short term

Final reflections from Fiji

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Here are some reflections from Graeme Mitchell on the recent Golden Oldies mission encounter in Fiji. The full article, along with many photos, can be read by clicking here.

Farewell Fiji, again.

“Many Fijians have so little, but they have given us so much, to make us feel welcome and part of their families” “I feel so humbled and inspired from this mission”

These phrases summarise many of the team’s observations of their days visiting and contributing to mission projects around Suva.

Supporters Generosity

The Mission commenced with many residents from Archer, families, friends, supporter groups, churches, previous Golden Oldies members contributing to the mission with donated equipment and materials; donations to purchase specialist equipment to take; and commitments to pray for the mission.

We purchased medical equipment and supplies, laptops, kitchen utensils, guitars, received donated carpentry tools, sports uniforms, childrens bible stories, bibles, school stationery, scientific calculators, teaching instruction manuals on core cirriculum subjects, family packs of childrens books and towels-soaps-toothbrushes, sheets, towels, pillow cases, tea towels, and other items that came to a total of 150kg of excess baggage.

Fiji Airways in their generosity heard about the mission to suppport the people of Fiji and offered to donate the full 150kg of space ‘free of charge’. That has never occurred before, and we were very appreciative of their sponsorship to bring all these treasures to their Fijian people.

We landed in Nadi, Fiji and all 21 boxes of excess freight thankfully were claimed off the conveyor belt, with only 40-minutes to find our ‘ground courier’ who was going to drive all the freight to Suva, 5-hours away. But, there was Customs to get through. We were required to have an Import certificate, Customs broker and pay import tax! An official Customs Officer opened the first box (50 children’s books) and started asking how much each book was valued at. Time was ticking on. 30-minutes before we had to check-in for our domestic flight to Suva. He asked about what we were doing, requiring a description of each box, then suddenly said ‘oh away you go, no charge this time’ There’s a saying in Fiji that says ‘God is good…All the time…God is good’ How very true that was at that moment with the many prayers of people supporting the mission.

Rushing through the terminal, we met our driver, crammed all 21 boxes into his car, and he headed for Suva. We met him at the Bible College 4-hours later! His car must’ve had wings!! This event was the beginning of many little miracles that we encountered every day of this mission, as we saw God’s presence touch the hearts of people we met.

Bible College Home

The Bible College near completion, after its significant development

The team returned to their ‘spiritual home’ again this year at the St Johns Bible College, after the College has been going through a major redevelopment over the past 2-years. Although not quite completed, the GOM team were the first ‘guests’ to be allowed to stay at the newly expanded College. Some slept in the yet to be completed Cafeteria, to ensure all the team could remain on the campus. The Chambers extended family showered the team in their love, wonderful hospitality and care, with the team being so appreciative, as every other team has felt in previous years. A sanctuary for a tired team as they returned to the college each evening.

Villages become families

The Villages welcomed the team, more as returning friends than visitors or strangers. The benefit of returning each year building trust, and renewing friendships was evident through the continued ‘talanoa’ (conversations) we had.

Arriving one evening to a squatter village on a hillside outside Suva, the village had prepared a makeshift shelter with tarps draped over the bamboo poles protecting us from the monsoon downpour we were encountering. This was the meeting room for that evenings event. From a kava ceremony, to formal introductions, to lovu-cooked food, to children dancing, and then engaging with Golden Oldies to dance under the stars on rain-soaked spongy grass, this became the model for many of the team visits to other squatter settlements we visited.

But there is a serious side to all this, as well as gifting some of the supplies we had brought with us, we wanted to further the partnership to build village well-being and offer spiritual encouragement.

 Micro-enterprises

One of the main projects significantly advanced was the ‘mud-brick’ vision. To establish training in brick-making and carpentry skills, to then build affordable cyclone-proof housing and church buildings for these squatter villages. In addition to this is the expectation to sell bricks as another money source alongside their fish and veges currenlty sold at the road side.

 

Roger and Thomas, along with Alfred from Fiji, spent all week meeting church and village leaders, developing, revising, then revising their plans that could make the project genuinely feasible. At weeks end, they announced their much anticipated proposal.

 

A Project Manager is being employed by Golden Oldies to oversee the establishment and development of the making of mud bricks in 3 villages, one on the other main island of Vanua Levu. They are importing 2-new mud brick machines from China to compliment the one already about to start operation in making bricks. The first bricks made are going to complete a demonstration affordable home, a new Sunday school and extension to a church.

