We have another week or two of classes, talking around clean white conference tables with PPTs keeping us on track. Then this group of missionaries scatters again to the four corners of the globe. Most are 40-60 years old and have been on the field their entire adult lives. Many of them have become Marginal people, straddling several cultures without being completely American or foreign. Bilingualism and a call to missions are requirements for entry to the program.
There is some kind of orderliness among our interactions of stories, questions, and comments on life and textbooks. Everyone is respectful even when joking and poking fun. After two years of study together, we know Paul and John are the smart ones, Steve is the funniest and most relational, and Vance has the best missions background. He could stomp any of us to the ground in an academic free-for-all. A few of our initial group have dropped out or taken a pause in their studies. Because our cohort is small, they are greatly missed.
Today guest lecturer Alan reminded us that to Paul, being an apostle meant going where others had not gone. "Most missionaries today work among the churched, spend their time among those who have already heard, and support existing organizations. Who is going beyond the borders of the reached to tell the Story to those who have never heard?" Many of us work to prepare others who will go to unreached people groups in their countries and beyond.
As less long-termers sign up, a new strategy is being considered. Instead of asking anyone who would like to go into missions to volunteer for a short stay, perhaps it is time once again to ask who will commit their entire lives to missions. The recent trend of short-term groups has been hotly debated. Churches and individuals are putting most of their "missions" resources into quick group trips. Pastors define their churches as missional and think they have done their duty by taking a group somewhere to build a house or church, put on puppet shows and skits in a poor neighborhood, or sponsor a medical team for two or three weeks. Many such "missions" efforts leave no lasting impression on those they go to serve. But skimming the surface of a culture's needs by doing a project may cost 10 participants $20-40,000... or much more.
Raising the same funds to stay on the field costs missionaries-for-life long months or years off the field while they itinerate and travel at home. Cross-cultural missionaries notice how the short-term emphasis has sucked time and money away from career specialists.
Missionaries want to inspire and entreat the next generation to join them. They hope to pass along their passion and God's call. They long to recruit willing hearts to devote a lifetime to become embedded into an unknown culture. They want to encourage young people to learn the language of a people group. However, when career missionaries call a church, pastors are often so busy with their church agendas that they are unwilling to meet, much less give a missionary Sunday service time. "We have a full program and no time for one more thing," is a common response. Very often a church's administrative assistant refuses to let the missionary talk to the pastor.
"Who will go for us, and whom shall we send?" God asked Isaiah. (Isaiah 6:8)
"Here I am, send me," Isaiah replied. Tonight, I wonder how many of us would give God the same reply.