Over the last few years a lot has been said and written about short-term mission work (try this and this for a start). Responding to this trend, Karl and Sun Dahlfred ask whether long term missionaries are obsolete. Thankfully, they answer the question in the negative – I don’t want to become extinct just yet. Their blog post gives three excellent reasons why long term mission engagement is still needed.
The Numbers Argument
Long-term missionaries are still necessary in many places in the world today because in many places there are an insufficient numbers of Christians, mature Christian leaders, and churches to carry out the task of evangelizing their own people…
The Cultural Contextualization Argument
…In cross-cultural teaching and discipleship, it is necessary to understand where people are coming from in order to most effectively help them to understand and apply the Bible accurately. Prepackaged Bible teaching from a Western perspective, addressing the issues of the Western church, and geared towards listeners from a Western background is going to be limited in its effectiveness because it fails to address many of the challenges and issues that Christians in other parts of the world are facing. I am not saying that such teaching is completely ineffective but merely that it is often limited in its effectiveness and is likely not as effective as its teachers believe it to be. Such training by short-term foreign missionaries can be helpful but it is short-sighted to see such training courses as the only necessary strategy in foreign missions today.
The Incarnation Argument
Besides the above practical arguments, there is the Biblical argument from the incarnation of Christ. Jesus Christ descended from heaven and became a first century A.D. Jewish man. He entered into history in a specific time, specific place, with a specific identity. Jesus took part in the life, language, and culture of first century Judaism and all his teaching was appropriately geared to the background and understanding of his listeners.
[singlepic id=65 w=320 h=240 float=right]In addition, I would add one more: Some things take a long time. Bible translation is an excellent example of a facet of mission work which involves a long term commitment. Some missionaries are directly involved in translating (as we did in Kouya) and others are involved in training or consulting, but all of these roles take a significant number of years. Wycliffe Engage teams give a great insight into the work of translating and are a huge encouragement to all involved, but Scripture translation can not be accomplished by summer teams. It takes a long term involvement of a team of people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures to see God’s Word made available.