Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Short-term Missionary Position

We have noticed something odd going on in the Lutheran Church – Misery Synod. (Shocking, no?) People will sign up to “win” or pay out of their own pocket for short-term missionary trips. (Hey, who wouldn’t want a nice ego-boosting vacation in a third-world country?)


Some of the literature leads one to do a little head-scratching. These trips are in theory to create life-long relationships with those in the foreign country being served. While this is an admirable goal, it seems a bit farfetched, since the short-term mission trips can be as short as two days.


One wonders how this must look to the “natives”. A new suburban housewife with nicely manicured nails curing her white guilt by showing up for a two-week stint as a mild to moderately theologically adept “missionary” might start the locals to wondering who the Church is there to serve. Is their poverty-stricken, disease-riddled community on the receiving end of Christian charity or the giving end?


Although LCMS world missions claims this is a “win” all around, how do the missionaries really feel about it? Imagine if new folks showed up to “help” you at work for anywhere from two days to six months, then were replaced by others similarly inexperienced. How helpful would that really be? (As anyone who has to regularly interact with short-term temps can tell you, it’s a crap shoot at best.)


While these trips may play well back home (glossy pics of the short-term missionary gals are far easier to look at than ones of some chubby clergypersons) and get others to open their checkbooks and support the ongoing mission work, the temptation is there to put the focus on us and our wonderful works of charity. (Yes, yes, I am a world missionary. I won an all-expense paid trip for two weeks to Panama from the LWML.) Perhaps instead of paying for yourself to get in the way of the “long-term” missionaries for a few days, you could send them cash directly and allow them to do what they are trained to do. Yes, by sending prayers and money, you are involved in the mission of the Church, without the goofiness of being “transformed” into a “more active and excited participant in God’s mission” which is a load of flaming enthusiasm (in the religious sense) and should be avoided as such.

16 comments:

josh said...

Amen. All this boo-hockey about "actively participating in Christ's Mission" overshadows and eventually strangles vocation. It's much easier to be a short term missionary than to be active in being neighbor to your neighbors here in the states. Spreading jesus with little african kids is great, but what about those people down the street, at work, etc, that could stand to hear about his person and work for them. I think all this missiolatry kills vocation. I'm stepping down from my soapbox now.

rlschultz said...

Josh,
As the Aussies would say, you are "spot on". Missiolotry is the perfect word to describe this. It is shocking to see how pervasive Pietism is in American Lutheranism today. This practice of short term missions is borrowed from the non-denominational folks. You see a lot of this in their camp with the laity going to 3rd world countries to do "mission work". What could be more important than vocation when it comes to doing good works? When Luther saw the monks begging because of their vow of poverty, he was disgusted. He said that a peasant sweating behind a plow glorified God more than a begging monk. Luther also pointed to mothers caring for their children as one of the most thankless and noblest vocations. Furthermore, why are we constantly being chided with this new monasticism (as one blogger put it) where we all must be church workers? I side with Luther on this one.

Anonymous said...

I agree, "spot on". As the previous posts have noted, this is, at the heart, about Christian vocation, a matter which this great blog has addressed before. Few of us are satisfied with our lives, and so these escapes from our God-given reality are attractive to the flesh, and they also help the "bottom line" of financially strapped synodical departments.

Anonymous said...

Don't just go on a mission trip: win one!

http://www.peopleablaze.org/Index.asp?PageID=9894

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. People who go over to third-world countries are curing their "white guilt" and should just send money?

Really?

See, to me it's the people who sit on their behinds and just throw money everywhere are the ones who are "fixing" their "white guilt."

I do agree with the posters that state we need to focus on the people who live all around us. It's part of the reason we get involved in our community and became foster parents.

However--judging the motives of someone I do not know just isn't really my thing.

You know, I understand the post is from a point of angst, but what is the author doing? Complaining is fine, but it has a limit if no action is ever sought to rectify the issue.

As for the comment on Luther...he also took in anyone who came to his house. He welcomed all--his house was always open. Luther believed in giving and his life shows that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Angry Lutherans said...

Mr./Mrs. Anonymous,

I'm going to have to ask you to FOCUS.

Judging motives of those you don't know certainly seems to be your thing. The author of this post is anonymous, as are you. You have no idea what that person has done beyond complain about a situation, so I suggest you not make assumptions.

I think you missed the point of the Luther reference...No, actually I'm positive you missed the point of that reference and the original post.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Reread.

Be calm.

AL3

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I am breathing and I am calm. I wasn't the one shouting (use of caps infer shouting, not emphasis). You could accuse me of writing in a stunned manner, but not much beyond that.