 

Building materials are scarce and expensive in Fiji , and being the first to offer this alternative cheaper mud-brick to expensive cement-bricks could help take the squatter villages out of poverty and overseas aid dependency, to offer these village-churches some greater self-determination and regular employment for their men folk. The next 6-months will be a very interesting time for all involved, and something the Golden Oldies are very proud of supporting through fundraising for the seed money needed, technical and operational support as partners in the project.

Crafts expansion and diversification

One remote squatter village we visit relies solely on sales from its minute crops and fishing. The men row for 1.5-hours through mangrove creeks to the ocean, then another 5km out to sea to catch their fish, then return on the incoming tide with their catch. Sadly they are noting a reduced quantity of fish available, and with the sea levels notably rising as they share their concerns for their survival. Furthermore, on their village border demand for new housing is bringing the bulldozers alarmingly closer to invade their village lifestyle of decades. With all that doom and gloom, they challenged us! Get on with what you have and continue to innovate. Last year the team saw them experimenting with making grass brooms to sell. They had made two. And by the end of that mission they had made another 10 and delivered them before the team departed.

 

This year, they were prepared for the GOM teams arrival, and it was beyond our wildest dreams. They had diversified to make a range of crafts to sell. By the end of this visit they couldn’t believe they had sold everything, amazed and proud of their efforts. The value of their morning sales was equivalent to 5-months of selling fish and veges at the road side stall! Visiting this village every year by the Golden Oldies has brought deepening friendships and  some measure of new hope for the diversification of their micro-businesses.

 

To read the rest of this article and to see the many photos, click here.

Short-term Mission – further reading

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As a follow up to our issue of Intermission about ‘short-term mission’ here’s some useful online articles that capture some of the pitfalls of short-term mission and ‘voluntourism.’

A Cautionary Tale. A brilliantly funny short video from the Helping Without Hurting training mentioned at the end of this Intermission. 

The Voluntourism Paradox. How your visit to orphanages could be traumatising children, breaking up families and fuelling human trafficking. 

Western do-gooders need to resist the allure of ‘exotic problems.’ A deeper look at the problems addressed in Noah’s article. 

The Good Missionary. A look at short-term mission trips through the eyes of an African orphan. 

Stop Calling it a Short-Term Missions Trip. Why the phrase ‘short-term mission trip’ is unhelpful, and some better alternatives. 

When Short Term Missions is Actually Christian Tourism. Our saviour complex is challenged when we realise they might not need us. 

Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips. How our going and giving can actually hurt those we’re going to. 

 

Golden Oldies 2017

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The next Golden Oldies encounter trip is coming up in September. For over six years Graeme and Jane Mitchell have offered specialised introductory mission encounters for seniors to Fiji. It’s non-denominational and open to all.

This year’s 11-day trip in September will take you to see and experience the missions the Church is involved in around Suva, including visiting schools, hospitals, old people’s home, squatter settlements, as well as remote villages including a day trip to a cyclone-impacted village. The tour is fully escorted with experienced leaders. More info can be found by clicking here.

 

Applications close 28 April. Be quick! Limited positions are available.

For more information or to request an info pack contact:

Graeme and Jane Mitchell (Team Leaders)   graeme@goldenoldiesmission.com

Rev. Wendy Robinson (Secretary)   022-083-1058 or pwar.nz@gmail.com

Samoan Kiwis in the Philippines

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We are in mourning: The Kiwi-Samoan team from Christchurch has left us! We all enjoyed the team, led by Watari Maina and Ropeta, so much. Even our neighbours knew somehow that we had visitors.

They took songs and testimony in every place and gave a three day session for our staff on Basic Counselling Skills with an easy to use model. They took six sessions with the children in the Home using a TREE as their model. The children all drew their own trees and wrote in all sorts of things about their lives, ending with their dreams for the future. The children are still talking about their trees!

Then on the last day the team gave a Tofa Soifua (Farewell dinner). Not only that, but afterwards they gave out gifts of appreciation that they had brought from NZ – including tapa cloth, fans and lollies. Now I know why the suitcases were so big! Our staff commented: “we have never received anything like this before!”

Samoans in the Philippines

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Kia Ora, Talofa Lava, Hujambo and Kamusta!

