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Over the last few years, I’ve thought a fair amount about mission work – the opportunity, the necessity, the privilege, but also the evils and hurt of it. Many of those thoughts have bounced around again, some simmering burningly on my mind, in the weeks leading up to this venture.

I am convinced it is good and necessary to do mission work, both from a practical perspective and also biblically (Mark 16:15, Matt. 28:19, Romans 10:13-15, 1 Chron. 16:24, Acts 13:47). I am also convinced it has the potential – and the historical precedent – to be very harmful.

The harms of missions – especially short-term missions – are well documented and oft-warned against. I will not go into them here; they are not hard to find.

As a means of easing my own conscience and, perhaps, providing some comfort to any readers rightfully skeptical about such things, here are a few things I’m trying to remember that can safeguard against bad missions.

  1. Work with the local church and with local long-term missionaries. They know the pertinent needs and desires better than we foreigners.
  2. If you do work, do development work in addition to relief work. Relief work is, of course, a very good and necessary thing; development work is a subsequent step, longer-term in focus. It is the difference, perhaps, between supplying money and materials for a new business (relief work) and then offering entrepreneurial and financial training for the business (development work).
  3. Spend a long time preparing. We should not prepare merely for a week or even a month. We need to think well in advance, learning and listening long before we touch down in a place. And then once there, be flexible.
  4. Do missions locally. Why should anyone abroad believe that your faith is genuine — or genuinely helpful — if you fail to live it out well in your hometown? If you won’t go to the neighborhood on the other side of town to be with the poor, needy, outcast, unchurched, why do you think it is appropriate to go to the neighborhood on the other side of the world?
  5. Listen and be humble. But also be bold and ready to give an answer for the hope you have. Live the words you might otherwise speak.
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