My husband, now a church planter/lead pastor, was a youth minister for about 19 years. We have had a lot of youth and college students move in and out of our lives over the years, not to mention that our current church is in a college town. We have also received lots of letters and email asking us to give money to many short term missions projects that many of these students participate in. Are we excited that these young adults are broadening their world vision, challenging themselves, and serving the Lord? Absolutely! We enjoy reading about 90% of these letters from former youth and hearing about what God is doing in their lives. We support all of them in prayer and a few of them financially. We generally don't give much, because frankly we get 15-20 of these letters a year. However, we do enjoy keeping up with these guys. However, there are about 10% of the letters that drive us crazy. These usually come from either: (a) People whose lives we were only marginally involved in and don't really know and/or (b) People who have attended our church once or twice, want to meet Robert for a coffee a couple of times, and then go in for the sales pitch. They are forming a "relationship" for the sole purpose of asking us for money in the future. These students sometimes ask for missions money, but more often than not as asking us to support their involvement in parachurch ministries. Disclaimer: We do support parachurch ministries. In fact, we give monthly to support a local leader of a parachurch ministry. However, this is someone with whom we have an ongoing relationship in which both parties are mutually invested.
Anyway, those 10-percenters who are just asking for money tend to drive us crazy. (If you are wondering if you are one of these...chances are, you aren't. The people who do this either are totally oblivious and/or don't really care). They always start off the letter, phone call, email, visit, with really wanting to know how we are doing. Only...they don't. If they really wanted to know how we were doing they would keep in touch. They launch immediately into their pitch, which contains an awful lot of "Is" and "Mes" and tell us all of the wonderful things that they are doing. They through in a lot of religious jargon and count things like buying Tom's shoes as ministry involvement. Then they ask for money and if we say no, they ask us for other people to contact. Sorry. If you annoy us, we are certainly not going to send you to our friends too.
So, I decided to make a snarky Xtranormal video to convey these interactions.(Caveat: This is my first time making one of these videos. I had no idea that the stick people I chose would be filmed in profile. Stick people are 2-dimensional and don't have much of a profile. Live and learn)
Now that was an exaggeration of the scenario, but not by much.
Short-term missions experiences are awesome! I went to California for 3 months after my freshman year in college as a summer missionary in the San Francisco Bay area and it totally changed my life. My marriage, career, and life plans were sealed that summer. Since then I have done trips to minister to the homeless in inner city Fort Worth and to work with children in Nicaragua on multiple occasions. However, we have to be honest, the day in and day out workers are the real heroes. Summer missionaries or short-term missions are helpful, but they are also a lot of work for the real ministers. And part of doing a mission trip is the excitement of going to a place you may have never been or working with people that you wouldn't dare hang out with in your own community in real life. I think the thing that is bigger than the work we do on short-term missions projects is the personal, internal change that results. Working with homeless people in Fort Worth helped me to invite real live homeless people over for dinner at my house in Baton Rouge. Working with refugees and illegal aliens from Central America when we lived in Missouri helped me to become an advocate for these people. We have to bring what we learn back home and make it personal. Otherwise, it's just a vacation.
Anyway, back to the money issue.
True confession--I am not a natural giver. In fact, I am pretty selfish and have to wrestle with it daily. I have trouble loaning you my favorite pen and worrying that I'll get it back, so when you ask me for money that's a whole different level of giving. However, my husband has taught me much about sacrificial giving and I am still growing in this area. Part of my problem with giving to short-term missions though comes from my denomination. While I don't agree with every single thing that the Southern Baptist Convention is about, I do wholeheartedly believe that we have the best missions organizations of any denomination, hands down. Every church gives to the Cooperative Program which funds career missionaries, short-term missions, and seminary training, among other things. When I was a summer missionary to California I didn't have to ask anyone for money because the SBC paid my airfare and orientation expenses, local church members housed and fed me, and I even got a stipend. At the same time, my husband was a summer missionary in inner city Detroit. He went through the Alabama SBC, so the state association paid his expenses and stipend. We have friends who are SBC career missionaries in Peru, Ukraine, and Russia. The SBC paid for a year of language school, several months of cultural preparation, relocation expenses, and their salaries. They are able to spend their time doing ministry instead of drumming up support and asking for money. Because this is the system that I know, it is very counter-cultural to me personally for the money asking. That doesn't mean I won't do it. It just means that I know that it can be done a different way.
So, please do keep sending us your letters. Just keep in touch in between too, okay? We really do love you, are excited for your opportunities to serve and to be changed.We might send you encouragement letters or a care package. We just don't want to be used.