The countdown is on and there are less than 40 days left before a small team of ladies from Grace Women’s Ministry (St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Christchurch) along with team leader Watiri Maina (NZCMS) travel to the Philippines on an Encounter trip in 2017.

For most of us the idea of going on a short term mission or encounter trip is new and foreign. But when the seed was planted last year the team were intentional about prayer, fasting and being open to the Holy Spirit in leading us through this process. We’re absolutely excited to partner up, learn from and serve alongside Mission Partner Dianne Bayley and the team at CBM in the Philippines.

It has been a busy, challenging and rewarding 12 months of preparation and we still have much to learn and to prepare for before heading away. We continue to give thanks to God and we are absolutely in awe of what he is teaching us during this exciting season because at the end of the day it’s his plan and purposes; we’re just privileged and honoured to be a part of his plan.

We’re grateful for the new formed partnership with NZCMS to make this possible. We are also blessed for new connections made through Simply Mobilising – Kairos, iTeams and our local Filipino Christian communities. We have been overwhelmed and humbled with the support, love, words of encouragement and donations from everyone, and we especially give thanks for prayers. We couldn’t do this without all our supporters; thank you very much and from the bottom of our hearts we cannot thank you enough.

We ask that if you are reading this to please pray for Dianne Bayley, CBM and our team as we prepare.

If anyone interested in finding out more about our journey, please visit www.stpaulstrinitypacific.co.nz/encounter-philippines/.

God Bless and Fa’afetai tele lava,

Ropeta Mene-Tulia (On behalf of Encounter Philippines Team 2017)

Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Mission (Issue 28)

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At the end of a trip, one of the students uttered the words every leader hopes to hear: “This was the best short-term mission experience I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a bunch.” I’ve led my fair share of teams, so what made this one so good? Was it my amazing, charismatic leadership? … Actually, no! Perhaps ironically, it’s because we didn’t follow the typical approaches for short-term mission trips.

In many cases, short-term teams want to maximize the opportunity by visiting as many places, people and projects as they can. Instead, we decided to stay in one location and work with one church. And typically, short-term teams pack as much into the schedule as possible. In our case, it wasn’t long before our contact ran out of things for us to do! He’d even dismiss the team after morning Bible studies, telling us to “just take rest today.” We were in a bustling South Asian city, so once the contact left I’d whisper to the team: “we’re not taking rest today.” Instead we’d break into groups, ask God what we should do, and then go do it. We’d end up encountering new people, finding and meeting needs, and sharing life with various folk. It’s hard to summarise just how fruitful this actually was!

So why did my student think this was the best mission experience he’d had? “Because what we’ve done here is precisely what we can do back home.” Normally we run around doing so much, meaning there’s no way we can replicate it in our normal lives. But here, we were integrating mission and regular life. We were learning how to be open to the opportunities God was opening up in front of us.

FINDING A BETTER WAY

This experience left me wondering: are there approaches and models for short-term teams that will help people integrate what they learn into their ‘normal lives.’ I’m not interested in people creating nice memories. There needs to be something of ongoing value from the experience for both the team and those we’re seeking to serve. How can we be making disciples (Matthew 28:19) not just good trips?

Many short-term teams go out with very little solid training – but good intentions are simply not enough! Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions (Moody Publishers, 2014) is a new biblically grounded training package designed to help short-term teams prepare, process and maximise their experience. It also helps teams avoid attitudes and practices that actually harm the communities we’re seeking to bless. Though it focuses on teams going to poorer communities, we think it’s beneficial for almost any team crossing cultures.

It’s made up of eight 90 minute sessions that include reflections, discussion questions and short video teachings. Each team member receives a Participants Guide to help them process all they’re learning, and the Leader’s Guide is designed to give the team leader(s) all they need to know to facilitate the training, preparation and debrief. We hope this package will assist many Kiwis put together, implement and process short-term mission encounters.

If you’re interested in finding out more or discussing your ideas for a short-term Encounter Team experience with NZCMS, email kirstin@nzcms.org.nz

 

For discussion

In what ways do teams need to prepare and train well – whether for a cross-cultural trip or local mission?

If you want to explore in your small group how these concepts apply to local (and global) mission, I can’t recommend enough the free online video series ‘Helping Without Hurting’

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Short-Term Mission Impossible? (Issue 28)

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By Mark Barnard.

