The long and short of it

The short-term mission involvements led by congregations are part of a phenomenon that has grown exponentially in the past decade. Often involvement takes the form of a “mission trip” by a group. These experiences often change lives, affect faith journeys, and focus mission involvements in very important ways. The denomination’s mission vision stated in Gathering For God’s Future names as one of our four crucial challenges “equipping the church for transforming mission.” Mission trips can be a very good way to accomplish this equipping and transforming. The General Assembly Council therefore supports the movement by publishing materials to help trip leaders, and by assigning some long-term mission coworkers to help trip-takers. One mission co-worker assisted 200 such Presbyterians’ involvement in Mexico last year alone. We are helping this movement mature and give more fruit.

What needs maturing? A debate in this summer’s editions of Christianity Today will be helpful for readers wanting to read more than can be summarized here. Suffice it to say that the short-term involvements too often (but not always) entail the following limitations. They concentrate on nearby states and countries and neglect the distant ones. They intend to stay in touch with their hosts but in fact fail to do so. They focus on building or repairing things, providing money for projects or individuals, when they should be beginning long-term partnerships firmly rooted first and foremost in fellowship and understanding. They believe they are meeting a priority need of their hosts when in fact they are being allowed to do what their host knows the visitors want to do. They support one person or group they know without knowing how this affects the balance of relations in a larger church or community. They do not coordinate their involvements with the denominational witness and service in a place, and so miss opportunities for synergies and can even cause problems for their fellow Presbyterians or partner denominations.

Mission co-workers of our denomination, those who serve full-time for renewable terms of two to five years’ duration, pray for this movement and join our national offices in wanting to help it grow in good directions. They have a depth of understanding about the hosts and situations in each place that none of us can afford to ignore. Their letters and home visits reach hundreds of congregations. These co-workers anchor and guide our denominational work around the world. They should not be displaced by the participants in the short-term movement. They should grow in number, and that is why the denomination blessed the extremely important Joining Hearts and Hands campaign.

The ultimate goal we all share is to be a flourishing mission society that brings about what God wants for God’s world. It doesn’t matter who plants and who waters if we all cooperate to make the garden grow (1Cor. 3:6)! Here are a few of the first steps I would challenge the grassroots of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to take in this direction, all of them involving visits to specified parts of the site: take 15 minutes every week before going to church, to read and pray over the mission worker profiles and letters at /missionconnections; give to the Joining Hearts and Hands campaign more than you give to mission trips (/joiningheartsandhands); use key PC(USA) mission resources (/witness/missionpart.htm); find out about PC(USA)-related mission networks that gather many Presbyterians around a country or theme you feel called to in mission (/presbytel); help us recruit for long-term mission service from your pool of mission trip takers (/msr).

And may God grant the growth!


MARIAN MCCLURE, director of the Worldwide Ministries Division, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

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