Look, this is just going to be a tit for tat thing. I saw judging and mentioned it, the defense mechanism is accusing me of judging. The only difference is that I actually read the words of the anon. poster--I haven't met the people the anon poster was talking about in a broad manner.

And I did judge the *words* that a suburban housewife is curing her white guilt by wanting to work overseas in a limited capacity.

Anyways, I understand the author is more upset with the "ego" they see wrapped around people going to overseas. Obviously, if it is done in a braggy or seemingnly hypocritical manner, it would be a frustrating situation.

On the same token though, I'm just as frustrated with the apathy I just left behind. The kind that stated all was well as long as we just throw enough money at it and keep from getting our hands a little dirty.

Angry Lutherans said...

No, Anonymous, it won't be a tit for tat thing because the above comment was your last "tat". You haven't read carefully and are reacting to what you think others have written, not what they have actually written.

To assist you in having some time to read and comprehend, without reacting with misplaced emotion, we will happily delete any more of your comments on this thread.

Have a lovely day in Norfolk!

AL3

Anonymous said...

I know you won't post this and I couldn't care less, but why so defensive? When someone doesn't agree you blow a cork!

As for having a great day in Norfolk. I will. Thank you. I blog and I am completely aware of how stats are checked.

Oh, and you should have added Nebraska...there are many Norfolks out there you know...the best known being in VA. Now, we wouldn't want to anyone to think that a poor person from VA was causing you so much distress.

Stir in your anger--spew out smart little quips, but it won't change what is going on--not at all. It just shows what people sound like when they burn in anger and do nothing at all.

With that delete away. No skin off my nose. :) Doesn't bother me one bit!!hahaha...

Angry Lutherans said...

Norfolk,

Seek mental help immediately.

Also, consult a reading specialist. You no comprehend good.

"burn in anger and do nothing at all" Huh? Not what we're doing. Not by a long shot. Perhaps you were referring to yourself? Yes, I'll have to assume so.

No distress here. Just sympathy for you.

Your ignorance is showing; you have no point and nothing to contribute, yet instead of leaving the discussion gracefully, you continue to embarrass your anonymous self. Strange and sad.

Glad you had a nice day. So did I.

AL3 :)

elephantschild said...

As an adult who grew up as the child of (long term) missionaries, I will say that those short-termers can be a welcome "consolation of the brethern" to families serving overseas for years at a time. They can hand-carry medicines and computer equipment from the US, things that can be impossible to ship by package. Short termers can bring DVDs of favorite curret TV shows for families weary of endless reruns of Dallas - which was the only TV available where I grew up!

But most often, those short- termers should serving the *longterm missionaries* themselves; at least, that's the way it was 20 years ago when my parents worked with Lutheran Bible Translators. Short-termers, usually of 3 months or so, did all sorts of non-"missionary" work: helping with childcare, mundane workload issues, helping to homeschool missionary kids. Sometimes, they helped with something specific to their own vocation, like getting a printing press set up and running, and then training nationals to run it.

Sometimes, when the short-termer was a Greek or Hebrew scholar, (back to that vocation thing) a short-term missionary would serve as consultants for Bible translation projects.

See, the goal of long-term mission work is to equip the local church in such a way that the missionary works himself out of job. By saying that short-termers are needed as Vaction Bible School teachers, we're quietly implying that the local church is incapable of managing on it's own. *loud buzzer* At times, it can seem elitist and even racist.

Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. TEACH a man TO fish, and he'll never be hungry. And you need long-term missionaries for that.

Angry Lutherans said...

Thanks, E.C.

That's pretty much my point.

AL3

Anonymous said...

Have you ever been on a short-term mission trip?

Organize and take one. Even if it's one to a different city or even a different neighborhood.

It can be a very good, very edifying experience for all involved - locals, who see that there is a greater Lutheran Church out there who cares about them; the long-term missionaries, who get a boost from having helpers and from getting to 'show off' what they've been done; and the people who go on the trips, who will learn things that they couldn't at home.

Try it, sometime. Is the "ego-boosting" a bit of projection?

Have you never met somebody at a wedding or conference or something and begun a correspondence and friendship? Why wouldn't that be possible in this case?

Seriously. Organize a trip and take it, to anywhere, and see how it is. I'm as angry as the next guy, but you couldn't be more wrong.

Angry Lutherans said...

Anonymous,

As your comment makes clear, these trips are a bit too much about feelings, which is part of my problem with them. Making friends, while a blessing from God, is not the primary purpose of the Church.

And, yes, I have been on something like a short-term mission trip, years ago, so I know whereof I write.

AL3

Anonymous said...

Too much about feelings? What's wrong with feelings?

Agapetoi, agapamen allelous.

Angry Lutherans said...

All together now:

Feelings? Nothing more than feelings? (sung to the hymn tune)

:)

AL4