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Why STM has failed and why it still matters

It is a fairly popular trend where churches produce Short Term Missions (STM) teams to work around the world. This experiment made popular by organizations such as OM and YWAM, has resulted in an incredible explosion of volunteers leaving their suburban homes and travelling around the world to see it firsthand. It is interesting when the poor and wealthy of the world sit and talk around the same table.

IMG_0349This story has also not been all peaches and roses. The appeal of a the STM trip has had thousands jump onto the bandwagon. Some ineffective teams work great damage as they arrive internationally with their own single-minded agenda. Naive teams may demand all manner of strange things.

The jury is still out in terms of the final effect of STM. We do know that this method has deeply impacted the way that churches now participate in missions. In the past, churches worked through arms-length agencies. Now churches are proactively working ‘on the ground’.

If you hate Short term mission for the common stories of inappropriate engagement and damaging culture you are not alone. It is easy to recognize failure, The truth is that anyone of us can find fault anywhere.

Criticism is easy. Creating something new is hard

Evaluation, Judging and Fault-finding has never been our problem; the tough part always is stepping beyond our disapproval and stepping into the much tougher place of finding the new path forward.

Yes, short-term mission has failed. So have missions agencies, churches, countries, and leaders. They all fail, because there are people involved – people with strange ideas and pointless passions, much like you and I. Judge them and we forget to look at those who are still trying to accomplish the impossible.

It is too easy to judge a movement by its failures.

I believe that STM is still the primary way in which thousands have experienced their first international adventure. It is a way of action, broken at times, but that should not stop us. Many things are broken and imperfect and still important – does anyone have a perfect school, government or family?

It is only when we actually feel the mud between our toes, spend time carrying water with a double orphan, or accept hospitality from a stranger with less in their cupboard than we carry in our suitcase, that we can begin to grasp just who our global neighbors are. No compelling story or high production video can tell a 1/100th of the reality, it is experience and experience alone which allows us to actually engage.

And this is the wonder of STM work. It is possible for you to engage. Wtihin 24 hours you can be there, you can spend an afternoon walking and talking with a stranger, and possibly change your view for a lifetime.

Plan to participate, Recognize the failures, Realize there are better ways to do this, Discover the guides along the way. There are effective ways to engage.

It is easy to think of the problems. Where has STM succeeded?

Mark Crocker

September 2, 2008

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