As Christians on this earth christened with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), we have been told to “go into all the world.” For centuries it was a rare few that ventured into boats and disappeared across the horizon in the search of lost souls to bring to Christ. Though missionaries have been attached to local churches as is often the case the needs of “local” communities overshadows the lostness of the world in general. The result of this has been those which have had a burden from God to be “missionaries” often went on their own, many never seen of again. The graves of these old missionaries are scattered in obscure sites all over the world. The commitment to reach the lost in countries which had never once heard the name of Christ was usually a life-long commitment. Missionaries often died of sickness or martyrdom at very young ages. Some names you could recall: William Carry (India), Adoniram Judson (Burma), David Livingston (Africa), John Hyde (Pakistan), Hudson Taylor (China), Amy Carmichael (India), or the Morarivians (all over the world) to name a few.
Up until only a few decades ago, there were still countries who had never heard the gospel, nor ever seen a missionary. Not anymore. Every country has missionaries and every country in the whole world Christians including some which you may think would not, like North Korea, Saudi Arabia or Iran. Today, the most important areas which are still barely reached are among thousands of minority groups scattered across Asia and North Africa. Today, with the modernization of the world and its convenient and inexpensive jet travel have brought are a huge wave of short-term missionaries from every country. Where the term “missionary” was once a revered term for a small committed group of people, it is almost a meaningless term today used to describe any Christian with a passport. Long-term, short-term, lifetime or weekend trip. . . everyone is a missionary today.
In our minds, we think we know what most career missionaries do, usually in some form or another they share the gospel with people who have not heard and plant churches whether it be through a school, hospital, business or church planting venture. But what do short-term missionaries do? Let me give you some examples below:
- Do children VBS Paint an orphanage Preach in a Zulu church
- Teach pastors Pass out tracts Show the Jesus Film
- Do plays for kids Take lots of pictures Build church buildings
- Hold medical clinics Pull teeth Give out seeds
- Eat strange foods Go shopping Fix homes
- Give reading glasses Install sound systems Replace bandages
- Visit hospitals Sing in prisons Smuggle Bibles
- E-mail non-believers Set up webpages Prayerwalk
- Get foot massages Eat at Jesus cafes Visit a shelter
- Check blood pressure Teach geology Wash out lice
- Pour concrete paths Install lights Design buildings
Actually, it’s pretty endless as to what short-term missionaries do. Most of them come looking for an adventure and to see what God does in their heart. Usually, they are not disappointed.
Ultimately, all of our missionary task is an eternal one. The task before us will likely not be completed in our lifetime. We have been called to go into all the world and reach the lost until there are no more souls to save. We have a lot of work to do. Currently nearly 5 Billion people still do not know Jesus as their Savior. With population growth, the secularization of the cities, and anti-Christian sentiment, the task of global evangelism is getting greater every day. Honestly, we are not gaining ground, were losing it.
Our task is also a universal one. Few Christians will try to dispute that the Great Commission is for all believers, not just for 12 Jewish guys on a hill. We know leading people to Jesus is our responsibility. Jesus has called everyone to be involved in his mission on this earth. Jesus’ ultimate plan for the salvation of the entire world is resting heavily on us, his servants. While in the past missionaries were a rare breed who ventured into the unknown, now anyone can get a plane ticket and fly to an obscure land.
Paul described the missionary task in terms of a farmer, soldier and athlete in 1 Timothy. I think a “soldier” is a perfect example of our missionary task. I am sure you have met soldiers and congratulated them for their service to the nation. Do you know what they do? Just about everything. Some are builders, some are cooks, some are radio operators like my Dad was, and some run the USO. Some peel potatoes and others fly drones over Afghanistan from their home in California. Some work a “regular job” and then every couple of months head off in desert camo for a place you cannot pronounce only to show back up in Walmart like they had never been gone. Once in a while you meet someone who got shot. He saw the enemy and gave his all. In our minds he is our hero; he is the real “soldier”, yet they all are. They need each other. They are working for the same purpose: the preservation of our nations interests. And your taxes, given as an act of patriotism, pay for the whole thing. Today if you see someone in a smart uniform and they wear the flag we just call them a “soldier”. It’s a very general term, just like “missionary.”