Not many 14 year olds spend their summer holidays in the interior jungles of West New Britain. But in 1992, that’s exactly what I did, living in a thatched hut for a month with a crew of fellow Kiwis and Aussies. We were there with New Tribes Missions building a house for some missionaries. It was off the grid: wild, primal and dangerous and included scorpions, malaria and crocodiles. OK so there were no crocodiles, but it was still a full-on experience, one I’ll never forget… nor contemplate letting my own 14-year children go on.

It was the first of many short-term mission trips I’ve been on over the last 25 years. Each one has been unique and wild in its own way. My short-term mission itinerary has since included: Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey and Fiji (and some of these a number of times). As I’ve learned and changed over the years, so too has my understanding and approach to these trips.

So what have I picked up along the way (other than malaria and travellers trots)? What are some of the dilemmas that I’ve faced?

SHORT-TERM GAINS? LONG TERM PAINS?

The bottom line for me is that these trips come out of an immense place of privilege in the world. As a white, middle-class Christian male, the fact that I’ve boarded a plane more times than I care to remember means I’m part of a small percentage of people in the world whose circumstances enable such a luxury.

That’s what these trips are: a luxury, and I have to think about this every time I contemplate such a journey. Much of the world lives in grinding poverty, and I get to hop on a plane and go have a look. Each plane ticket I purchase costs more than most people live off each year. The trip had better be well thought through.

And each time I board the plane I also must remember the environmental impact. Air travel contributes to climate change. I can’t get around this. So again I need to ask honestly: should I be on this plane? I don’t like asking this but when I do, I enter a space that calls me to be real about the impact of my choices. They matter.

Along with these impacts, I think about what it means for wealthy Christians to go to poor countries and share Jesus with the locals. There are so many power dynamics and ethical dilemmas at play! Are we doing things that people can do for themselves? Are we creating dependency? Jealousy? Local rivalry? Are we culturally sensitive? Have we thought enough about what the Gospel should look and sound like in this context? By going are we creating more problems than we solve?

As I ask these challenging questions, the inevitable big one arises… Should we actually go?

MUTUALITY AND MISSION

When I think back over the many trips I’ve been privileged to embark upon, a number of things stand out as gifts that I’m deeply grateful to have received. The global perspective I’ve been exposed to has been life changing. Sitting with the poor in some of Asia’s slums has rocked me to the core. I can’t begin to recount the many stories that have cut so deep, and without these experiences I don’t think I would have made the intentional choices to live in the way I do. Poverty asks me to live with its ever present reality lingering in my mind. I simply have to respond.

The poor aren’t just statistics for me. They’ve been my hosts; they’ve become my friends. I’ve sat at dinner with rubbish picking families, laughed with them and held their children. The gift of friendship is something which stands out as the most enduring contribution of these trips. Friendship creates a sense of mutuality, that in this encounter we both have something to give and to receive.

No matter the country, this has been my experience; there is something sacred in the space created in friendship that transcends cultural barriers. We discover God in our midst. There is something about mutual encounter that creates the space for us to share the stories that mean the most to us: who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. The Good News is something we discover together, as we find we don’t have all the answers. There’s much to learn from the experience and understanding of others.

The power dynamics that are inherent when Westerners place themselves for short periods amongst the poor can be somewhat mitigated if we go as ‘guests.’ Being hosted by the poor, eating with them, staying in their homes, when done respectfully and thoughtfully can be a deeply mutual experience which empowers the host with a profound sense of dignity. It’s so important for Westerners to experience powerlessness, where we don’t have all the answers, solutions and suggestions to fix the world’s problems. Sometimes it’s best to sit and cry.

So the million dollar question: to go or not to go?

Perhaps, if:

I’m prepared to be honest about the privilege and impact of such a trip and think about some ways to ‘off set’ (such as giving a ‘trip tithe’ to an environmental justice organisation) I can outline how this could potentially improve the situation of the world’s poor I’m committed to building mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships with my hosts I’m prepared to place myself in situations of powerless that I simply can’t solve

Then maybe.

I’m pretty sure I’ll board a plane to the developing world in the future. But before I do, I’ll take some time to prayerfully consider my own list of questions. If I can answer them honestly, then I can share more honestly with my overseas friends. Treating others with dignity, kindness and respect are signs of the Jesus journey. Such journeys are well worth taking.

Mark is part of a missional clan called Urban Vision. He’s currently based in Mt Roskill with his wife Bridget and three kids.

 

For discussion Identify differences between a trip only benefiting the ‘goers’ and one that will mutually benefit everyone involved.

