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Dear Friends & Family,The first half of July turned out to be a very busy but very productive time for us. Joining us for two weeks was a short-term team from East Sarang Community Church in Chino, CA. Karl coordinated the team together with Tam, who works in student ministry in nearby Lopburi. The schedule was packed with English teaching, an evangelistic student cafe, open air evangelism & tracting, children’s ministry, and preaching. Ministering at the Phrabaht church is often very discouraging and lonely, so it has been wonderful to have so many enthusiastic, dedicated young people with us, as well as their team leader, a former classmate of Karl’s from Gordon Conwell Seminary. Working more closely with Tam was also a great experience as Tam is a hard working Biblically minded servant of God with whom we can communication well.
If you hang around an evangelical church long enough, you’ll probably hear about “comfort zones.” Usually, they are something that you need to “get out of.” But it isn’t just Christian circles that are fairly negative about comfort zones. The New Oxford American Dictionary gives the following definition and example sentences for “comfort zone”comfort zone (noun)a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress : times when we must act beyond our comfort zones | if you stay within your comfort zone, you will never improve. So even the dictionary tells me that I need to get out of my comfort zone. But I think that comfort zones have unfairly gotten a bad rap. No one talks about it but there are often more benefits to be derived from staying in your comfort zone than leaving it. To show you what I mean, let’s look at the stereotypical situation where one is required to get out of their comfort zone: the short-term mission trip.
It is impossible to deny the popularity of short-terms missions. In 1989, there were only 120,000 Americans who went on short-term missions, but by 2006 that number had increased to 2,200,000 Americans going on short-term missions annually.1 And those numbers are probably even higher today. It is not uncommon to hear people rave about the huge benefits of short-term missions in mobilizing young people to the mission field, increasing missions giving from the home side, and making relationships for long-term impact on the mission field. But are these claims true?As I’ve been reading through “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself”, I came across this summary of a study done on the long-term impact of short term missions:
If you are going on short-term mission trip for the first time, it can be overwhelming to think about the amount of money that you need to raise. How do you go about asking people for money?…. oh, and prayer too, of course! The purpose of this post is to provide a quick start guide to writing prayer / support letters for those going on short-term (or not so short-term) missions trips.
First, we need to remember that don’t write prayer letters just because we need money. Even if we were independently wealthy and could pay our own way five times over, we would still want to write prayer letters to people because a mission trip is a spiritual endeavor. A prayer letter is an opportunity for you to invite people who know you to be involved in what you are doing and in what God is doing in another part of the world.
Short-term teams are often limited in their language ability, cultural knowledge, and depth of relationship with the people that they are seeking to minister to. The number of possible activities that a short-term mission team can do is almost limitless but what is the best, most strategic way that a team can spend its limited time? How can they use their short time on the field to produce a potentially long-term impact on the mission field?
I’ve been involved in the world of evangelical missions for almost fifteen years at this point and I’ve been on short-term mission trips, lead short term trips, and now as a long term missionary I have hosted short-term teams on the field. I am convinced that the best, most effective way that short-term missionaries can contribute to the ministry of long-term missionaries and the local church is through serving as bridge builders.
I don’t know of any plans to translate Rob Bell’s new book on hell into Thai. But if it was translated, I doubt it would sell very well. I haven’t read his book so this is not a commentary on what Bell does or does not espouse. But this IS a commentary on how culture shapes our perception of what’s important. The burning issues facing the American church are not necessarily so important in other parts of the world.
While the American church faces the challenges of postmodernity, secularism, and doubt, the church in Thailand does not. The vast majority of Thai Christians and churches affirm the reality of heaven and hell, and the reality of God’s supernatural intervention in the affairs of life. Even Thai Buddhists, who make up 95% of the population of Thailand, believe in heaven and hell. Granted, they have a different understanding of these terms, but most would acknowledge their reality because Buddhism affirms them as well. So, a book addressed to a culture which views heaven and hell with skepticism would likely sit on the shelf in Thailand, gathering dust.
A lot of ink (and pixels) have been spilled talking about the incredible impact that short term missions are making. However, that conclusion is based almost entirely on the perceptions of those who went on the trip. And the impact in question is often the effect that the trip had on those who went, not those on the receiving end. It is fantastic that so many people are blessed by going on short-term missions but are the people whom they went to serve getting blessed as well?
In a disturbing, yet eye opening article, David Livermore ("American or American't? A critical analysis of western training to the world", EMQ, Oct. 2004; Vol 40. No. 4. [pp. 458-456]) writes about a study that he did, “comparing North American pastors descriptions of their experiences training cross-culturally with the way national pastors and leaders described those same experiences.”
With the vast advances in transportation and communication in recent years, it is becoming increasing common for pastors and seminary professors to go on missions trips to teach short-term Bible courses. There is a lot of good that can come from such trips, but also many possible snares. In this post, I want to address just one of these snares, the challenging task of teaching or preaching through translation. Teaching in the local language is far and away the best way to teach but if you must teach through translation, here are some things to keep in mind.
Many times it is assumed that theological education around the globe can be done basically the same way everywhere, namely the way it is done in the West. But in many cases, a cut-and-paste approach to theological education and pastoral training isn’t nearly as effective as some would like to think that it is.
