Question #4: What is the witness of short-term missionaries?
by Dr. Timothy Tennent
Many non-Western peoples only regular exposure to Christianity is in the lives and witness of those who travel on short-term missions. This underscores the tremendous opportunity which is afforded by short-term missions teams. We actually have the privilege of being a living example of what Christianity actually is on the field. However, this also underscores the need to make sure that we send reasonably mature Christians onto the field. There are several embarrassing examples whereby youth groups or other church or college groups who have be sent out on short-term missions have sometimes unwittingly discredited the very gospel they are seeking to bear witness to through they way they interacted with one another or they way they dressed.
All teams should undergo careful pre-field training and be exposed to any areas which requires cultural sensitivity. This means teams should be particularly aware of how a country might wrongly interpret the way North American males and females interact, address their elders, dress and so forth. There are excellent guides written for local churches preparing short-term mission teams which can be extremely helpful in avoiding giving a negative witness abroad.
To assure a more mature representation of Christian witnesses, I have encouraged churches to require not only a few pre-field training sessions, but also that they should have already served their own local community in some way in order to be eligible to go on a short-term missions trip. Why do we think someone who has not served in their own community will be transformed into an effective cross-cultural witness just because they board a plane and then find themselves on the soil of another country. Youth groups, in particular, should be asked to complete some basic home service prior to going on a short-term missions trip. It might be something as simple as helping in a food kitchen or mowing the grass of an elderly person, but it can very effectively underscore that the purpose of these trips is to serve others and, in the process, to allow God to change and transform our own lives - and that begins right where we are.
Matt: hard to disagree with this, isn't it? The problem is, with the amount of work it takes just to pull together a team and trip, most leaders don't have the time to do proper training or pre-trip prep with their teams. When you GO, how do you adequately prepare your teams pre-field?