If you’re going, take time to talk through Mark’s bullet points. Prayerfully ask the question: should you be going on this trip?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Through Their Eyes (Issue 28)

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“Finally got a cuddle with a white baby! #savingnewzealand.” Imagine me writing that in a support letter back to Kenya. Sound offensive? Yet how many short-term teams send home photos of themselves holding dark skinned orphans? It’s so commonplace that ‘instagramming Africa’ is actually a thing. We can be certain about one lasting change for almost every short-term team member: their Facebook profile image!

It’s often said that short-term teams benefit more from their trips than the locals they visit. But what do the locals think about teams visiting from the West?

I’ve hosted many short-term teams back in Kenya and now I send teams from New Zealand. While most of the teams that visited Kenya brought encouragement, I’d like to reflect on things we often don’t talk about. Here’s some don’ts for Encounter Teams written from a host’s perspective.

DON’T MAKE IT ALL ABOUT YOU

Many people have realised that short-term trips don’t always do much for those we visit. So why do we keep doing them? Often it’s for the personal growth of the team. That might sound good until we reword it: we use someone else’s poverty and suffering and shame for our own self-development. Does that sound right to you? Is that the ‘Jesus-way’ of mission? (See Philippians 2:1-11.)

However great the experience may be for us, the primary purpose has to be blessing those we go to. In fact, research suggests the transformation teams experience doesn’t often last very long. Once we’ve shown the photos, what actually changes in our lifestyle? Could making the primary goal a ‘good experience’ for the traveller be a reflection of our self-focused and consumerist culture?

DON’T ‘JUST DO IT’

You may say that you didn’t just go to ‘feel good’; you went to do something practical. One of the teams I hosted insisted they paint some school classrooms. Were they skilled painters? No. Had they ever even painted a room before? Perhaps not. We not only had to re-paint some rooms after they left, but also put our workers out of jobs for two weeks.

When you’re in a country with an unemployment rate of 60%, is it ethical to do what the locals could easily do themselves? It’s not necessarily that they can’t do it, or that they don’t have the money. It may just not be a priority.

Going into another culture, do we stop to ask what local resources already exist? Will our involvement lead to future sustainability and self-reliance? Will it develop creativity, communal concern and responsibility? Is our perception of their needs even correct?

DON’T COME UNPREPARED

Many teams end up doing things they never do back home. Why is it ok to preach while overseas but not in your home country? Or share the Gospel on the streets without any experience back home? Visiting teams need to prepare themselves for effective service, even if it takes a couple of months or even years. This includes learning something of the culture before you arrive.

DON’T IGNORE US

Let’s be honest – Westerners love tasks! (That’s the stereotype anyway.) But completion of tasks can obscure relationship-building. One team was so focused on building a church facility that they virtually refused to interact with locals. In contrast, if a team ends up not doing ‘any work’ because they spent time having lots of cups of tea and talking, that’s okay. That may be what’s needed to open doors for ministry in that culture. If mission is framed as a project that can be accomplished and therefore left behind, what is communicated to the developing community that received workers in a spirit of friendship? How can teams instead prepare to initiate or enhance a long-term partnership?

DON’T DO IT ALONE

If relationships are key, visitors shouldn’t be the only ones singing, preaching, witnessing and serving during the visit. When we hosted teams, we tried arranging home-stays for a couple of days so visitors experienced Kenyan family life. We also ensured there were enough locals on the team to help, not just with translation, but as equal co-participants in ministry. This reminds us that we’re a ‘body of many parts’ that need to work together (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

DON’T SNUB OUR HOSPITALITY

In many parts of the world, hospitality is such a strong value that hosts often super-extend themselves to make visitors welcome (sometimes even putting themselves into debt). The ‘gifts’ host communities offer need to be valued – including non-material things such as a warm welcome, forgiveness for cultural blunders, their time and energy, protection from thieves, social guidance to negotiate an unfamiliar culture. Local food may not be to your taste but it’s served in a spirit of generosity. Often hosts provide food that‘s rarely eaten, such as chicken or goat, sacrificing part of their livelihood to honour the visitors. How offensive, then, is it for us to spend every meal complaining about what we’ve been served when it’s better than what they typically get to eat themselves?

