10 April 2008

Short term mission vs. formation as a people of justice

Lately, when I don't have much to say myself, I seem to get a lot of mileage (in my own mind, anyway) from quoting Len.

So in that spirit, I have stolen another Len post in its entirety. Let me show you it.

short term mission.. colonial?

Short term mission tends have very limited effect, and while it helps us feel better about ourselves, it does not take us closer to justice. At SHIFT Kara Powell spoke about moving from shallow service to “deep justice.”

“After tracing the importance of justice as a theme in the Old and New Testaments she laid out the difference between serving the poor and seeking justice. “Service is giving someone a glass of cold water who needs it. Justice is asking why the person needs a glass of cold water.” Service is good, she says, because it addresses real needs. But seeking justice means fixing the system that created the problem in the first place.

“Our churches tend to approach service as an event—buying gifts for poor kids at Christmas, feeding the homeless, going to Mexico to build a house. Again, these are worthwhile things. But justice isn’t an event, it’s a lifestyle. She defined justice as simply “righting wrongs.” Toward this end students at her church are engaging issues like sex trafficking, HIV/Aids, and modern-day slavery.

“Powell’s talk was very piercing. Is your church forming people to merely serve, or to be a people of justice?”

More at Out of Ur

I have known people whose lives have been deeply and lastingly transformed by short-term mission experiences. I have also known people who came back thinking, "Wow, I feel great! I can really make a difference in people's lives...as long as I go to Honduras. Oh well, back to life as I know it...."

The purpose of church (for the churched) is to utterly transform life as we know it, for every single person who gets on this path and sets out to follow Jesus...to form us into a people of justice. Every day. In our "regular" lives. (Really, this is the purpose for everybody, but folks need to "opt in" to the whole Jesus-following thing to get the full benefit, IMHO.)

God help us if we settle for less.


spankey said...

I guess my hope in organizing STM is that doing service and seeing injustice will actually change people to justice seekers. It certainly doesn't happen every time, but that's the goal.

Thanks for the post.

also, I've been keeping up with your family's blog, and continue to hold you all in prayer.

Mike Croghan said...

Hi Steve,

Deep thanks for your prayers for my family. We think Dad doesn't have too long now. He told Mom yesterday he's ready to go home. It's been a blessing in so many ways to be able to be here these last couple of weeks.

Re: short-term mission, you're right, of course, and as I admitted, I've known people for whom that goal was unquestionably realized. I just feel like sometimes we can let ourselves off the hook with tried-and-true practices that do, admittedly, work sometimes, when we might think of practices that could be more transformational, but riskier.

Would inviting youth to spend a regular part of their every week in their regular, everyday lives forming relationships with and serving local homeless folks - and maybe questioning what conditions have made them homeless and beginning to work against those - be more effective in forming them as people of justice than a short-term, carefully circumscribed trip? I don't know, but it seems like it's worth a try. But it's a cinch it would go over like a lead balloon with the majority of their parents, who would (legitimately!) rather have them spending regular time on activities that will lead to conventional success in college and beyond, and who will (legitimately!) fear for their safety.

But also, don't mind me too much. Something about my emotional state lately is making me bitchy, and I seem more inclined than usual (and probably than is appropriate) to tell other people "CHURCH: UR DOIN IT RONG". It's not as if Common Table is sponsoring short-term mission trips - and it's not as if we'd necessarily naysay that possibility, either, if somebody wanted to partner with us on such a thing.

spankey said...

I'm not a USA Today subscriber, but I might be now that I know they treat their employees so well. Blessings again to your family.

Re: STM - bingo. You've hit the nail on the head with what we're trying to think about at St. Paul's. Outreach - or whatever one wishes to call ministry - is the work of the church. STM is good and proper in the larger context of a church of service. And a church of service will necessarily be moved to change systems - pouring money into bandaids isn't our idea of a good use of resources.

Well if CT wants to work for Habitat in Baldwin County, AL - y'all are welcome to crash at our church.