Short Term Missions
There is no doubt about it: The fields are ripe for harvest, and as always ... the workers are few!
This applies to local as well as overseas situations. Increased opportunities for Short Term Missions overseas (STM) are paraded before our eyes (that is, if you are reading any mission magazines). And that is a challenge to which we ought not to close our eyes and ears.
Just a Modern Trend?
Not really! Luke joined Paul's missionary team as a doctor and a historian (and who knows what else) for shorter or longer terms, and he was not the only one.
Must missionaries be long term only? Must missionaries be trained ministers only?
Why! In the church we have comparatively few long term ministry trained workers. Elders and deacons mostly serve short term. So do Sunday school teachers and youth workers, and others in various capacities.
When we study the gospels we notice that apart from sending out the Twelve (Luke 9:1ff), Jesus also sent out the Seventy (Luke 10:1ff). Were all of these long term workers?
There is a great urgency today "to buy up every opportunity" for missions while the gospel age lasts. And the apostle adds another good reason; (said he) "because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16).
There are a number of distinct advantages in STM work.
First of all, it creates a greater mission awareness, and for many of us that is not an unnecessary luxury. How wonderful to have a number of people with overseas missionary experience in our congregations!
They can enthuse us all so that we shall be more prayerful for missions, and more prompt to reach out locally, and also more realistic in living out the values of the Kingdom of God in this world.
People who have been overseas have seen such poverty as we can scarcely imagine, they have often denied themselves comforts we consider normal and essential, and they have given up rights to privacy, clean drinking water etc.
Despite all these things and even because of them they have been personally enriched.
Another advantage of STM work is that it opens up vast resources for a great variety of opportunities in Kingdom service. People with all kinds of trade and professional skills can be fitted into so many more openings for the gospel. At the last SPROUT, Conference January 1996) the van Dalens mentioned openings for teachers (primary & secondary, in English, French, Art, Music etc., house parents, maintenance supervisor, school nurse, etc all at the Murree man School in Pakistan. There are also opportunities for medical staff at the Sahiwal Hospital, and generally, in the Karachi area, for administrators and tradesmen in the building trade.
On a recent trip to Africa (Kenya, Eritrea) two brothers from the Wellington Presbytery found shorter and/or longer term openings in nursing, medicine and pastoral work. Some of these urgently needed.
A third advantage is that especially in places where doors are closed or being closed to gospel preaching as such, there are openings for Christian professionals who by their very presence and witness cannot help but function as "light and salt" (Matthew 5:13-16) in a materialistic, non-Christian community. China, for instance, is open for people who have skills in the medical profession, or in computing, or who can teach English.
Missions is not the effort of an individual, but of the Church of Jesus Christ teaming up to let the gospel light shine.
Fourthly, for whatever reasons, some can only give short term service on the mission field. Even that is of value! (provided the mindset is in harmony with the true spirit of discipleship, e.g. Luke 14:2534). There are in fact, also situations where the need consists of help in certain projects, generally short term.
A fifth advantage is that short term workers, or even "visitors" to the field, can be of tremendous encouragement to the longer term workers. Janice Reid (FEBC, Manila) for instance, has often mentioned that people passing through, or coming in specifically to help with correspondence and other administrative tasks are a great boon to her.
What about disadvantages?
Of course, there are disadvantages not only in STM work. Long term missions have them too. Often missionary parents are separated from their children for long periods. That is no small hurdle.
But as to STM work we can mention at least two disadvantages.
The first one is the cost involved, particularly travel, for a comparatively short period of overseas work. However, if you think of the fact that we "easily" spend thousands of dollars on pleasure trips, or family reunions overseas, the cost of STM work is not so extravagant. Many STM-ers pay a large proportion of these costs themselves, and when the church assists them in a worthy cause it is not a waste. Look up our Lord's comments on spending in Mark 14:3-6.
Another disadvantage is the fact that without proper language training STM-ers cannot get so culturally close to the "locals". Nevertheless, they can often be of great value to them in practical ways. So can teachers of English.
The apostle's dictum of "becoming ALL things to ALL men, that I may by ALL means save SOME..." (1 Corinthians 9:22), may be modified legitimately to "becoming MANY things to SOME, so as to save SOME by ALL means."
Synod has recognised that there is room for STM-ers and in 1995 adopted regulations for workers with other mission organisations. To be sure, we are urged, first and foremost, to channel our workers (STM included) through Reformed mission agencies. (For one thing that enables us to work unrestricted as to our Reformed convictions) Synod also hints at STM-ers being prospective long termers, or "probationary" mission personnel.
While there are presently "open doors" in numerous places, we should not ignore them, but rather ask ourselves what we can do to advance the cause of the gospel.
The Munros were greatly moved by the opening up of the former Soviet Union to the gospel: how long would it last? They went and were re-schooled to missions in a different culture, and now they are in the Ukraine.
Most of our present long term missionaries would welcome STM-ers. There are also vacancies which need urgent filling in places like Kenya and Eritrea, where we have sister-church contacts.
John Wilkens of the Bucklands Beach church is assisting in the building programme of MERF headquarters in Cyprus. It is his second term there.
English language teachers are needed in China, and the Christian Reformed Church of North America has a spiritual counsellor and overseer stationed in Hong Kong. He travels to all provinces in China regularly, and meets up with these teachers.
There are many more places and needs overseas, and SPROUT would be willing to help you with information (address: SPROUT Resource Centre, 28 Campbell St., Nelson), and for that matter the OMB would also assist. But why not talk it over with your local session, if you find the challenge irresistible or intriguing?
There's no doubt about the fact that the church is to LIVE OUT the values of the Kingdom of God in this world. The Lord calls us "salt" and “light", and we have no option in being just that, wherever He is pleased to use us.
And when you pray, "Thy Kingdom come!", be prepared to go at the King's bidding!