This is part two of our interview with Dr. Sills about his book The Missionary Call. Read Part I here.
8. In your experience, what would you say are the pros and the cons of short term missions work?
Short-term missions give individuals an opportunity to experience the needs on the mission field as well as some of the ways God could use them to minister to these needs. For many individuals, these are the very experiences that the Lord uses to reveal their missionary call. History, as well as personal experience, show us that short-term missions opportunities are a very significant missions mobilization tool for long term missions commitment.
It should also be noted that short-term missions opportunities often allow groups to come in to a tough mission field and be far more bold in their witness than the long term missionaries may be able to do at that particular time (due to the limited time that they will be in the country versus the care long-term missionaries must employ to remain in country.) In other places where the short-term mission teams may be the forerunners to work that is about to be established, they have the opportunity to help form the nationals perception of Christians or redefine their perspective of people from the USA.
The potential downsides of short-term missions can be minimized with the right care, but they should be noted. First, a lot of financial resources are spent by the North American church to send short-term mission trips. Because donors tend to know the short-term missionaries personally, but not know long term missionaries, they may limit their missions giving to the short-term trips only. Due to the increased costs with a short-term trip, $1 spent on a short-term trip does not equal what is represented by $1 spent on a long term missionary. Because long term missionaries are living in the country, their daily cost of living is typically much lower. However, when the investment into short-term missions is given with the mind toward the mobilizer, it is for long term missions. We can see those funds as seed dollars for the long term missionaries to come.
Second, short-term mission teams can do a tremendous amount of damage when on the mission field if they are not properly trained/oriented on appropriate cultural behaviors or the status of the mission. We have all heard the horror stories of the ethnocentric short-term missionaries who have no concept of basic missiological principles and create tremendous stress and chaos for the team and long term missionaries. I have certainly had individuals like this on teams I have led over the years. The key to minimizing this potential danger is thorough training coupled with swift action by the team leader if someone acts inappropriately.
9. How would you prepare an individual (or couple) for their first short-term missions trip?
I suggest that those going on their first short-term trip focus primarily on spiritual matters. The individual or couple should ask their team leader for specific prayer requests and biblical passages to study as the trip approaches. As they tend to matters of spiritual preparation, they should also research the place and people they are going to reach. Particular attention should be taken to understand cultural taboos and the history of Gospel efforts amongst them. These two factors will help the individuals to better understand the people they are trying to reach and the potential barriers they may face.
Ultimately, I would encourage them to communicate any specific questions or fears they may have to their leader. Each trip is different depending on the ministry focus, location, team size, and objectives. It is likely that they would receive briefing and training that would answer most of their questions.
10. You share many memories of various missions experiences throughout your book, what would be your most memorable experience? Least memorable?
My most memorable missions experience was on my very first mission trip. Not long after the Lord saved me, I traveled to Manta, Ecuador on a short-term trip not long after being saved. It was a meaningful time of ministry in a fishing village that included dozens of culture-shock experiences. On the last day of ministry in the village where we had been working, a dear older believer, named Aida, began to share with the group about how she had prayed for so long that Christians would come and start a church in her home village. She shared how she had been reading about the beautiful feet of those who bring good news as well as how Jesus ministered to his disciples by washing their feet. Then, as we sat in her home where we had just enjoyed a wonderful meal, she quietly got a basin and washcloth and washed our feet. It was quite simply the most clear and simple act of Christlike devotion and service I have ever experienced.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember my least memorable missions experience.
11. Are there any inherent dangers in modeling one’s missions work after another perhaps more famous missionary?
We certainly cannot attempt to duplicate someone else’s life and ministry. However, it is both biblical and wise to draw lessons and insights from the experiences of the faithful who have gone before us. While the danger is always there for us to tend to idolize human beings, the missionary’s experience and unique ministry challenges will always force him to depend on the Lord for wisdom and guidance unique to their situation.
We need to be good stewards and stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before, but follow them only as they followed Christ.
12. Since many who will read this book are Americans who feel called to leave the states and go into another country, could you speak to the missionary effort of other countries coming here to the U.S.A.?
The USA has been the largest missions sending country in the world for decades, but we may soon be surpassed by South Korea. This trend is coupled with the fact that the church in the Southern Hemisphere is now larger than the church in Western Europe and the USA combined and send out more missionaries than we do. These statistics show us that there is ministry happening around the world and more and more people may begin to see us as a mission field.
However, that is not the main point to be drawn from these statistics. What these statistics really reveal (particularly the growth of the Southern Church) is that Christianity as we know it is trending toward being defined as whatever the representation is in South American, Asian, or African churches. A cursory examination of our missions efforts in many of these traditional-mission-field countries will show that while there may be large pockets of individuals calling themselves Christians and worshipping in some form of a church, the expression is often far from a biblical Christianity that we would recognize.
So, just as many are looking at the statistics of missionaries from other countries or the growth of the Southern Church, they fail to realize that our de-emphasis on training and discipleship have left our Southern brothers and sisters biblically weak and theologically aberrant. So, the story is not that other countries are coming here as missionaries. The story is that places where we think mission work is completed still need discipleship, pastoral training, and theological education. We still need to teach them all that He has commanded us.
13. Are there any ethical concerns to the “creative-access platform” of missions work? By “creative-access,” I mean when a missionary enters a gospel-hostile country utilizing a government ok’d platform that the government sees as beneficial to their country when the missionary is only using that as a means to evangelize.
I do indeed think that there are ethical concerns in many creative access platforms that I have seen. There are basically three categories that I have seen: job takers, job fakers, and job makers. Job takers are those who get into the country by taking a job that would otherwise go to a national. this often results in bitterness from the nationals toward Westerners. The second are those who get access to a country by claiming to be consultants or some other kind of businessman but who actually do nothing in those fields. The final category are those who not only gain entrance into the country by some NGO or business platform, but who provide jobs for others with their platform.
The problem with some creative access platforms is that they are built on a lie. When nationals come to know the Lord and are discipled they find out that their concerned friend is really a missionary who came to target him. Many new believers wonder what else their “friend” has lied to them about. Of course, we must use creative access platforms to gain entry into Gospel-hostile countries. However, we should use great care to make sure that our platforms have integrity and are not less-than-honorable means to what we hope is a good end. In all we do, Christ should be our example–that includes the kinds of platforms we adopt.
14. Assuming a life-time appointment, what is the best way to maintain one’s missionary fervor and focus through the years as a missionary?
Get as close to Jesus as you can get and stay there.
15. What is the most underestimated challenge to the missionary when he or she is on the field? Most overestimated?
The most underestimated challenge is the cultural adjustment that is necessary for every aspect of effective living and ministry in another context. The most overestimated challenge relates to fears about learning the language. The desire to communicate, a love for the people, and friendships among folks in the new culture — added to daily dependence on God’s enabling — will result in successful language learning for effective ministry.