As I’m continuing to study this semester, I’m reminded of short-term missions and how often they can be ‘interesting’.
Personally, I’ve only been on two trips that you could call short-term mission trips. They were both for a week, which is about as short as they usually get. One trip was to Vanuatu and the other to Indonesia.
The first trip to Vanuatu was a ‘schoolies’ trip with a difference. I was working for Scripture Union at the time. We took a bunch of young adults who had just finished their matriculation exams, over to Vanuatu for a week to engage in ‘mission’. We stayed at the Scripture Union campsite, not too far out of Port Villa and travelled back into the city to conduct some scripture seminars at a few of the local primary schools. One afternoon, we travelled up into the hills to visit some of the Bible Translators who I think were working there through the organisation, Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).
Of course, we managed to fit in some swimming and snorkelling across the week as well.
I never really needed to use my basic French skills, but I did try them with the taxi driver as we made our way from the airport to the campsite the night we arrived there. I was concentrating so hard to remember my vocabulary that it took me a couple of minutes to realise that he was actually speaking to me in English. Arrêt with the French, I decided.
In Indonesia I didn’t have that problem as I have none of the language skills required. Duolingo was no help on that front either, as their lessons started with asking questions about getting oranges. (?!) I think standard greetings would probably be a better idea.
Whilst in Indonesia I was struck by the poverty, as I went with Compassion Australia. We visited children and families living in poverty and I met two of my own sponsor children.
We also visited churches where Compassion runs their programs after school and saw all the children in attendance there. Perhaps they are coming because Compassion gives them the money and resources they need to get through school.
However, whatever motivation they have, there were lots of children there.
We often think when we go on short-term mission that we are going to help, or fix something in a place. When we think that however, we have got ourselves in a muddle and are unlikely to be of any real assistance. Instead we’re likely to be a nuisance.
I think of all those after school Compassion groups meeting in Indonesia. Do we have as many children in afterschool church groups during the week in Australia? Whilst my church has such a club, we don’t have as many attendees as they do in some Indonesian churches.
I’ve just looked up Scripture Union Vanuatu on Facebook. The campsite looks the same as it did 15 years ago, which is fairly dilapidated (perhaps we could do something about that?). Yet, they’ve just hosted a significant number of children to the campsite in August. The gospel is going forth and they don’t need our help on that front.
How wrong it is when we think we are going somewhere to ‘fix’ or even assist. It is rather patronising and not an expression of being equal in Christ. And yet, we do sometimes have this wrong perspective.
Instead, we should look at short-term mission as an opportunity for learning from others, broadening our skills and fixing our mindset.
Yours in asking for oranges in Indonesian,