Short Term Mission?

In 1962 Mary Steele arrived in Ghana to work as a Bible translator. Moving up to the North of the country, which was very under-developed at the time with few schools, Mary started work on the Konkomba language.

When the Konkomba New Testament was completed and local language literacy well underway, Mary started work in another language, Bimoba.

Then when the Bimoba NT was translated, she returned to help the Konkomba team work on the Old Testament.


Last night I attended a reception at the British High Commission in Accra to celebrate Mary’s 52 years of service to this country. Perhaps the most remarkable intervention was from a former government minister from the Konkomba area who said that he and other successful Konkombas could not have received an education and done as well as they did without the work of the woman they call their mother.

Mary’s story brought to mind a recent blog post by Rollin Grams in which he writes:

The local church can support a missionary perspective by separating the recent concept of ‘short-term missions’ from ‘missionaries.’ Missionaries are called into a life-time of cross-cultural ministry. They are skilled in cross-cultural interaction, Biblically educated (or should be!), able to share the Gospel clearly, and working to evangelize, plant churches, and nourish people and churches in the faith through training in the Scriptures and for ministry. Their example is Paul the apostle and his missionary team, not the Peace Corps or the Red Cross.

Not everyone has the health and strength to serve for 52 years, but mission work is by its nature a long-term venture. This is something our short-term church culture needs to grasp.


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3 replies on “Short Term Mission?”

apposite, as we are just forming a ‘mission action group’ in our church. I’m curious about using Paul as an exemplar ‘against’ short term missions, though, as he doesn’t seem to have spent more than a couple of years in any place, and sometimes only a few weeks. Yes, he was well trained, and a ‘career missionary’, but his seems to have been more of a serial short term missioner.

I’d be interested in further comment, because I’m actually concerned that my mission group colleagues / leader are keen to emphasise short term missions (drawing on Paul), and I do see the continued value of long term mission, incarnated mission work.

Paul was a church planter and he stayed around long enough to see a church established. I think what he achieved in each situation was more important than the time he took. Vincent Donavon advocates a similar approach to church planting as Paul in his book Christianity Rediscovered, but he recognises that to achieve the same things in contemporary Africa will take longer than it did for Paul.

As an education tool for the people involved, short term mission is a great way forward, but it is not a particularly good way of announcing God’s Kingdom to the world.

So what can we call cross-cultural evangelism+experience of less than one year? Mission education? Sojourning?!

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