Pros and cons of short term mission trips

The Washington Post had an interesting piece titled Teen missions being retooled.  Here are some snippets. 

WASHINGTON — Not long ago, the families of Fairfax (Va.) Presbyterian Church spent thousands of dollars to fly their teens to Mexico for eight days of doing good. They helped build homes and refurbish churches as part of an army of more than 1 million mostly Christians who annually go on short-term international mission trips to work and evangelize in poverty-stricken lands.

Yet even as those trips have increased in popularity, they have come under increased scrutiny. A growing body of research questions the value of the trips abroad, which are supposed to bring hope and Christianity to the needy of the world, while offering American participants an opportunity to work in disadvantaged communities, develop relationships and charge up their faith.

Critics scornfully call such trips “religious tourism” undertaken by “vacationaries.” Some blunders include a wall built on the children’s soccer field at an orphanage in Brazil that had to be torn down after the visitors left. In Mexico, a church was painted six times during one summer by six different groups. In Ecuador, a church was built but never used because the community said it was not needed.

I don’t see how people serving on mission trips on their vacations is a bad thing.  Of course, non-value added activities like re-painting the same thing or building inadequate or unnecessary structures is ridiculous.  But those things can be prevented with good planning.

I heard of parts of Mexico referred to as the “Methodist ruins” because many churches started projects and didn’t follow through.  Just because you are doing a good deed doesn’t mean you don’t need wisdom, discernment, superior planning and organization.

The church is sending out smaller teams of experts to work on projects with partner churches. For example, it is sending information technology professionals who are fluent in Spanish to a church in the Dominican Republic to train members in computer skills so they can get better jobs, MacDonald said.

Despite the concerns with trips abroad, their popularity is soaring. Some groups go as far away as China, Thailand and Russia. From a few hundred in the 1960s, the trips have proliferated in recent years. A Princeton University study found that 1.6 million people took short-term mission trips — an average of eight days — in 2005. Estimates of the money spent on these trips is upward of $2.4 billion a year. Vacation destinations are especially popular: Recent research has found that the Bahamas receives one short-term missionary for every 15 residents.

At the same time, the number of long-term American missionaries, who go abroad from several years to a lifetime, has fallen, according to a Wheaton College study done last year.

The short-term mission trip is a “huge phenomenon that seems to be gaining in momentum rather than waning,” said David Livermore, executive director of the Global Learning Center at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, who studies the trend.

Participants care for orphans, hold Bible classes, evangelize, paint homes and churches and help AIDS patients, among other tasks.

But research has found that the trips tend to have few long-term effects on the local people or on the mission travelers. Some projects take away work from local people, are unnecessary and sometimes dangerous.

I wonder what groups they researched.  That has not been my experience.   Then again, we typically send teams to the same places over and over so that relationships are built and we can be sure we are making a difference.

“I really don’t think that most people are trying to be ugly Americans,” said Glenn Schwartz, executive director of World Mission Associates and author of When Charity Destroys Dignity. “But they’re misinformed and don’t realize how their good intentions can go awry.”

Mission groups also often bring their own experts and ignore local authorities on the ground.

In Monrovia, Liberia, three years ago, tragedy occurred when visitors built a school to their standards instead of Liberian standards. During the monsoon season, the building collapsed, killing two children, Livermore said.

Understanding the local customs and needs is crucial.  We always defer to local building practices. 

Critics also question the expense involved in sending people long distances. Short-term missionaries pay $1,000 each, or far more, in plane fare and other expenses to get to remote destinations.

A 2006 study in Honduras found that short-term mission groups spent an average of $30,000 on their trips to build one home that a local group could construct for $2,000.

“To spend $30,000 to paint a church or build a house that costs $2,000 doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” said Kurt Ver Beek, a professor of sociology at Calvin College who conducted the research.

I think that misses the point.  Mission trips aren’t just about the physical property being built or repaired.  They are about relationships with the people, helping them in ways that are meaningful and lasting, sharing the Gospel and transforming the lives of those who go.  It changes how you view the world. 

And practically speaking, I’ve found that people who go on short term mission trips write more and bigger checks to help these areas, and they encourage others to do the same.  Who better to tell people of the needs than those who have been there?

All of the objections brought up in the article could be dealt with by applying more wisdom and planning.

1 Corinthians 14

1c141.jpgGreetings!  The topic of speaking in tongues (that is, a special language that most others cannot understand) is often controversial.  Some think this spiritual gift ceased after the early church died out, but I don’t see any Biblical justification for that.  But I definitely don’t see it as a requirement for being a “true” Christian, as some believe.  This is an excellent piece on why speaking in tongues is not required for salvation. 

