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Short-Term Missions | Foundations

Short-Term Missions | Long-Term Impact II

· Mission,Equipping

The sun had long since set over the rugged Himalayan terrain and we were still a considerable distance from our intended destination. Chalk it up to a surge of adrenaline or that certain enthusiasm that comes with being a novice but we had already traversed two day's worth of hill country in an 8-hour period. However, it caught up with us - as unchecked initiative often can - and my team began to show signs of wear. We were a band of the uninitiated; a teacher and four high school boys. None had previously been on a mission trip and certainly had never encountered anything as daunting as the Himalayas of Nepal (where EIGHT of the world's ten highest peaks are). All the practice hikes, simulations, and cultural training could not prepare us for what was about to hit. In the midst of our fatigue, culture shock, and hunger a hailstorm happened upon us. Darkness enveloped the sky, the hike became increasingly vertical, and pellets of ice mocked us with an incessant tapping. On more than one occasion we succumbed to crawling and groaning through the knee deep snow, hoping that at that each turn we had arrived at our destination only to find another incline to negotiate. We eventually did make it to shelter, to warmth, to comfort; but that’s another story for another time. This was my first real taste of short-term missions and it's been forever burned into my memory.

In the first post of "Short-Term Missions :: Long-Term Impact" we explored the foundational concept that Mission is what the Church does in response to what Christ has done. Looking back at those events ten years ago there is much I wish I would have known before getting thrown into the mission trip rabbit hole. My team and I have learned much over the past decade and still have much more to learn. One thing I can say for sure is that it is critical that every mission program be established on a firm foundation.

Three Essential Components for a Firm Foundation

While not exhaustive, I see three components that must be in place for a mission program to have a firm foundation:

The Prophetic Component - Answering the question, “What do you see?”

The Biblical Component - Answering the question, “What do you hear?”

The Practical Component - Answering the question, “What do you have?”

* Side Note: At the end of each section there are some action points. Don’t skip over these, especially if you’re considering beginning a mission program or refining a current one.

The Prophetic Component: What do you see?

The Gospels are so thoroughly filled with the miracles of Christ that we can at times overlook peculiar elements in some of their retellings. While traveling throughout Bethesda a group of villagers beseeched Jesus to heal a local blindman - a seemingly “standard” experience in his ministry (Mark 8: 22-26). Before the healing is realized in full Jesus asks the man what he sees to which he replies that he sees men that look like trees. The man has gained some vision but is unable to discern a complete and accurate picture. Allegorically this presents us with a lesson on vision as leaders. Often times we have a sense of what God is calling is to do but its not completely clear. There’s a bit of haze and confusion. However, over time as we obediently respond to what we see the picture gets more defined.

As a point of clarification “prophetic”, when is used in this sense, is not to be understood as “prophetic ministry” - as in words of knowledge and wisdom. As valuable as those things can be for the people of God that is not our concern here. Prophetic, in this case, has to do with “seeing” - even vaguely - a preferred future for God’s people. The secular world might call this "being a visionary". An example of this type of prophetic action may be found in Galatians 3. Early in its history the Christian community wrestled with issues of race, status, and gender as it sought to live out the implications of the Gospel within a patriarchal Jewish society that was further embedded in world influenced by Hellenism. Paul writes that in Christ there is no longer Greek or Jew, Slave or Free, Male or Female. Certainly he was not saying these categories no longer exist but that in light of what Christ has done these differences ought to no longer be divisions. Paul prophetically saw a compelling new future of equity; one that restored inherent dignity to the prejudiced.

Before beginning a mission program - or a mission trip for that matter - take time to consider what God might want you to see. For the ministry I lead I saw a group of affluent international students that have the capacity to leverage their privileged status in ways that provide love and support to those on the “outside” of their world.

Action Points

After a time of quiet prayer and reflection begin to write down what you see. Who is involved and why? How does your organization’s overarching vision and mission inform what type of program will be best? What deep seated desires that lie in the hearts of your community members need to be acknowledged and liberated into God’s mission? What are noticeable areas of languishing in your community and beyond that you desire to respond to? As you might imagine, this is no simple exercise. It’s a labor of love, thought, and reflection - and it requires time. This time will be well invested as it positions you to see the possibilities that lie before you.

The Biblical Component: What do you hear?

All mission, if it is to be Christian mission, must have an unassailable Biblical foundation. Throughout the entirety of the Scriptures there runs a dramatic thread that exhibits the heart of God to reach all peoples for His glory and their benefit. As early as Genesis 12 God promises that all the nations of the earth would be blessed by a distant offspring of Abraham. Hundreds of years later Abraham’s descendants, having been recently rescued from slavery in Egypt, are given the charge to be a holy nation and kingdom of priests. Essentially, they are called to a centrifugal outworking of mission - meaning that as God continues to form and shape them they are to respond with expressions of his love and justice in the greater society. Irrespective of Israel’s successes and failures God continued to advance his redemptive plan, reaching its precipice in the arrival of Christ. In Christ we see the inauguration of the present-future paradigm of God’s kingdom. In one sense the Kingdom of God had come in the Son of Man and in another sense it is still arriving. Complete redemption, ultimate justice, absolute renewal are yet to come. We are the people of the “in-between” and the lot falls to us to partner in God’s kingdom advance during this age.

