Nine planning meetings, a study series on mission and poverty alleviation, plus countless hours of lesson crafting and workshop planning, the Ukraine STM has always seemed a bit overwhelming to those new to this ministry. A common question we sometimes hear is why does this mission trip require so much resources and preparation? Can't we just hang out? Here are a few of my personal thoughts to help answer this question.
1. Learning, Fellowship, and Encouragement:
Short-term mission trips are by definition short. It is a compressed and limited time for a foreign team to participate in the ministry of local church or organization. STM teams need to recognize that they are not going into the mission field like The Avengers, saving the locals with their superior knowledge and technology. Just because we may be materially more abundant, this does not mean we are spiritually superior. As an STM team, we need to know our place. Our position is in supporting the local church and organization rather than making us the center of their ministry. We are a partner in their ministry, and we're not the ones that run it or dictates its goals and strategy. We can pursue a healthy partnership by first seeing STM as an opportunity to learn, fellowship, and encourage (Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions, Steve Corbett). It is with a posture of humility that we acknowledge our lack of understanding of other cultures and repents of our god-complex attitudes toward people groups we visit. We need to invest in learning from others, about others, and with the others. If we go into the mission field without putting in the time to learn about what is Mission and about other cultures and its people, we will undoubtedly do more harm than good. The sad part is, a lot of sending churches do not realize the damage they've done since most post-trip sharing are spun in a positive, more 'gracious', and sometimes, ignorant perspective. Every sending church, including ours, needs a comprehensive reflection and evaluation as to how we are accountable to our own church and the churches/organizations abroad.
To learn well also requires us to fellowship deeply with the community abroad. Fellowship is relational, and it is not done to others, but lived out with others. It is not only about the life and challenges of the others, but it also includes sharing our own challenges and failures. Authentic fellowship with our global brothers and sisters is a testimony of the power of the Gospel in redeeming all of us. We are not their saviour or redeemer; Christ is both our saviour and healer.
Through this process of learning and fellowship, we can then know how to encourage them with maximum fervour and effectiveness. Encouragement becomes more meaningful, rich, and respectful. It's a kind of encouragement that builds the others up and speaks into their giftings and assets rather than their needs and deficiencies.
2. Teaching well at home and abroad
One of the primary focus in our Ukraine STM is on children and youth. As a church, we desire to see children experience the love and presence of Jesus in their lives and it is a ministry area we strive to do with excellence. This transmission of the gospel and discipleship of the next generation in another culture requires as much preparation, if not more than children and youth ministries in our own churches today. When we consider the amount of preparations, selection of curriculums, leadership training and hiring of qualified pastor within our own children and youth ministries, it is not a far stretch to expect a certain amount of work needed to do the same ministries elsewhere. How we love and invest in our children within our churches should also translate to children abroad. If we care a lot about how we teach our own children, we should also expect the same diligence, expertise, and excellence from ourselves when we lead children in another culture. We are not aiming to give leftovers on the mission field, materials or otherwise. With that said, each church must understand their assets and giftings as each congregation live out their missions authentically on the global mission field. We can't copy what other churches are doing; we have to find our own path by understanding how God has brought our community together.
3. To be flexible, you must know what you are flexing.
There is often a confusion between being flexible and being irresponsible. Flexibility on the mission field requires a plan or materials to flex with. While no amount of planning can satisfy all the scenarios on the ground, this does not mean we should not plan at all. God has given us our minds and resources to use for his kingdom, and we should give it all that we have been given. It is the offering of our plans as a sacrifice to God that creates a beautiful opportunity for Him to disrupt and transform us as we participate in His missions, not ours. This attitude adjustment is what will not only help us flex our plans but to become flexible and moldable in His hands. When we offer up our very best plans to God, we are sacrificing our very best to Him. We are not offering our half-hearted ideas expecting things not to go as plan, but instead, we put on the altar all that we know and learned so that God will do greater things by showing us an even better way. We offer our best because we know God can do it better.
As our church continues to develop relationships with brothers and sisters abroad, we pray that we will continue to grow in our understanding of mission and that we will participate in missions with humility and honest self-reflection. We are not aiming for perfection, but we are aiming to reflect Christ our perfecter, to those we are given the opportunity. We hope that all mission initiatives in our church will be pursued with excellence; to the best of our abilities in body, mind and spirit, for the glory of God and His kingdom.