Short-term mission trips have been getting a bad rap, and maybe for good reason. They can and have been done poorly and in ways that are more hurtful than helpful. But let’s not be hasty. Have you taken the first-hand word of the beneficiaries into account?
I’ll be honest, I love EMI and I think what we do is great, but we are not perfect and I know we have made missteps. Are we helping or hurting? (read the book) I can keep on working and coming back because I know for a fact I am not the only staff member who spends lots of time wrestling with these questions. I can honestly say most people here are extremely humble and always trying to avoid doing missions badly. We talk about it all the time. Some of us lie awake at night…
We cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by too many questions or doubts. At some point you have to just go and do the thing and trust that a perfect God will smooth out all our imperfect efforts. I would rather make mistakes than never make a move at all.
I’d like to share just a brief bit from my conversation with a pastor here in Uganda. I was there to speak with him about the baptisms that took place with the Amazima construction staff in Jinja. It turns out he did not have a lot to say about that, but he did want to talk about church and ministry in general.
He shared his own testimony with me, but then he very quickly moved to what he sees as large needs for Uganda. He was not talking about money or aid or relief efforts. He sees and feels daily the need for support.
Support. As in, live people with skills and abilities and a heart to serve and love.
Pastor Henry said if he could plead for one thing from America it was to send more people, more missionaries, more regular folks with a heart to help. He felt he could not adequately explain how important it is to have skilled people from the West come to share their knowledge.
He talked of how important the gospel is, but how he has seen that message hit home best when accompanied by a love that moves with action to meet real life needs. Job training, medical teams, teachers, orphan care, agricultural skill sharing. It’s tough to really hear the Word of God over a constantly growling tummy.
Then we talked of love. Not so much in those words, but he spoke of how money cannot really impress caring and encouragement upon another person the way a physical presence and the gift of time can. A dollar bill is valuable and useful here, but a couple of weeks sharing in someone else’s sufferings is worth eternity.
Do I need to add anything to that?
I don’t think EMI is the best organization out there. I don’t think we always nail it, no matter how hard we try. We make mistakes. We’ve designed projects that never left the paper. We are pretty imperfect. And yeah, we operate on the short-term mission trip model.
I do think there are plenty of situations where sending the money instead of a team would be more helpful. And in some cases maybe we should send nothing at all. I’m only asking that we not give up on short-term missions entirely or allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear that we might do something wrong, simply because of mistakes that have been made it the past.
I’ll use an analogy our pastor, Glenn Packiam, once shared. His young son often comes to him and says, “Daddy, let me help you with your email.” So he opens a blank email and allows his son to bang away on the keyboard until he has had enough. After the boy toddles off with a self-satisfied grin, he deletes the email and starts back to work. I’m sure God does that often with our mistakes. We think we have done a great thing for Him, but we really just made a mess for Him to fix. Yet I believe He is pleased with our desires to work with Him and for Him, and He will not only fix my messes, but use them to fix me.
And every time I start to doubt our model and effectiveness (particularly mine, because I’m just taking photos), God puts me next to someone like Pastor Henry and uses them to remind me that this is good mission. And we can make loads of mistakes and He will redeem them all.
We are missionaries with Engineering Ministries International, based in Colorado Springs, and traveling around the globe to serve.
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