stones and sponges

I am aware of so many people heading off on mission trips this summer. I could name half a dozen such (ad)ventures in the making...

I have a question. How do these mission trips becoming something more than mere Christian tourism? For me it is all about stones and sponges...

As we throw ourselves into the water of an alien culture do we see ourselves as a stone or as a sponge? Do we wish to get wet or do we wish to get saturated? Then on the return home do we just dry off our experiences as we get on with our lives OR do we struggle with the enduring squeeze on our lives as emotions and goals keep getting wrung out on the way to living a life that will never be the same again?

My view is that stone-experiences are a poor return on the financial investment being made and a waste of time for the host missionaries. It must be sponge-experience - or it must be nothing at all.

So how does sponge happen? Good question! We must linger long enough with people for their lives to seep into us. I suspect it means staying longer in one place and travelling less to different places. It will mean doing something and not just seeing everything. It will mean leaving a bit of us behind and taking a bit of them forward...

Over the long haul I suspect that God's mission on earth is advanced more by a smaller number of sponges than a larger number of stones. I wonder aloud whether that is what we are encouraging today.

nice chatting

Paul

Comments

Anonymous said…
Not meaning to be smart or anything, but some other observations regarding stones and sponges: Stones sink in water and sponges don't, stones also can make bigger waves when you throw them into water.

Maybe you could draw a compromise at pumice.....

In all seriousness though, I fully agree with you on the last point. And no, I don't think 'we' are encouraging a sponge approach to short-term mission.
Paul Windsor said…
I stayed up all night working on the subtle significances behind the stone making bigger waves than the sponge ... but I just didn't get it!
ana said…
I also agree that sponge-ness does not seem to be what we are encouraging.

I think that it partly comes from the narcissistic way in which going on short term missions is marketed i.e. "What will going on mission do for you?"

I can't think of a way to expand that thought right now, so will leave it at that.
Andrew Butcher said…
I am becoming increasingly ambivalent about short-term missions, although the one I went on did have a significant effect on my life and my Dad has led short-term mission teams for years. But I think part of the ambivalence comes from the fact that we're sometimes not terribly good at being sponges in our own countries first...
Matt said…
So the stone and the sponge relates to the heart. Hard of heart - little absorbing, aren't really effected by things seen, heard, smelt. Soft of heart - emotional and more considered response, deeply effected.

That's just how I read it anyway.
Matt said…
Stones make bigger waves but because they sink quickly their impact is short lived and quickly forgotten.
Anonymous said…
Unless they're like a meteorite or something - In which case the impact is long lived and devastating.
Nigel Foster said…
I have just come back from a church missions trip to Fiji .
One of us was clergy , one had technical expertise , the rest of us were "ordinary" christians ( excuse the oxymoron )
At the village that we selected , we completed the toilet block by the church that was left half done by another group from the previous year . We also brought a large box of Bibles ( in Fijian ) and asked the local pastor to give them to all households in the village tha didnt have a bible -- irrespective of their church allegiance or otherwise .

In the town we did work at a catholic run "Crippled childrens hostel" . None of our team are catholics . But we presented some books for the hostel library , put in a ceiling in the kitchen block , cleared drains , painted murals , replaced screen doors , made benchrow seats , laid lino in the laundry , brought a brand new laundry machine ( the other one was broken beyond repair ) and relaid the concrete so that the water will flow into the drain rather than inside the laundry when it rains !
We spent over $6000.00 on materials , most of which was sourced from the local economy
There were numerous opportunities to speak at hospitals , schools , churches , womens refuges etc , and many people asked " WHY were we doing all this in Fiji ? " This is the perfect opportunity to share our faith with the Fijians .

We didnt stay in any flash hotel -- we were in dorms at a missions office . We decided that whatever we could save from potential luxuries could be better spent for the local people that we were serving .

Is this mere tourism in the name of christianity on our part ? Or perhaps our modest Missions trip of 2 weeks actually made an impact for both the group , and the recipients .
dale said…
Hey Paul (and others),

I too struggle with the seemingly 'new' (less than 5% of church history?) concept of 'short'-term missions. I've been on three.

My current feeling is that careful planning should be given before acting.

I agree that staying longer and in less places is key. Less sight-seeing and more doing. I have infinitely more respect/enthusiasm for long-term mission than short-term.

I've also heard it suggested that rather than sending a large team over, why not send a select handful (even as few as 1-3?) over with resources purchased with the money that would have been spent on the plane-tickets for the multitude of others?

It's a multi-faceted issue. We need to help our neighbours around the globe, but we need to do so in the best way.

For example, it would seem that the accomplishments of the Fiji trip mentioned above could have been done by 2 people over a longer period, while at the same time having greater opportunity for building relationships, ensuring that the resources were distributed, maintained and used well, and other types of 'soaking' into the culture.

Sure, valuable lessons can be learned by going and seeing it first-hand, but we must also be good stewards of the resources God has given us.

A 2-week trip to Africa may be deeply emotional and moving for me (and make me feel more spiritual), but I'd rather give them 2 years. 2 less emotional years, no doubt, but it's giving much more in the end...

Of course there are many more considerations than those I've raised here...

Cheers,

-d-
dale said…
after thought...

may we also need to be careful that we're not just 'throwing rocks in the water' to 'make waves' for our church's applause?

It seems that the 'short term mission trip' makes for the best bragging material... For those who 'go' and for those who 'sent'...

Again, the answer is NOT to cease to 'go', but to go WELL.

:)

-d-

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