In my experience the churches who emphasize speaking in tongues do not follow the Biblical pattern.  It really isn’t that complicated.  This chapter has the most discussion on this gift, though it is also mentioned elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, five times in the book of Acts (though at least one of those was a completely different type of speaking in tongues, where people spoke their normal language but others could understand them), and one time in chapter 16 of the book of Mark, though that passage is highly disputed.

Paul is actually quite clear here: Speaking in tongues is permitted but not required, and when it is done it should follow certain guidelines so as not to confuse people.

Note: When Paul speaks of “brothers” it is a broad term that includes both sexes.

Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues

14     Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

6 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

13 For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20 Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written: “Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord.

22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Orderly Worship

26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

That is a controversial passage with various interpretations, but as best I can tell the “women” in question are married women who were disrupting the church services. 

36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

God doesn’t give overly detailed requirements for worship in the Christian Church, especially compared to the Israelite guidelines in the Old Testament.  But He does require order and not chaos.

How many translations did your Bible go through?

bible5.gifOne. 

Really. Just one time from the original language to the language and version of your Bible.  The original writings were copied many times, but the Bible you hold was only translated once.

Many people – including some Christians – are quick to say that the Bible has been translated and changed so many times over the centuries that we don’t know what the original writings said.  For example, I just saw a video clip where Deepak Chopra (alleged religious expert) claims that the King James was the 13th iteration of the Bible.

But contrary to that myth, the books of the Bible have only been translated once and the copying process was very robust, dependable and verifiable.   

For example, Paul wrote in Greek, and we have Greek manuscripts to make translations from.  That is one translation. 

Conventional wisdom: Tranlations from one language to another to another . . .

Greek original ==> Latin translation ==> other translations ==> King James version ==> New International Version, etc. 

What actually happened

Greek original ==> copies of Greek original ==> Latin version

Greek original ==> copies of Greek original ==> King James version

Greek original ==> copies of Greek original ==> New International Version

Etc.

So the real issue is how accurate and reliable the copying process was.  The science of textual criticism shows that the copies of the New Testament are 99.5% accurate and that the differences are minor and have no impact on Christian theology. 

Regarding the Old Testament, here are some notes from the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry:

The OT does not have as many supporting manuscripts as the NT but it is, nevertheless, remarkably reliable.

  1. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew OT done around 250 B.C., attests to the reliability and consistency of the OT when it is compared to existing Hebrew manuscripts.
  2. The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 also verify the reliability of the OT manuscripts.
  3. The Dead Sea Scrolls were ancient documents that were hidden in a cave in Israel about 2000 years ago. The scrolls contained many OT books, one of them being Isaiah.
    1. Before the Dead Sea scrolls, the earliest existing manuscript of the OT was dated around 900 A.D. called the Masoretic Text. The Scrolls contained OT documents 1000 years earlier. A comparison between the manuscripts revealed an incredible accuracy of transmission through copying, so much so that critics were silenced.

In summary, the Bible you hold has only been translated once, and the copying process was very robust, dependable and verifiable. 

Also see Is The New Testament Reliable? and Has the Bible been rewritten so many times that we can’t trust it anymore?

Privatize Social Security

Lotteries are illegal unless the government runs them, and so are pyramid schemes like Social security.

For most people, the government extracts over 15% of their pay for FICA.  Technically, half comes from the employee and half from the employer, but of course the employer could give it to the employee since it is already part of their total payroll costs.

So if Social Security were privatized you could invest a full 10% of your pay in a personal account and the government would still have over 5% of your pay for general welfare.  But that isn’t enough for them!  Most people pay more in FICA than they do in Federal Taxes (again, when including the employer portion).

If business leaders published financial statements the way the government does with respect to FICA receipts they would be put in jail.  Enron pales by comparison.

Remember, Social Security programs may be good public policy if administered properly, but they don’t qualify as individual compassion.  That is a foundational mistake of liberalism: Taking other people’s money at the barrel of a gun and considering it compassion on your part. 

And I’m not being dramatic.  What do you think happens if people don’t pay taxes?  Does the government just try to reason with them?  No, they take away your property and/or your freedom, and they will point a gun at you and take you “hostage” if they have to.  I always wonder how pacifists ignore this when they are demanding government taxation and controls. 

Real compassion is donating money out your wallet. 

Am I saying that we should let old people die in the streets?  Of course not.  But there is a much better way than continuing the lies and the pyramid scheme that is destined to fail.

Why is it that liberal politicians are pro-choice when the “choice” is to crush and dismember an innocent human being, but anti-choice when it is (allegedly) your retirement money, the school your kids attend, etc.?

