I've had several conversations recently with churches desirous of making missions more relevant to their local congregations. Unfortunately a church misions program is often disconnected from everything else the church may be doing. A church believes in missions, so sending a check becomes what often seems the only way to be involved in world outreach in an ongoing way. My encouragement to these churches is that missions can indeed be integrated into the overall ministry of a local church. Short-term missions is a big piece of fostering such an integration.
Short-term ministry needs to be done right, but it can be done right, and an on-going, relationally-based church partnership is possible, and can be extremely rewarding for both the international church and the U.S. church.
But before we talk about some practical steps toward making that happen, let's attempt to clarify some initial erroneous presuppositions:
1. A visiting English-speaking U.S. team comes to impart knowledge and show us how to do church. Wrong. Frankly, even a new church plant does church pretty well, and in Spanish, of all things! I've long stopped encouraging visitors to give their testimonies in Spanish...we hear incredible testimonies in fluent Spanish pretty often! It is more probable that a visiting team will learn more about how to do church than they will teach. As a way to provide a bit of perspective, I sometimes ask visiting churches what they would do with a group of 15 Mexicans who speak almost no English, and are pretty much totally dependent on a bilingual person for 8-10 days. Yes, a group often can share talents and perspectives that are helpful, and very much appreciated. It has been our experience, however, that almost everyone who visits us goes back home feeling that they've learned more than they've taught.
2. A group's primary impact has to do with a physical project, such as building or painting, a teaching time or a sports or music outreach. No. Any activity is simply a vehicle by which to establish relationships. Obviously the physical work done on a building is valuable, but if this work is done by sacrificing the opportunity to relate to and enjoy the Mexican host people and culture, the trip is less tan successful. People are transformed when they interact with one another, whether that be through play, work or worship. Crossing language and culture is difficult, but the barrier pales when compared to the bridge that is formed. Cross the bridge. Talk with Mexicans, eat with them, laugh and cry with them. Reach out with God's love to those who may not know Him yet. There is a tremendous novelty to being a stranger in a strange land. Learn to enjoy that, to maximize that. Make friends. You can have an impact, even in a week. The church here still talks about visitors that they may have only known for a week...years later.
3. Mexico is dangerous. No, it really isn't. This last misconception is obviously unique to Mexico. Sure, you can always find crazy, macabre events that get splashed all over Facebook and U.S. television. Yes, there are areas that require more caution than others (right now, the state of Michoacán, for example). But generally speaking, Mexico is safer than most places, certainly safer than the countries in Central America (I won't mention names), and in many respects safer than many places in the U.S. Yes, things can happen. They can happen where you live, too. Here is a website to check out. Click HERE.