To get some more insight into the nature and challenges of theological education in Asia (and Thailand in particular), I recently interviewed Daniel Kim, director of Chiang Mai Theological Seminary and a missionary church planter in Thailand with OMF International.KD: Could you share briefly about your background, and how you came to be involved in theological education in Thailand?
DK: Korea is my physical birth place. U.S.A. is my spiritual birth place. And Thailand is my missional place. My life has been an exciting journey like the life of Daniel in the OT. I am a trilingual and multicultural person.
Many missionary reports from the field are positive, and filled with joy for what God is doing and hope for what He might do. But a longing of the missionary heart that rarely appears in letters home is the desperate yearning for more co-workers to join them on the field. Of course, missionaries mention the need for more workers, but they often do not fully express the sense of isolation that occurs when one is on their own in the work for years at a time.This yearning was narrated quite well in a letter from a friend who recently returned from an short-term exploratory trip to a Muslim majority country. He is planning to return there long-term and was visiting various missionaries to find out where he might fit best. I am grateful that he has granted permission for me to reproduce the following excerpt:
Because the need for people to hear the Gospel on the mission field is so urgent, it is sometimes claimed that doing a lot of Biblical studies or earning a degree in Bible is not necessary to be a long-term missionary. “People just need the basic Gospel, and you don’t need a degree for that”, it has been said. There is a lot of truth to that statement. However, once someone becomes a Christian, you need to disciple them. And you’ll need to help new believers form themselves into a church community. And to do that, a missionary is going to need to know a LOT more than just a basic Gospel outline.
A pastor friend recently emailed, asking “I was wondering if I could get some tips from a missionary on preparing a short term mission trip for about eight people this summer. Also, if I get a pool of people how what is the best way to choose who goes?” I am far from an expert on short-term missions but I have gone on, lead, and hosted enough short-term mission teams to have some thoughts on the subject. So, for the benefit of others who may find themselves in the same boat as my pastor friend, I include below some answers to his questions, together with links to articles about the nature and purpose of short-term missions (links are at the end of this post)
Much of modern missions literature is occupied with anthropology, sociology, strategy, culture and so forth, rather than the Bible. And there are not a few who say that having a passion for Jesus is much more important than knowing theology. Not long ago I listened to a message by Paul Washer that really hit the nail on the head when it came to pointing out this imbalance in modern missions. Although Washer is perhaps a bit too harsh on contextualization, he makes the great point that missionaries need to be messengers of God’s truth - people who know God and his Word and go to tell people God’s truth.You can download Paul Washer’s message, “A Biblical Vision and Strategy for Missions” from the website of Heart Cry Missionary Society.Enter your email to get new posts from "Gleanings from the Field" in your Inbox Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz
When a church building goes up on the mission field, everybody feels good. The missionary feels good. The local believers feel good. The church back home feels good. Having a church building gives the impression that a church has been established. It is a visible sign of the Christian faith in a community. Everybody feels good that the Gospel is advancing and the presence of a church building is a sign of that advance. Or is it?When the construction of a church building is largely funded by foreign money, the presence of a church building is not a true reflection of the strength and numbers of a local church. Also, if missionaries (or their home churches) are always standing by ready to supply money for newly established churches on the mission field to build church buildings, then this desire to be helpful can foster two wrong ideas: 1) church buildings are necessary in order to be a “real” church and, 2) if you need money, look to the missionary (or the well intentioned short-term visitors from their home church). When the foreign missionaries and their churches are seen as sure sources of money, then the local believers’ motivation to give financially to their own church is lessened and local believers are less likely to make decisions that the missionary doesn’t agree with. If they do, then there is the fear that perhaps the money supply will be cut off. In this way, independent decision making and partnership in the Gospel as equals is diminished. A patron-client relationship harkening back to the days of colonialism is unintentionally nurtured.
One of the wonderful things about living in Thailand is the fruit. Thai fruit is everywhere and is usually very delicious. This is especially true in our current house where we have three mango trees, two jackfruit trees, and several banana and papaya trees. This past week we invited over our new short term worker, Brent, and showed him how to pick mangos from the trees in our backyard. He had a great time doing it and even lashed together a new mango picking pole from two bamboo pole brooms that are usually used for cleaning cobwebs off of the ceiling. Our previous mango pole broke after termites ate the center out of it.
I was recently talking with a pastor whose church does not send any long-term missionaries.It is a vibrant church with many members and a vision for missions, and they could probably send and support their own long-term missionaries if they wanted to.But it seems that they don’t want to.Why not?This pastor told me about what he believes to be more strategic, more effective, and most cost-efficient way to do missions outreach than sending long-term missionaries.
This pastor and his church conduct many short-term training events and seminars throughout the world, gathering together a large group of local leaders and teaching them in an intensive course.When the course is done, the pastor and his team go back to the USA and the local leaders go back to their homes and churches, presumably to put into practice what they have learned.Besides live teaching from short-term missionaries, this pastor is also committed to getting a video training course called ISOM into the hands of groups of leaders in various countries, to be used in place of live teachers but administered by a local coordinator/facilitator who leads discussions about the video course material.It is his belief that Western churches can have a much bigger global impact for the Gospel by doing missions through this type of short-term leadership training rather than paying for long-term foreign missionaries (I am defining “missionary” as one who intentionally crosses barriers of language and culture to share the Gospel with those who would normally not have the opportunity to hear the Gospel within their cultural and/or linguistic context).