Timothy 1:16,17), we can surmise he carried out a mission work in Greece for about 17 years. Though his work was itinerant, in the sense that he moved from one city to another, he generally left a young preacher in each center (1 Timothy 1:3), developed the young man, and checked in on his work periodically, it could be said that he carried out a long-term work of great substance.
Jesus looked out and saw a great harvest of souls crying out for help (John 4:35). “Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest?’ But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”
The Lord urged us to “pray the Lord of the harvest.” Can I ask you a question? When was the last time you heard this prayer? Some are needed to send, others to be sent. But they need to be convinced of both the need and the priority of mission work. Who goes? The answer is, anyone: I think of Lyle Pomeroy, retired Jules Tea salesman, who went to southern Africa in his 60s. I think of Roberta Edwards, a single woman in Haiti. I recall Loyd Gifford, a wounded veteran of the Korean War. I honor my father, Loy Mitchell, who went to Africa at the tender age of age 22. Pray for more workers., but don’t rule out personally being the answer to that prayer