In light of the biblical narrative of mission what do you hear? What does God say uniquely to you that aligns your missional hopes with his redemptive story? What Biblical themes or stories stir up ardor for becoming participants in this great task? This task of all tasks. Each of us must discern for ourselves our unique expression of the biblical mandate to make disciples.

For VASE, the mission program I lead at GSIS, there were several. First was the image of a solitary woman with a fragile jar. While visiting at the home of a friend Jesus receives an unexpected act of adoration in the form of a woman who breaks an alabaster jar and anoints his head with the precious oil within it (Mark 14). The men in the room scoff; but the Son of Man commends. Although the circumstances are quite different this act of love and devotion - of pouring oneself out - have become thematic for VASE. This is the biblical imagery we seek to express throughout the entire process: trip promotion, training, cultural prep, serving on the field, and the telling of our story upon return. We pour ourselves out in all that we do.

Further VASE serves as an acronym (and we love acronyms don’t we!) with each element demonstrating a biblical principal within itself: Vision • Action • Service • Evangelism

Vision: To gain a better vision for God’s world.

"The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." (Psalm 24:1)

Action: To become true participants in God’s redemptive work

"And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

Service: To offer our time, abilites, and resources to other in Christlike humility

"Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what." (Philippians 2:5-7)

Evangelism: To communicate the Gospel of Christ in both word and deed

"But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

Action Points

Spend time investigating mission and service themes and stories throughout the Bible; there are many. A few to begin with might be: Jonah - the reluctant missionary that God still worked through, The Great Commission - the tasks of all tasks that charges the whole people of God with making disciples, Paul - the cross-cultural missionary who learned to be a bit of a chameleon for the advancement of the Gospel. As you delve into these portions of Scripture begin to highlight certain words, images, or themes that speak to you.

The Practical Component: What do you have?

At this point it may prove helpful to consider Moses. Did he have a vision - a prophetic hope for a preferred future? Certainly. In fact he initially went about fulfilling that vision in the wrong way eventuating in a 40 year sojourn to Midian. Did Moses hear the redemptive voice of God? Indeed. As a child before finally entering the court of Pharaoh he likely heard of God’s faithfulness to the Patriarchs and the promises that awaited his people. Moreover, he literally heard the voice of God through the burning bush of Sinai. So Moses has a vision and a biblical mandate; but what he lacks - at least he thinks so - are the resources to accomplish the vision in a way that is faithful to the mandate he has received. But if all mission truly is God’s mission, as I’ve attempted to establish, then the onus is upon Him to empower his servants with the resources they currently have. And this is just what we see with Moses for as he laments his apparent inadequecies God asks “What do you have in your hand?” - to which Moses replies “A staff.” That humble staff would later become the instrument by which Moses would accomplish remarkable deeds.

It’s fascinating to see what God can work with when we let him. The third component of the mission foundation is the one that concerns your current strengths, abilities, and resources. This determines what you have to work with in the near future and helps to filter which types of work, and which organizations, serve as optimal fits. Below are a list of resources available to the GSIS community that at first sight seem much like Moses staff - a bit normal. Yet, when viewed through the lens of prophetic vision and biblical foundation they become much more:

  • English fluency
  • Students and staff who participate in a wide range of co-curricular activities 
  • Well educated, experienced, and enthusiastic staff members
  • A rigorous academic program
  • Financial support structures

Now let’s take a look at how these resources are leveraged in meaningful ways. Ways that directly align to the long-term goals of the people and organizations we travel to serve.

English Fluency: In Indonesia and Myanmar we develop English lesson and tutoring plans for students in impoverished communities. As educational support is a rare commodity this simple lessons help children of host countries while providing an atmosphere of fun.

Wide Range of Co-Curricultar Activities: In Indonesia we run sports camps for two Muslim islands that have almost no access to athletic supplies. GSIS students are able to leverage their love and talent for athletics in a way that blesses others.

Professional Educators: Our teachers are some of our greatest assets. On one end of the spectrum their enthusiasm and experience help to ensure that our student participants are well guided and cared for. On the the other our teachers offer professional development opportunities for village teachers that have received little training throughout their careers. Our professional resources become a means of equip locals who in turn become better educators for their children

Financial Support Structures: Each year through a very simple bake-sale fundraiser we generate around 2000 USD Additionally, the Youth Club of GSIS does an annual book and clothes drive so that we can take books and clothes in good condition to our partners (one location recently lost its library in a fire). This enables us to incorporate the greater school community in the mission. It's not just about who goes on these trips, but what we can do collectively to bless our friends in other countries.

Action Point:

Create a community strengths inventory and partner needs chart. By asking what do they need and what can we offer you can help ensure your efforts are both desired and effective. Churches and schools, no matter how well intending, can fail the people they are attempting to serve by pushing their agenda rather than humbly seeking what is most desired.

* Post-Script and a word about choosing an organization to work with:

As you navigate through the opportunities before you, the missional themes God is speaking, and the resources within your community you'll begin to get a clearer idea of which types of organizations to partner with and what type of work should be done. There are literally hundreds of missions organizations to choose from and at first it can seem daunting. This is why working through these components of the foundation are essential; they'll help filter your choices. I would add that it's essential to choose an organization that: does work that resonates deeply with your community, has a successful track record of working with a school / church community like your own, and is willing to guide you through the entire process so that everyone comes out the better for it. I firmly believe the best mission parters are the ones who are genuinely interested in long-term relationships rather than short-term benefits.

Stay tuned for next post where we'll look at building your team. As always, if you've found this helpful please share and subscribe!

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