two ways of viewing long-term partnership for short-term missions

had another wonderful day in jamaica yesterday, visiting with a few local pastors served by teams who come with Praying Pelican Missions, and visiting teams in action.

and i realized i’d only been communicating one of the two (equally valid and beneficial) meanings of talking about the value of long-term partnerships in short-term missions. i’ve written many times about how one of the things i really love about PPM (and one of the values and practices that sets them apart) is their commitment to developing long-term relationships with local, indigenous church leaders (in this case, jamaican pastors), and exercising a no-exceptions policy of only doing work requested by these pastors. it’s a significant way they are able to stay away from activities that aren’t culturally appropriate, or are tainted by anything like corruption, or are merely bad missiology and american-savior colonialism.

i saw this in PPM’s work in haiti two years ago; i saw it in belize last year; and i’m seeing it again here. but, while the Cartel does have a partnership with PPM, i still feel a pretty strong obligation to represent my youth ministry tribe. so i check this value/practice with every pastor i meet on these trips, asking them about their vision, asking about how PPM treats them, asking if they feel served or used. i make it clear that i’m a third-party, and usually get a bit of alone time with them. and so far, that value/practice has been proved in 100% of these conversations.

but there’s another way to think of long-term partnership in short-term missions. it’s the value of you and your church establishing a long-term partnership with a church and community somewhere else. i was reminded today that this is the ideal that PPM longs to see.

but, honestly, few groups do this. and i think the primary reason (though i’m sure there are others) is that many of us still have ‘tourism’ in the mix, at least a little bit, when we think of a location for short-term missions (particularly when it’s international). as a middle school pastor, i wasn’t convinced it was good stewardship to take young teens on a foreign missions trip other than to a mexico border town (which, for the last 25 years of my life, has been within 2 hours of home). and, honestly, i sometimes got a little jealous of the high school ministry heading off to exotic locations when my group was heading back to the border again.

but i’ve seen the impact of long-term consistency, since my own church has had a church-to-church partnership with a single church (and community) in haiti for about four years now. the benefits multiply for both the recipients of ministry and for those traveling to do ministry.

for the recipients, the long-term relationship offers (at least) these things:

  • it removes the dance of not knowing the visiting group, and wondering what their motives actually are
  • it removes (or at least lessens) the feeling that recipients are ‘less than’ or begging
  • it increases the joy of working together, since the visiting team begins to feel like family
  • it allows the recipients to play a more active reciprocal role of ministering to the visiting group, praying for them and in some ways participating in communion with one another

for the visiting team, the long-term relationship offers (at least) these things:

  • it decreases our temptation to see ourselves as little saviors. we’re going to visit (and serve) people we know and love, not faceless foreigners who need our generosity and pity
  • it takes the guesswork out of the relationship, building confidence in serving alongside (with a confidence in knowing how the serving fits in with the vision of the church and pastor)
  • it decreases any pressure we might feel to slip into unhelpful (and even damaging) stereotypes, like some already mentioned
  • and it builds momentum, healthy tradition, and expectation in your group and church

heck, i’ve even seen, in my own church, how our long-term partnership has re-shaped the worldview of our whole congregation. prior to that partnership, we had a somewhat myopic vision focused almost exclusively on our local impact. now, a short three or four years later, local and international serving has exponentially grown at my church, with a much greater sense that we are playing an active role in God’s redemptive work in the whole world.

so it’s obvious: i think youth workers should consider returning to the same location for multiple years, building a relationship with a church or ministry you learn to know, love and trust. you and they will both benefit greatly. really, in my mind, i see the best-case-scenario as a triangle: a three-way partnership (including an organization like PPM to both find the right partnership and handle logistics).

oh, and as a wonderful corrective to anyone who might, even for a second, think something like “we’re bringing the gospel to jamaica;” i took this photo of the cornerstone of one of the churches we were at today. yup, jesus has been here a very, very long time.

  


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