Short Term Missions

Posted: June 16, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Missional Thought

Last week, the Desiring God Blog posted on short-term missions throughout the week.  This is the wrap-up with links to their different posts.  The major messages that came through were that those going on short-term missions must have a servant’s attitude, take care that their efforts don’t harm the poor and the local Christian efforts that they mean to help, and realize that those who go on the trip often receive more than those they mean to help.

Two articles from the Chalmers Center at Covenant College were particularly interesting.  They sought to differentiate between relief and development, arguing that when the poor can help themselves we must pursue development.  The second article that I linked to provides this suggestion (the DG Blog quoted a shorter section of this):

Despite these words of caution, STM trips can play a positive role in the lives of all those involved, but a different paradigm is needed. Rather than going as “doers,” some powerful dynamics can be unleashed if STM teams go as “learners” from the poor or as “co-learners” with the poor. Consistent with an asset-based model, going as a learner emphasizes the gifts which poor people have to share with others: the spiritual, intellectual, physical, and social resources that God has already placed in their community. Listening to poor people and asking them to share their insights affirms their dignity and reduces the tendencies towards pride on the part of the outsiders. Furthermore, the poor really do have something to teach us, for they have unique insights on what it means to trust in a sovereign God to “give us this day our daily bread.”

This article also had a good discussion of different cultural views of time:

An important dynamic that affects the interaction of STM teams and low-income communities is that there are often core cultural differences with respect to time. Most Americans are from a monochronic culture which believes that time is a very important resource that should not be wasted. Of course, there is some good in that perspective, and it enables Americans to produce a lot. But many other cultures have a polychronic view that says time is primarily an opportunity to invest in relationships. In such cultures, knowing and serving others is more important than pursuing many new projects or activities. Hence, people from polychronic cultures may not feel unduly impatient or burdened if life unfolds a little bit slower than the people from monochromic cultures would like.

STM teams that fail to understand these dynamics can inadvertently undermine long-term development. For example, when Americans gain a reputation for needing to do things very quickly, it can foster an attitude in poor communities that discourages local people from doing things to improve their own situation. Locals start to say, “We don’t need to do anything. Let’s just wait and some outsiders will show up and do it for us!” Again, if the STM teams would focus less on “doing” and more on “being and learning together,” this problem could be mitigated.

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