1 Corinthians 13

1c13.jpgGreetings!  If you’ve been to a wedding, you’ve probably heard this passage.  It isn’t just about marital love, though.  This is about agape love, the highest form of love – the kind that puts the interests of others before our own.

13     If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Some people thing that spiritual truths are unknowable, but that isn’t the Christian worldview at all.  We don’t know everything, but we can know what we need to know.  And we’ll learn much more later.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

One exercise I’ve heard to do with this next section is to read it three times:

  • Once as written
  • Once with “God” or “Jesus” instead of “love” (i.e., “God is patient, God is kind, . . . “).  This will help you understand God’s attributes
  • Once with your name instead of “love.”  This will keep you humble and challenge you to be more loving!  When I use my name there I am tempted to have question marks instead of commas (“Neil is patient?  Neil is kind?  Really?!).

Try it!

Update

I updated the Are you sure you want to bring Jesus into this? post based on an encounter with a philosophy professor who doesn’t handle losing very well (Richard Brown, a PhD candidate in the Cognitive Science and Philosophy program at The Graduate Center, CUNY and an Instructor (tenure-track) at LaGuardia College, CUNY).  I did exactly what I recommended in the post and it worked well.  Too well, in fact. 

I didn’t use any religious arguments, but he kept bringing them up.  So I asked him to support them.  He refused to acknowledge his ignorance of the Bible and wouldn’t back up any of his “religious bigotry” comments.  He gave the predictable challenge that I should just live out what the Bible says and everything would be better, and I asked them to please explain what that was and why.  I also offered my summary of the Bible (you know, the sinners in need of a Savior thing) and I think that is what really set him off.

So he deleted a comment.  No big deal, but then he started saying false things about me and then completely changed one of my comments to say something I never said (something rather crude, in fact).  I’ve never seen anyone do that before.  Then he “responded” to the fake comment.

But when I pointed out that I had made a copy of the comment thread he panicked.  He deleted everything he could find on his page: All of my comments, all of his comments answering mine and a whole new post dedicated to saying false things about me.   Then he hid the original post from his main page, though you can still access it directly from the link above (at least until he figures out how to delete it).

Wow, talk about taking the fun out of blogging!  I was going to give the guy a pass and gave him multiple chances to avoid all this.  But then he came up with another post with an “anonymous” comment of mine and wouldn’t provide a link to all the comments.  He can criticize me all he likes, but to hide any links to the discussion in question is cowardly.  He is trying to pretend that a comment part way through the thread was just so darn offensive and religiously based that he has to do all this. Sure. The comment wasn’t even religious in nature.  And if it is so bad, why I am glad to have it displayed in the link above?  Why can’t he link to the whole thread?  Why change my comments? 

So I decided to respond. 

This is a glimpse of what many college professors are like: Hostile to Christianity but woefully ignorant of it and with no desire to learn about it.  Sadly, the students have to listen to the authority figures and don’t know how to respond to them. 

Read the whole comment thread at the bottom of the post if you have time.  It covers quite a bit of ground on the civil union topic, as well as how to address many logical fallacies.

And pray for this guy.  I forgive him, but felt that I needed to flag this as a public service.

Men wrote the Bible, so it must have mistakes?

bible.jpgA common objection to the assertion that God inspired the writings of the Bible is that men wrote it, so it must have mistakes.  Sadly, I have often heard this from committed Christians.

The argument usually goes like this:

Premise 1: Men wrote the Bible.

Premise 2: Men make mistakes.

Conclusion: God didn’t write the Bible.

But note that premise 1 is just another way of stating the conclusion.  If you are trying to determine who ultimately authored the Bible, your first premise can’t be that men were the sole authors.  So this “argument” doesn’t prove that God didn’t write the Bible, it assumes it. 

Here is another syllogism you may have heard:

Premise 1: Men wrote the Bible.

Premise 2: Men make mistakes.

Conclusion: The Bible has mistakes.

This one has a major problem as well.  It assumes that just because people can make mistakes that they will always make mistakes.  But lots of things get done without mistakes – perfect scores on tests, 300 games in bowling, diseases cured, etc.  If God was the author then an error-free Bible would be expected. 

Of course, this doesn’t prove that God did inspire the Biblical writings, just that these are bad arguments to use against the inspiration of the Bible.  We have separate, robust reasoning for why we can trust that it is God’s Word.  More on that another day, or just peruse the Apologetics links to the right.

P.S. Keep in mind that claims of inerrancy relate to the original writings, not to copies or translations.  If making a copy error invalidated the inerrancy claim, then any atheist could make a deliberate “mistake” and claim that it disproved the Bible. 

Hat tip: Stand to Reason