By David Armstrong
When I lived in Guatemala it would take me up to six months to figure out how best to plug in a church group coming down for a week. I was committed to seeing the Guatemalan churches we worked with benefit as much as those who came to see us. What would meet their felt needs?
Our best ongoing match-up? It was a VBS program or construction project during the day, followed by evenings showing the JESUS film in small villages about 30 minutes off the main road. I can still picture groups of men or youth carrying the projector and struggling to keep up with an older local fellow with the heavy power generator slung over his shoulder.
Each night we showed the film in the Mam or Quiche language in one of the locations where the local group of believers was trying to start a Bible study. The elders of the local congregation would stand around all evening just watching people. Then over the next ten days they would try to visit the homes of those who came to see the film. Invariably they were welcomed in for a cup of coffee and an extended visit about the life of Jesus. As a result, four or five families were added to each Bible study in every village where we showed the film! All because God touched hearts.
Yes, we intentionally tried to design something that would benefit both those who came and those who received them. We took the time to listen to the leaders of the churches we worked with and coaxed them to share what they really thought would help them. It was worth it. One morning I rejoiced to find five church leaders in our office talking to Melvin, the young pastor who had worked with a visiting team. They wanted to Melvin to help them make a plan for doing the same thing themselves, because they had never done anything so effective.
Empowering partnership. That’s one of the seven key standards of excellence in short-term missions. Partnerships take a lot of time, but isn’t working together part of what God intends?
An excellent short-term mission establishes healthy, interdependent, on-going relationships between sending and receiving partners, and is expressed by primary focus on intended receptors, plans which benefit all participants, and mutual trust and accountability.