Why participate in a short-term mission? Why bother? I mean they are extremely expensive considering the amount of time spent in a mission territory. In working with CRS this summer, we were confronted with the issue in one of our conference calls.
…So why bother?
A short-term mission isn’t about how much help you can offer. Certainly, we all want to offer a service to the Church and to give the poor some assistance, but let’s be honest, there isn’t too much you can do. Not to mention the amount of money organizations throw into these short missions is large considering there is not much accomplished.
A short-term mission isn’t about solving a problem or providing a service. Short-term missions aren’t about groups of relatively wealthy tourists entering into a developing country to see a show. Short-term missions are an opportunity to learn our responsibility as Christians and as a Church, to open our hearts and minds to the movement of the Spirit vis-a-vis our neighbor.
Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer) outlines the Church’s missionary activity. God has made himself known in the person of Jesus Christ. “This definitive self-revelation of God is the fundamental reason why the Church is missionary by her very nature. She cannot do other than proclaim the Gospel, that is, the fullness of the truth which God has enabled us to know about himself” (RM 5). Jesus Christ in his life preached the Kingdom of God and it is Christ that makes the Kingdom present. “The liberation and salvation brought by the kingdom of God come to the human person both in his physical and spiritual dimensions” (RM 14). The Holy Spirit drives the work of the Church in spreading the saving and liberating works of Christ. “It is the Spirit who impels us to proclaim the great works of God” (RM 1).
Our CRS trip to Tanzania was indeed short. It was about 8 days total and most of those days were spent driving in a car for 5+ hours to only see three major sites where CRS is working in Tanzania. We wouldn’t trade those few days for anything. Every site was an invaluable lesson in the ways CRS is confronting poverty in Tanzania. One of these is a micro-financing project called SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Communities). In learning about the activity of CRS in Tanzania and how they work through the local Church, we gained not only tools and resources to help those who are poor, but we actually gained experience of being with the poor. We met them. They were no longer just a face on a brochure. We listened to their stories. One was a woman who owned her own pharmacy in the village and was using the money she gained in the SILC group to set up another store. We talked to on-site CRS representatives, who all told us about their many projects, including an AIDS project, agricultural projects, and a water sanitation project. As a Church and members of the Body of Christ, it is our responsibility to take a role in the missionary activity of the Church. Even if it is just a short time, even if nothing tangible is accomplished in the short term, just the gift of being present to the poor and to directly experience a different reality from that of our own can plant the seeds for real change.