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A Precedent for Short-Term Missions

As the light changes to early morning and the crisp Autumn air blows off the coast of Southern Africa, our mission house awakes.  Dotted around the garden are young adults with bibles and prayers, joining nature in their devotions at dawn. The season is changing and although the Southern Hemisphere is moving toward winter, the Northern Hemisphere colleges are on Spring break. Our mission house is filled with students who choose to follow Christ and serve the vulnerable in an African village rather than binge-drink and party on a beach somewhere.  For this I give thanks.   Orchard: Africa gets to facilitate this process every year.

One of the young women leading the trip tells that this is her third year traveling to our projects.  The first year that she came, she was a declared atheist who tagged along simply to experience a trip to Africa.  Whilst serving on the trip, her heart was softened by the faith of the people in the village as well as by the servant-hearts of her fellow students and Orchard staff.  By the end of the mission trip she had committed her life to Christ and has been following him since.  This year she is leading other students in their walk with Christ.

Orchard: Africa exists to equip the Church to care for the vulnerable.  The vulnerable come in all shapes, sizes and cultures.  When the Church in the United States sends people to serve in the villages of Africa, we, at Orchard: Africa, facilitate a sacred process.  The Holy Spirit transcends culture and works in the hearts of the vulnerable who were sent as well as the vulnerable to whom they were sent. God’s nature is made known and dynamic life change happens.

What has come to be known as Short-Term Missions is not without its controversy and there are valid points to the questions about methods and motives.  As a result, some in the Church wish to do away with short-term missions.  I understand.  Humankind is a fallen race therefore our methods and motives can, and must, be questioned - in every program of our churches. 

I have been a Christ-follower for four decades.  I have been a leader in the Church for more than three of those decades.   In this time I have come to see that there is beauty and necessity in keeping the true and tried values and traditions of those who have come before us over the past two millennia.  There is also great value in regularly reassessing our methodology and examining our motives.   When it comes to short-term missions, I have done both.  In sincere seeking, I find that scripture as well as the church fathers endorse mission trips – both short and long.  Going out of our way to care for the vulnerable is an essential element of our faith.  However, what is also a critical part of our walk with Christ is the practice of repentance, which is not a once-off act but a daily discipline.   In repentance we examine our methods and our motives and we course-correct as directed by the Spirit.   The Church does not abandon the many outworkings of our faith simply because of our tendency to get things wrong.  Rather, we continue all the stronger, remembering that what we do is through Christ in us.  It is not by our strength or smartness or ingenuity.  Life change comes entirely by and through the power of the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.  We are simply chosen instruments of His transformative power.  Short-term missions is merely (or gloriously) one conduit for this process.  Over the decades of doing just this, I have witnessed long-term life change in those who were sent as well as those to whom they were sent.  I believe in the ability of Christ to work in and through us; short-term, long-term and everything-in-between term.

What a privilege for all of us in the Orchard family (you, me, those who serve and those being served) to facilitate this journey of faith, hope and love.  May we continue to do so in humility and in power.

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. - 1 Corinthians 2:3-5

May we think on these things!

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