DON’T DISRUPT OUR CULTURE

I once insisted a team couldn’t take pictures in the slums or take more than five people at a time as it’d generate unnecessary attention. I was ignored. After the visitors returned home, we went back to the slum to do some teaching. The people who’d seen us with the mzungus insisted we give them any money we’d received and pay them for the photos taken. That team had left us with issues we had to sort out for many weeks to build credibility again. Encounter Teams need to humbly accept they don’t always know what’s best, or else they may unintentionally do things in the community that are culturally disorienting and disruptive.

DON’T FIX US!

A team I hosted brought a 40 foot container full of electrical appliances. Washing machines are great … but not in the community I was working. They had no regular running water, power bills were high, the machines’ voltage was 110 instead of 240, and we would have put people who do laundry out of a job. The team planned to ’fix’ our laundry issue but we didn’t need to be fixed. At least not that way. And the icing on the cake: the money used to clear customs could have employed 20 local people for a year!

Developing a passion for sharing, supporting and reaching out to others is important, but it needs to be well informed. Throwing money at a project can actually have negative impacts in the Majority World, often hindering where we’re trying to help. Well intentioned aid can develop a culture of dependency, and a subtle message can be communicated – that communities can’t help themselves and that local ways of doing things are always wrong.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT US

If involvement in an Encounter trip is to be more than a tick on your bucket list then keep in touch with your hosts. The trip is the beginning of a journey, a relationship, an encounter.

Perhaps I’ve raised more questions than answers. I don’t want to discourage Encounter trips or generous giving, but these are questions we need to wrestle with, along with opening our wallets and investing our time.

 

For discussion

Go through and discuss the don’ts that stood out.

Read Philippians 2:1-11. How do these principles apply to your group’s local mission involvement?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

The Romantic Allure of Exotic Problems (Issue 28)

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They say distance makes the heart grow fonder and I think it’s the same with the needs of the world. You see, there’s something about distance that seems to simplify problems. The unpleasant details are less distinguishable 10000 kilometres away. The sewage in the streets doesn’t smell from here, their cultural ‘baggage’ is easily overlooked and that complex political issue surely has a simple solution they just can’t see. In mission we call this ‘romanticization,’ and it’s a problem.

When it comes to cross-cultural mission there’s one phrase that surfaces over and over: “Let’s change the world!” The seductive allure of this phrase is intoxicating. Who doesn’t love the idea that we might bring much-needed peace, love and prosperity to some distant place? Oh the glory! The prestige! We’ll be heroes! Or will we?

AN EXAMPLE FROM YOUR BACKYARD

It was in the aftermath of the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch that I become keenly aware of the concept of misdirected empathy. My wife and I became responsible for handling the overwhelming response from a particular global mission community. Emails flooded in from individuals and mission teams around the world, many insisting on sending teams to “help with recovery.” While this was initially a beautiful and heart-felt gesture, it quickly became evident that the sentiment was out of alignment with the need.

In the early stages of response and recovery there were plenty of basic, manual labour needs, shovelling liquefaction chief among them. This is the kind of thing you can hurl unskilled bodies at with some sense of accomplishment. As the recovery progressed the needs changed, and we became stumped on how to help connect well-meaning yet generally unskilled short-term workers to practical needs. The simple jobs had been completed and the needs moved into the category of skilled labourers, grief and trauma counsellors and a handful of activists – jobs that couldn’t be filled by short-term volunteers.

These situations highlighted the great need for mission teams to not just be willing and available, but also keenly aware of the local context and needs, and able to contribute valuable skills and expertise. Not only that, but quite often the solution to even the most fundamental of situations requires years of faithful and dedicated commitment – something short-term teams can’t offer. Rome wasn’t built in a day and, likewise, change takes time, effort and faithful presence.

Just as the needs in Christchurch were specific, detailed and complex, so is the nature of all brokenness in our world. Whether its poverty, human trafficking or child abuse, our response must start with compassion and understanding, then move to commitment and action. There is no quickfix when it comes to the work of the Kingdom.

So next time we look across the sea and start feeling our hearts flutter for a specific glossy issue, let’s stop and ask ourselves a few questions.

Have I taken the time to properly understand the situation? Have I spoken with locals to learn about the complex nuances of the problem? Am I willing to make a long-term commitment to this place or issue? What skills are required to address this need? What are some of the possible unintended consequences of my intervention?

And while you’re asking questions, consider your own community. Has the seductive nature of exotic problems paralysed you to the hard work of bringing life, light and change to your own world – the one in which you live, work and play? Until we can learn to live the mission of Jesus in our own local context we may want to put our romantic dreams of crosscultural heroism aside. Change must start with us, right where we are, before it can spread to the rest of the world.

