Giving away resources? Collecting experiences? Sitting in the dust? What is mission about? Particularly short trips from Australia?
A short while ago we had a long discussion at GMP about ‘Short Term Mission Trips’, as they were called. Some of us were uneasy about the name because it could suggest that:
- Mission is a short-term endeavor.
- That the Australians on the trip would do the mission to those they met.
With our emphasis at GMP on partnership, the suggestion of an uneven relationship just didn’t fit. Eventually we came up with ‘Partner Visits’. The emphasis here was that the team going was visiting a church or project where there were people who had equal standing with the team. Indeed, they were a group that the visitors were already in partnership with across the sea, even before the visit began, because they had been already talking and praying together. They were visiting people who they were in partnership with on God’s mission, the long-term project of reconciling all things to God in Jesus.
Maybe we were over sensitive about semantics – but better sensitive than sloppy.
As I travel to visit our partners I often see the impact of the way communities have been treated badly by visitors in the past. Visitors who did not see them as equals, visitors who took their land or other resources, drew country borders across their tribal boundaries and insisted that their way of doing things was superior. Sometimes the work of development is undoing the impact of these visits (many of which were not short term!). As we have said often in these articles, our helping must always begin, and major on, a relationship of respect – where we may come to help and contribute, but also expect to learn and gain in the process, trusting that our partner will do the same. That is a partnership.
If we go on a Partnership Visit we go expecting to deepen the relationship that we have in the gospel. We go expecting to meet someone who is seeking to follow Jesus just like we are, and who we can encourage and be encouraged by. We go to share the resources that God has given us and to learn new things. We go to help out with whatever part of God’s mission our friends are involved in at the moment. This is not a ‘short-term’ mission. God has been working on it since creation! Our role is not so much doing the mission, as joining our partners and God in God’s mission.
As Australians we have a bucket-load of cash and resources that we should be sharing with those in need and there are many new experiences amongst our partners that we can be enriched by, but these things need to stem from a posture of partnership, where we sit beside our neighbours in the dust together.