Redirecting Short-termers to the Unreached

Redirecting Members of Short-Term Mission to Unreached People Groups by Dave Williams (pseudonym).

"Many pre-candidates choose where to serve long-term by first going on one or a series of short-term trips to a country. They fall in love with the place and the people. We must work together to change this trend, however, because the primary result seems to be that most new missionaries continue to go where the majority of missionaries are already serving - that is, in the reached parts of the world."

This cycle must either be broken or at least greatly redirected. We must begin to explore both creative and very tangible ways to see the spinning-out-of-control short-term missions movement make a radical shift toward short-term mission trips to Unreached People Groups. How else will we see a new wave of missionaries who feel "called" to go to these people groups?

This will not be easy, though. The first obvious major barrier to seeing short-term vision and pre-search trips to Unreached People Groups is the reality that so few long-term workers are already serving among Unreached People Groups. Thus, few are there to arrange short-term trips. Also, if we are talking about the Unengaged Unreached People Groups, then workers serving among them and information about them is scarce, and short-term trips there are almost unheard of. Thus, as it is today, and has been for many decades, there is almost no way for aspiring missionaries to feel "called" or "led" to an Unreached People Group in the normal pattern of going on a short-term trip there first.

In one sense, it would almost be better for future missionaries not to talk with long-term field missionaries if one of the primary results is more new workers serving in the well-evangelized parts of the world. Ironically, however, many of the same long-term field missionaries who help organize short-term trips often (but not always) have the latest and best information on nearby Unengaged Unreached People Groups.

How wonderful it would be if the short-term mission movement took a major paradigm shift in purpose toward being used specifically (or could we hope and dream . . . even exclusively?) as a tool to get new workers into people groups that currently have few or no missionaries serving among them. Perhaps we need to further challenge, encourage, and train field missionaries on how to organize and host vision and pre-search trips primarily to Unreached People Groups.

We do indeed highly recommend that new missionaries sit at the feet of and learn from experienced missionaries. Churches sending missionaries directly without leaning on the decades of wisdom, experience, and knowledge that both long-term field missionaries and their agencies have has been a mistake. Traditionally, new missionaries may serve their first and even second term under the wing of a senior field missionary. Those senior missionaries know well how to work strategically in that area, region, and country.

If we assume that passing the baton of knowledge and experience can only occur when younger and older missionaries actually work together (on location) in the same field, however, then we have raised yet another barrier to getting new missionaries into Unreached People Groups. The only way for new missionaries to actually reach Unengaged Unreached People Groups is to go beyond where other missionaries are already working.

We must find a better way to pass on this crucial knowledge and experience. Many agencies today use email, telephone, and visits by traveling regional supervisors to wherever new missionaries are working. The real root problem, however, is that many new missionaries actually prefer having a live person around all the time who can help them at a moment's notice. This is another strong factor enticing new missionaries to choose to serve in the already reached parts of the world.

Short-term mission trips, invitations to serve with missionaries working in evangelized areas, lack of vision trips to Unreached People Groups, and a pattern of serving directly under the constant personal supervision and guidance of veteran missionaries are all reasons why most new missionaries end up going to the "reached" parts of the world. Perhaps an even larger factor is the reality that it is often just much easier to serve in reached areas. That ease is a big attraction for many missionaries.

Matt: So does Mexico really need another STM team? How are we going to redirect ourselves to begin reaching Morocco instead of Malawi with our future STM teams?