Originally from America, Noah, Kate and their daughter live in Christchurch where they support grass-roots missional engagement here and around the world. (Image by Terry Philpott.)

 

For discussion Why do we have a tendency to see distant problems through simplistic lenses?

Whether you’re going on a short-term trip or not, is there a local issue your group could get involved with? Or have you considered a ‘short-term trip’ within your own country or city?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Since When is a Flower a Whole Garden? (Issue 28)

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Let’s imagine I rang up my local builder, telling him about a team of youth coming to NZ from Asia to build houses. He’d have a few questions: Why are they coming? They’re moved by the Auckland housing crisis. Are they qualified tradespeople? Nope. Do they have any building skills? Not that I know of. How long are they coming for? Just two weeks to knock up a few houses and then leave… Oh, and they’ve asked if we can provide a 12-seater van, accommodation and food. Plus a trip up the Sky Tower.

Why’s that sound bizarre? Because there’s no such thing as a ‘short-term builder,’ or a ‘short-term dentist,’ or a ‘short-term counsellor.’ We know those are skills that take years to develop, skills you don’t magically acquire by jumping on a plane for a 2 week trip. Yet, we often act as if the only requirement for someone on a short-term team is that they like the idea of going on a trip! And what’s worse: these trips seem to be shaping the way many of us understand this thing we call mission.

‘Short-term mission trips’ have become more and more centre stage of churches’ involvement in ‘mission.’ That’s not bad in and of itself, but what if these short-term trips are forming our understanding of what mission is? If mission can be ‘short’ and a ‘trip,’ and these words are how we often talk about mission, it shouldn’t surprise us when it becomes the way we start thinking about the totality of mission.

In fact, experts in a variety of areas show how the language we use shapes our culture – it shapes how we understand the world and how we live. That means common phrases like ‘short-term mission trip’ – rather than God’s word – end up shaping our understanding of anything to do with mission! Mission becomes something with a start date… and an end date. It’s something you can finish. It’s something you do for a while during a special season of your life, and then set aside when you return to ‘normal life.’

I’m not saying short-term trips are invalid. It’s just they need to be understood as a very small part of a MUCH bigger picture. It’s like showing a microscopic image of a flower and saying it’s a garden. Not untrue, but not the whole story. It’s not that mission-trips aren’t mission, but what’s the big picture? What’s the ‘garden of mission’ of which these trips are a part?

THE BIGGER QUESTIONS

Perhaps we need to ask other hard questions about the ways we use the word ‘mission.’ How often do our sermons or Bible studies focus on the theme of mission? Should mission be an ‘optional track’ at most Bible colleges? Why are churches needing to have ‘mission-Sundays’? And dare I ask: why do we have to commit to a ‘Decade of Mission’? Does the need for such things show us something about how we view mission: that it’s an optional extra, not something central for the life of each and every follower of Jesus?

Alan Hirsch comments that to say ‘missional church’ is like saying ‘female woman.’ The phrase ‘missional church’ shouldn’t exist, because we should all know that central to following Jesus is following him in his mission! But here we are, needing to awkwardly remind ourselves that to be Christian – to be the church – is to be missional. This all means that ‘short-term mission’ has to happen within a much larger conversation about mission.

SHORT-TERM MISSION TRIPS: A PATHWAY?

Alongside this question of the ‘big-picture,’ we need to consider the pathways we’re creating. If short-term trips are a key pathway to get people engaged in God’s overarching mission, we need to ask: a pathway to what? One of the ongoing struggles for ‘short-termers’ is knowing what engagement in NZ looks like for them post-trip. Can we be bold enough to dream of it being more than a 5-minute power-point slideshow on a Sunday morning? What about a local mission project? What about a longer discipleship programme that includes (but doesn’t only consist of!) an overseas Encounter?

Let’s be a people committed to the Bigness of God’s mission and pursue all things mission with equal passion: short and long term, global and local, ministry and workplace, discipleship and evangelism and social action. Let’s make sure the way we talk about short-term mission is communicating a holistic understanding and practice of mission.

 

For discussion Take time to carefully consider the question: what is God’s big-picture mission revealed throughout the Bible?

Have we been distracted by our ‘flowers’ and forgotten the ‘garden’?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.