Is Short-Term Missions About Recruiting Long-Term Missionaries?

Is the primary purpose of short-term missions to recruit long-term missionaries? Matt Whitacre, Director of Serve Asia US, believes our purpose is much bigger.

By Matt Whitacre

Harvest time is finally here. In the spring we planted peas, carrots, zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkins and corn. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been able to enjoy some of the fruits of our labor. It’s delicious and satisfying that our hard work and diligence over the past couple of months has paid off.

But was it worth it? If we just wanted some vegetables to eat, wouldn’t we be better off just getting them from the grocery store?

1) The stores are much more convenient. No bending over, digging, weeding, pruning, or watering needed.

2) It costs way less to buy a bunch of zucchini from the store than to pay for a garden box, soil, compost, seeds, and water over a span of 10-12 weeks. So what was the point if not to produce food?

A few things come to mind:

1) An appreciation of our dependence on God. Yes, we put some work in, but we didn’t “make” the vegetables. God did. He’s the one who designed and programmed the cells to turn a little seed into a huge plant that bears edible fruit.

2) A lesson in delayed gratification and persistence. So much of our expectations in life demand instant results. The garden teaches us that good things come when we wait for God to provide.

3) A picture of the seasons of life. We get so excited when we see the first few leaves pop up out of the dirt; then we watch them grow over a long time and produce fruit that we can enjoy. But eventually, and despite our best efforts to maintain the harvest, the plants wither and die. Isaiah 40:8 reminds us: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (also see 1 Peter 2:22-25)

Short Term Missions Is a Garden?

Why am I writing about my garden? It struck me the other day that the garden can be a metaphor for short-term missions. In July, OMF (U.S.) held one of our candidate courses; that  is when people applying for long-term service come and learn about OMF and have their final interviews before being appointed.

8 out of 11 candidates for long-term missions were former Serve Asia participants, candidates who are planning to go to Japan, Cambodia, and Thailand. Praise God! On top of that, we found out that two other Serve Asia alumni are beginning two-year commitments with other organizations, one in Japan and one in the Philippines. Fruit!

But was that the whole point? Did we spend years of energy and invest considerable amounts of money to send hundreds of workers over the last several years so we could see ten of them become long-term missionaries? Yes and no. Yes, we celebrate God’s leading in their lives to serve long-term. Our vision is to see purposeful mission involvement in the lives of Serve Asia participants, contributing to the global Kingdom of God.

Seeing our alumni commit their lives to long-term overseas service certainly brings us joy and brings glory to God.

But no, that is not the whole point. The kingdom of God is much bigger and its expansion will take more than long-term cross-cultural workers.

Expanding Our Vision of Short-Term Missions

  • We need people who will commit to praying.
  • We need people who will support missionaries and the growing global church.
  • We need people who will mobilize others to pray, support and go.
  • We need people who will welcome internationals with gracious hospitality and introduce them to Jesus.
  • We also need people who may someday go back to their home countries and help the missionaries network in order to grow the local church.

All of these things contribute to a long-term strategy of indigenous biblical church movements.

We need to shift our thinking from using short-term mission trips only as a tool for recruiting long-term workers to a tool for advancing long-term strategies.

Overseas short-term workers can often begin relationships and connections that the long-term workers cannot. And then the long-term workers can follow-up those new friendships in a way the short-term workers cannot. It’s a team effort.

We’ve also seen short-term workers come and prayer walk through dozens of unengaged, unreached villages that now have growing and multiplying church movements among them. The long-term worker provided the strategy and the vision and the short-term workers provided the momentum in the form of prayer.

Back to the fruit analogy. Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent to a supermarket for buying long-term missionaries. We’re in the business of farming no matter what. Maybe the challenge is not so much whether we’re focused on the product (long-term missionaries) or the process (short-term mission trips) but rather in clarifying the purpose.

We send short-term missionaries to contribute, now and later, to God’s long-term mission of bringing the nations together to worship Christ.

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