Monday, January 4, 2016

Cru Short Term Trips are Worthy!

Right now we have a team of Cornell students working in South Africa with the Mamalodi Initiative.  The Mamelodi initiative is in my opinion, a model of effective, sustainable, Christian humanitarian aid. Pioneered with Cru students from Harvard, the Mamelodi Initiative is an educational program that serves underprivileged teens and school age children.  Ivy league college students spend time teaching and tutoring kids so that they can pass the matriculation exams that stand between them and a quality education.  It has been rightfully observed; "if there is one thing every Cornell student can do, it’s pass a test!"  

Our team that’s there right now is reading the acclaimed book; When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  Insightful and provocative, the authors of this book (along with their organization The Chalmer’s center) are an asset to Evangelical Christianity in America.  Their organization has played a key role in pointing out the different ways that Christian mission trips can be categorically detrimental even as the participants are trying to be a blessing.  As the title makes clear, it is possible to hurt even when trying to help.  Together, they are enabling all of us to take a more critical look at Christian missions and offering insights about how to do things well.   This is an excellent resource for everyone who wants to minister in and to the world in a way that makes a comprehensively positive impact.  

Certainly they are not the only ones to write about this topic.  In recent years, much has been written on the web questioning the wisdom and overall value of evangelical missions trips -especially short term ventures.   I’ve read many articles and even had conversations with students here on campus who contend that most short-term trips are not worth doing. I disagree!  believe that short term trips are thoroughly Biblical and we must keep sending out teams both to do short-term and long-term work.  But we should help each other to strive after wisdom and move forward with God-centered purposefulness.  

I really believe that it’s possible to do things well, and on the whole, I think the short-term trips that we offer with Cru are very valuable and effective.  Cru has both international and U.S. stateside summer mission trips that college students can participate in.  

I want to point out three things that help enable the Cru trips to be more helpful than hurtful on the whole.  

#1  Gospel Centrality.  One of the things that makes Cru’s projects so valuable is the gospel-centered nature of our missions. Throughout its history Cru has prioritized the communication of the good news of Jesus Christ as our primary objective.  The core of the Great Commission is to make disciples of Him!   We certainly value humanitarian aid and social justice initiatives; we believe in both good words and good deeds!  But no matter what else we do, we press forward with our conviction that the gospel is foundational.  Everyone everywhere needs Jesus, and our first aim is to make him known. Helping others to discover and follow Jesus is categorically helpful and good. Always.

#2  Working in Partnership.   When we take a short-term student team to another country we are typically working on or near a college campus, in conjunction with a long-term team of missionaries in that country.  Often, the long-term teams include local ministers who are native to that area or country.  Yes, sometimes a short-term team goes ahead of a long-term team, but in either case, we strive to connect our short term activities with those who are long term.  This format helps us to work in ways that are truly constructive, and it literally enables our short-term participants to contribute.  We aren’t just taking a group of students to a foreign country on some type of “Christian tourism” adventure, but we are able to involve them as ministers engaged in the long-term work.  

#3  Students working with Students.   A more cynical colleague of mine once asked the question: “Does anyone else think it’s weird that we take unskilled youth group kids to do construction in a country full of men who are skilled construction workers?”  He was scoffing the classic “mission trip to Mexico” phenomenon.  Certainly it’s an over-statement to say that everyone in Mexico is a skilled construction worker, but there is no doubt that most American junior high kids are in way over their heads at a construction site.  That’s not all bad, but what we’ve got going in Cru is different.  The majority of our ministry consists of straight-forward discipleship and evangelism in a context that our students are at least generally familiar with.  We take university students to a university!  It’s a venue where we are considerably experienced.  Sure, some methods need to be tweaked and “contextualized” a bit, but on the whole, our students are engaging in a kind of ministry that makes sense.  They are building relationships with other college students, they are building friendships and they are talking about Jesus.  It’s the same thing they do here at our campus!   

Here are some links: 

Mamalodi Initiative Website

A couple of Articles on this topic:
From Gospel Coalition:

Some Biblical examples of Short-term missional methodology.
Jesus’ whole ministry was a 3 year short-term trip.
The Apostle Paul’s ministry was a series of short-term style mission ventures.
Jesus sends his disciples on some very short-term trips. eg: Luke 9,10.  
Jonah’s mission to the Assyrian’s was quite short.  

Michael Horton talking about the Church’s mission to make disciples.  He talks about needing to be aware of “mission creep”; losing sight of the main mission.  Scrub to the 2:10 mark.

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