A Sobering Perspective on Short-term Missions

Below is a part of a very thought-provoking article about something very relevant to me: short-term missions on the US-Mexico border. Click the link below to read the entire article.

A Typical Evangelistic Case

In a fast-growing, poor border settlement, a great number of men, women and children brave the cold wind and clouds of dust and dirt in an open field. They have come to see a film on the life of Jesus being shown by a short-term evangelism team. The people don’t complain that there are no chairs or benches. For almost two hours, the crowd shivers in the cold watching the Gospel film to the end. At film’s end, an invitation is given and well over half of those present raise their hand to accept Christ. Food and used clothing are passed out to the crowd and prayer is offered for the new believers. The visiting group leaves, happy to have made this spiritual impact.

Assumptions of the Evangelism Team

  1. The people are so open and hungry for the Gospel. The cold wind and blowing dirt was a small sacrifice to have the opportunity to see the life of Christ presented. The response to the invitation confirms this hunger. The decisions for Christ are perceived to be genuine.
  2. The quick willingness to follow the prescribed plan of salvation demonstrates acceptance. The productive work of the group and the film used were the Godsend for which the community was waiting.
  3. The people are just waiting for someone to share the Word with them. The number of conversions is unbelievably high.

Another Perspective

  1. The cold wind and blowing dirt is nothing new to the people here. This same film has been shown in the community a half dozen times already over the last few months with many of the same people attending. Many of those who made professions of faith did so at a proceeding meeting as well. After the visiting group leaves, people talk about which group gave more food or better used clothes as they walk home.
  2. The act of “accepting Christ” may have different meanings for the visiting evangelists and their Latin audience. The audience may be poor but can be very astute. They have figured out their visitors long before the visitors have begun to understand them. The evangelism and related “help” simply requires a political alignment of sorts. They learn from experience with visiting groups that “accepting” Christ by raising their hand, coming forward, repeating a prayer, etc. at the American’s invitation may better align themselves for the handouts that often follow.
  3. The fact that people brave the cold and wind is not necessarily a sign of sacrifice to hear the Gospel, but to participate in the only public entertainment in town, especially in communities far from public services. They brave the same cold and wind when traveling movie trucks come into the community with films of violence and sex, and even pay a fair sum to attend.
  4. With typical evangelistic efforts, there is often a great disparity between the hearing and the understanding of the Gospel message. The vast majority of evangelism focuses on the people hearing and accepting a given message. Yet, in most cases, a critical link is missing–the link of understanding. A large number of both missionary and national efforts have failed in teaching the Word in an adequate, understandable fashion. Although some groups claim that God has sent them out to plant seed while committing the harvest to the Lord, all too often their approach mocks sound Biblical principles and the seed is cast to the wind.
  5. The perceived number of conversions is indeed unbelievably high. The misconceptions of the visiting group will lead them to return home to prepare larger outreaches involving more people. In doing so, these misconceptions are further propagated.

This was taken from a Mission Frontiers article titled “Going South of the Border for a Short-Term? Understanding the pitfalls and proposing healthy guidelines for short term work in Mexico.

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