Short-term mission has come a long way towards nurturing pilgrims, not tourists, says CMS
In a 2007 interview, Andy Crouch asked Nairobi pastor Oscar Muriu: “Your church has a huge vision. How can churches in the West help? We're used to sending short-term mission teams over to paint walls …”
At this point Pastor Muriu interjected: “Yes, and after you leave, we repaint many of the walls that you painted!”
His comments weren’t meant to sound ungrateful; rather, they reflect the fact that these days, short-term mission is much more about building relationships and learning from Christians in another culture, instead of going into another country with a well-meaning (though perhaps misguided) agenda.
A two-way street
“We’re challenging the concept of mission as a one-way street of ‘West to the rest’ – in which we are the givers and those we visit are grateful receivers,” says Debbie James, CMS Crossing Cultures Team Leader, who oversees several CMS short-term Encounter trips a year. “Rather, we’re all participants in God’s mission, sharing our insights and learning with one another, and seeing our lives transformed in the process.”
Bill, 68, participated in a CMS Crossing Cultures trip to Romania. He says he learned much from Romanian Christians: “I saw how much people give, from a position of so little, and I saw what we are called to do as Christians.”
Rachel, 28, saw Jesus in a new way through children in Ghana: “Their strong faith and love changed my life”.
Celia, another recent participant, elaborates: “While on a trip to Rwanda with a group from our church, the teenagers had the opportunity to visit child-led families – families headed by the eldest child, because the parents have died, sometimes of AIDS.
“I found it a humbling and eye-opening experience to meet children as young as 12 years old leading families. They had lived through much suffering and seemed to have nothing to live for ... but I realised that they were living for Jesus. When it comes down to it, is that my true reason for living?”
During a trip to Russia, Emily, 27, received several insights that continued to impact her life back in the UK. “I saw the work that God was doing in people’s lives, releasing them from addictions. I learned from others’ faith.
“By stepping out of my normal life, I was challenged to see and do things differently. [I’ve taken those lessons into my] work for the YMCA, co-ordinating six pilot projects preventing and reducing youth homelessness. My heart for young people was cemented by my trip to Russia.”
CMS has long believed that Christians around the world can – and should – learn from each other.
“The worldwide Church is very diverse and we know that Christianity’s centre of gravity has moved from the West to Africa, Asia and Latin America,” says Debbie, adding: “By facing the uncertainty of stepping into another culture, we hope that participants will have a greater understanding of the multi-cultural body of Christ, and be inspired and challenged to grow deeper in their faith.”
Short-term trips, lifelong impact
With British society and the British Church becoming more multicultural, the challenge to engage is increasingly important. As it’s no longer necessary to leave the country to connect meaningfully with a variety of cultures, the CMS team also arranges in-country experiences like Urban Encounter weekends.
Spaces are still available for Encounter 2008 trips to Bangladesh (21 October- 4 November) and Ghana (11-26 October). Encounter 2009 journeys will include Tajikistan and Tanzania.
Those who take part in CMS cross-cultural trips are expected to “step out of their own shoes” and “step into someone else’s”.
“Our team equips people for their cross-cultural experiences and helps clarify expectations,” explains Debbie.
Participant Emily says: “Crossing Cultures trips allow you to really learn about yourself and God, to rely on him and just to listen and learn from him. It’s great to go with an established organisation like CMS who knows what they are doing and can take care of you whilst making sure you have a brilliant time! It all helps you see the bigger picture.”
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