We came up to a few dingy tents underneath an overpass. Homeless women and many children greeted us. Some naked. All of them snotty, dirty, with rotten teeth.
This was a homeless community living in poverty. One of the poorest we saw. Our job was delivering food rations. Little bags of rice for the families.
The wrinkled old matriarchs took them with much joy and began to cook for the children.
I don’t know if an American would’ve received any of that food with joy.
As we played with kids and heard the usual horror stories of neglect and glue sniffing, I noticed two nicer tents.
American tents. They seemed in good condition. They were dirty, old, and used. But they housed almost 12 people.
This was somewhat shocking because the average house here was a tarp and a stick. Dirty papers and plastic bags insulated the local tents as they lived on the river and often had to pack up during floods and move to hirer ground. Compared to the hole filled drop-clothes they normally used, these American tents were mansions.
“Where are those tents from? They look nice.” I asked my host.
Admittedly, nice was a very relative word here.
“World racers gave them to these people three years ago.”
I often get asked if short-term missions have any real value.
“How much good can you really do in a month?”
For those families, someone came before me years ago and gave a dozen people the dignity of a home. The only home they know. The people were ecstatic when they saw us. Not because we bring gifts, although assuredly that does smooth diplomatic relations, but because we were Christ with flesh on.
To them, no one had ever shown the love and care of God. No one had loved them enough to value them. Then a couple of foreigners, highly esteemed due to our great wealth and winning complexion, came and blessed them.
The gift is so small and yet they eagerly took it.
I keep coming back to blessing.
Very rarely do we look at moments in our life and expand them into weeks and years.
“Dude that one time Gary sat with me for six months and explained the gospel. Changed my life!”
Those moments do happen but often God rocks our world in instances.
God regularly works through the short term as well as the long term.
The bible is chock full of short term visits, church plants, conversions.
Read Acts. Or about Jericho. Or the multitude of moments where Jesus shows up for five minutes and wrecks lives for the better. They walk away changed for life.
Woman at the Well?
Mary? Mary? Mary? (It was a common name)
The man with the crippled hand?
Peters mother in law?
Woman caught in adultery?
Oh He had his long-term mission of course. Disciples and John even said Jesus did so much that the world couldn’t contain a record of it.
Yet, it begs the question, are short-term missions effective?
Has anyone ever blessed you in the nick of time? Prayed for you when you needed it? Given you that twenty-dollar bill when you had to have that book for college? I’m sure the faith walk of everyone is filled with long-term discipleship and short-term miracles.
There is this argument today, drifting about between our rationalistic 21st century minds that the only way to do missions is,
Long-term or hiring out a national.
Those are great. In fact our one-month doesn’t save the entire world. I’m not under that illusion. But the devaluing of ministry is detrimental. Whether or not ones agree, are not the wise ways of the Rabbi Gamaliel far better? He would not stop the disciples because if the movement of “The Way” was from God, woe to the one who fights God.
If it was from man, well, God would stop it as He did other things.
Is it really any different to spend those resources on a year of college learning about “Fashion” or “Humanities” when this year is far more educational, pushing, stretching, and some say noble? Is not the long-term mission field fueled by hearts passionately stoked by the short-term movements of God?
It does take resources to do short term missions. It takes work. It isn’t always the best solution.
Yet, it does have fruit. Amazing fruit that thousands of people touched by the World Race can attest to.
Fruit that remains.
Three years later, on a riverbank, little children sit comfortably as rain pounds the ground next to them. They can dwell in a little shelter. The food stays dry. The walls give at least the bare minimum human privacy for mom and dad. Maybe, just maybe, years from now, those little children will want to know of this “God” who gave them a home.
For the racers who gave that tent, they may never know what happened. I do know though that they walked away from this year profoundly changed. They impacted lives that have never so boldly seen grace before, and they fulfilled that old commission to go out to the nations.
Who can you bless today? Even if it’s just something small. It may be the lynch pin to someone knowing the eternal God. Maybe, just maybe, you think “Oh, that’d be so small. No one would ever notice.”
Yet maybe three years later, they’ll literally dwell in your short term blessing.