REIMAGINING SHORT-TERM MISSIONS / 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. 

We had on our matching shirts, holding our passports, and had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Mostly, we were just excited to be traveling with our friends. Our giant high school group landed in South America, assigned with helping build a church, play with children, and visit churches. We came to serve with an organization. We came with a genuine desire to help people. We came to give what we had to people who did not have. And none of these things we came to do were inherently wrong. I know there were students on this team that were exposed, not only to a different culture, but also to poverty on a new level. A new foundation was laid for a church, and our work hours, the heat, and the teamwork, stretched everyone. But I don’t remember talking to anyone that actually worked in the country long term. I don’t remember hearing a vision for what the organization wanted to do long term there. And I don’t really know how what we did contributed to the spiritual development of the community.

A couple of years ago, while I was in the Middle East, a team of young people from an American church partner came for 10 days.  This group was young and excited to serve. I love when young teams come. They have high energy, they are excited to learn, and given the right preparation and connection, they can walk away not only growing individually, but also contributing to what is happening on the ground. This team came from a church partner that knew our team and situation well, prepared them for what they would encounter culturally, and sent them in with a learning posture.

More recently, we received a young team of students in Paris, all of whom desire to go into ministry in some capacity. While here, they were introduced to many of the long-term workers as well as to key church leaders. The students were welcomed into learning about the vision and the work that these workers were doing. Then the team was able to successfully help and participate in some of this work, leaving with a deeper understanding of what is happening to Christianity in Europe.

The success of a team lies in the deeper development of partnership.  What is successful partnership?

Partnership is doing with not for 
Bringing a team to work with international workers and local church leaders who are actively engaged in their community. Landing in a country, sharing our Western version of Christianity, giving out some material things, and leaving with no attachment to long term work is not healthy. In the West, we are especially guilty in thinking that the world needs us. They don’t, they need Jesus, and usually local church leaders are able to share Him better, knowing the language and the culture. A team’s job is to come alongside, watch and learn, and participate when invited.

Partnership is participating in what is already happening
Part of working with includes plugging teams into events and ministries that are already established. Work is not created for the teams; work is enhanced because of the team. Being strategic in using a team’s time on the ground, the energy and fresh perspective can be an instigator for new ideas and new connections. Teams need to see and hear why people are serving in this country and then invited to participate in what is already happening.

Partnership is building short-term relationships for long-term follow up
As already stated, interns and short-term teams bring a fresh energy and voice. They also bring unique personalities that connect with different people. By plugging teams into English classes, events and programs that are already happening, it gives them an opportunity to connect with people whom long-term workers haven’t been able to yet.  Relationships are key! Many fruitful connections have been established due to short-term relationships as they were then handed over to long-term workers.

By joining what is already established on the ground and learning from those working in the community, the participants of a team will hear a country’s name and see faces and names of people who need truth.  They walk away with a more acute knowledge of the lostness and need in a country and those that are working hard to make a difference. They now know how to pray and what to pray for. They return to their home praying that those who are still there may cultivate the seeds they sowed. They are also telling others stories of real ministries that are ongoing, with names and faces that will continue to be involved. All of this contributes to a narrative shift for STM when partnerships are involved. When short-term teams successfully partner with long term and local workers there are deeper connections and significant advancement for the kingdom.

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Sarah Schepens currently lives Paris where she is the intern coordinator with Envision . She lived in Ecuador and Thailand before getting her MA in Intercultural Studies. She most recently lived in the Middle East developing interns and working with women in sustainable business. She passionately develops leaders and loves walking with them as they engage in different cultures, passions, and creative expressions. She appreciates all things beauty, fashion, expression, and unique creative outlets. When she's not out drinking [coffee] with friends or exploring new cities, Sarah loves cozy pants, slippers, lots o' blankets, and her favorite show.