Missionaries are much the same, though our union is much more loose and dispersed. We have different agendas and different purposes. We have no head but Christ and Pastor so and so. Somewhere in distant fields there are still those who share the gospel day in and day out, but they are much fewer today. But across the world you will see “missionaries” wherever you go. Some are there for a week, some for a month, some for a year, but their purpose is to do something which demonstrates Christ. Do we need short-term missionaries? Just as a soldier needs other soldiers to cook food and make uniform zippers. Yes, of course we need short-term missionaries.
A personal note from Steve’s heart: I think we all want to be useful and a part of God’s divine plan. We all have unique gifts and abilities. Some teams are more effective than others. In general, those which are attached to local pastors of integrity or long-term missionaries tend to have more success than random “hit and run” trips. I personally need short-term missionaries and have many on my team. I have a couple here today who are in their 70’s encouraging teachers and school administrators to be better and more like Christ. I have had short-term missionaries teaching my kids so that I can share the gospel to unreached tribes. I have had short-term missionaries help lead other short-term teams. I have had numerous short-term missionaries come year-in-and-year-out teaching kids about Jesus, character, computers and rocks. . . all to assist poor kids so that they have great opportunities to improve in their lives. We have young and old come as missionaries.
My need for short-term missionaries is great too: at present I need teachers, a personal assistant, studio operators, salesmen, well-drillers, home-school teachers, graphic designers, farmers, maternity nurses and just people who are willing to hug little kids. Over the years we have had plenty of short-term teams, the youngest was two and the oldest. . . well, really old! We have had whole families sell everything and come and stay, just to bless the children of Cambodia. It takes a big sacrifice and a lot of money to come, even if it’s only for a week or a month. But let me be honest and let me tell you the secret prayer of my heart: “Don’t go home. Please stay. There are so many lives to be touched.”
We are not a ministry which has lots of excess money or staff. We only have the capacity to handle 5 or 6 church teams per year and as we have to reduce workers in other significant ministries like pastoral training and Bible translation to provide all the logistics required for teams we purposely limit the teams until we have the staff to be able to arrange for more teams. Each week I refer as many as three or four short-term ministries to other churches simply because we don’t have the people to be able to take care of all the logistics needed for short-term teams. So, at present, the teams we invite are those who commit to the long-term ministry purpose as for. Most are from churches that we have partnered with for a decade or more. Yes, they are short-term teams, but they continue to build into the lives of many of the same kids each year. This is our limitation, but also our strength. Long-term missionaries are so much easier for us to receive, because they grow and learn to not only assist, but to lead many of the ministries on the field.
Just last week I visited 50 villages surveying the spiritual needs. As I drove my motorcycle between villages many times I cried as I left. Every family I visited had children die, not one, not two, but often as many as eight. I felt their pain. None had electricity or clean water, or even a school to send their children too. I ask them about hope and they just stared back with lifeless eyes. . . “there is no hope for anything” was what I heard time and time again. Hopelessness and despair are everywhere. Yet, I know what the solution is. I know who could fix that. . . a missionary. But I need them to stay. To invest considerable time and effort into a village. Through hardship and difficulty to see it transformed by the love of Christ. This is my prayer. Yet in reality I know that no one is likely to come. In fact, on this trip I met the “other” missionaries for a province of 500,000 people. They informed me they were tired and ready to move out to another place. In just a month there will be no more missionaries left in the entire province of a half a million people. I hope you see my heart. I don’t dislike short-term missionaries at all; I just want them to stay.
To our long-term partners who annually send us teams. Thank you so much. We appreciate all you do. We appreciate your sacrifices and the efforts you make to not only come all the way around the world, but in your preparation and ministry time. We hope you will keep coming and if you find the right person, send them for “keeps”! Thank all our church partners from Prescott, AZ, Katy, TX, Austin, TX, Dallas, TX, Grand Rapids, MI, Chattanooga, TN and Memphis, TN, Owasso, OK, Victorville, CA and Yuba City, CA, Colorado Springs, CO to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Singapore and Melboure, Australia and individuals from so many more places too.