Short term teams…. I had no idea that short term teams (STT) were becoming so controversial. Here are the concerns about STT’s that we’ve ran across from others/blogs/books since we moved here:
- Are they really helping anyone?
- Are they just taking pictures of themselves holding little African babies for people to like on their Facebook profiles?
- Will the house they built, or church they repaired or well they dug be used after they leave?
- Did they steal jobs from the locals by volunteering?
- Aren’t they just a couple of weeks of stress for the long term-ers that leave them tired and dry?
- Is it even possible to have an unselfish short term team?
- Won’t they be all… “I had such a great experience” never to remember the names of the people they met?
Now some of these concerns come out of STT trips that are focused primarily on building something or doing some manual labor in a foreign country. I cannot speak from any personal experiences of this since my experience of STT’s were spent doing ministry and not physical labor. Ok, so if the STT is coming to do ministry then they must end up less self-focused, less exhausting for the long term-ers, and they’ll remember the names of the people they met…… Right? Not necessarily.
From my own personal experience of the 3 ST trips I went on, I can only remember 2 people’s names and about 5 faces. Our STT was so focused on evangelism that we spread our numbers thin and shared with multitudes. Many “became believers” but how many of them are still following God? No idea. How many of them did I teach how to follow him? Unfortunately the answer is zero.
So at the beginning of August we were on the other side of the STT, we were the long term-ers receiving our first STT and planning their trip. One of the most daunting planning experiences I had ever encountered. I’m great at logistics; I had no qualms with getting them transportation, planning an excursion, setting up their hotels… But what do we do with them when they get here? What does their “work” look like? We’d been wrestling with this question, on and off, since last summer and really trying to dig into it since January. Yes, since January… for our August team.
Now this is usually where planning veers for long term-ers pending on the culture and the needs of the ministry, but these were some of our concerns based on what we’d seen in Uganda:
- With the British Colonization still leaving the impression with many Ugandans that outsiders have the answer; how can our STT’s be viewed by our Ugandan friends as a support and service for them instead of people to come teach them something?
- After the 20 years of war and the response of aid during that time, how do we break the expectation of handouts for people?
- The number of “Salvations” reported throughout Africa is 3 times higher than the number of people that actually live in Africa, so how can we avoid “leading people to salvation” but actually disciple them and help them to grow a closer relationship with the Lord?
- Can the ministry that is done with the STT in this short time frame result in lasting relationships with God?
- If our STT meets new people who commit their lives to the Lord, how can we connect them with our existing believers?
- We’ve seen that the most effective church planting movements are started with “persons of peace” people that are a part of the community that are highly influential within their circles and willing and open to share what they are learning about the lord. So then how does our STT find these people and get them mobilized?
So, when planning this trip for our STT it really boiled down to a need for discipleship instead of a need to spread the gospel. So what did we do? Well, instead of having our STT go out to find people to share the gospel with and possibly find Persons of Peace, we felt that our current leaders in our church really are those persons of peace. Our leaders are the ones going out and meeting new people, inviting them to be a part of our church family, sharing the gospel, disciplining new believers, gathering people to learn how to love the Lord better, and BONUS they live here! Why wouldn’t we want to invest in them?!? So we had our team invest in our existing leaders. They hung out with them one on one and spent time with them at work and at home. They prayed together, prayer walked together, met new people together, and encouraged each other. We let the church (in the big sense of the word) do what the church does best: they built each other up in their walk with Jesus.
We’re 3 weeks post this first STT trip and so far we’re enjoying the results. Our leaders in Uganda felt encouraged and reenergized by the ST team. They’ve taken the words that were spoken into them and the training that they received (one of our ST Team-ers lead a leadership training with them) out to the other people in the villages and surrounding villages that they had been ministering to. Talk about a an immediate and lasting impact! Also, when we exit interviewed our ST team all they could talk about was how our leaders were so great. “They are so amazing.” “I love the work that they’re doing.” In my opinion, it was the most them-focused responses I’ve ever heard coming out of an ST team. Yes, God used this trip to teach them things about themselves, but it wasn’t all about them it was about our Ugandan believers and the work they were doing.
So if you ask our ST Team members about their trip to Uganda they won’t be able to give you stats of how many people they shared the gospel with or how many churches they spoke at or how many people received salvations, but they will be able to tell you about the heart of one or 2 of our leaders, their struggles, their hopes and how you can pray for them. They are now truly connected to a brother in Christ across the ocean… isn’t that a good Short Term Trip result?