Short-term Missions: Blessing or Bother?
By Dan and Carol Iverson, MTW Japan (since 1986)
Pic: Some of our current short-termers at family dinner
Sept. 30, 2013 article update: Today my wife Carol is at baby shower for 8-day old Emi Kueh who owes her very life and existence to short-term missions! Her dad Jason was a single guy summer missionary on our Tokyo/Chiba church planting team about 5 years ago when he met Ai-san, a Japanese staff member on our team. Over the next year God led them into marriage, to continue seminary in America, and now to Japan to serve as missionaries. The baby shower today was at the apartment of MTW missionaries Robert and Lisa, who also met each other on our team as short-term missionaries. They now serve as long-term missionaries on a new Tokyo area MTW church planting team. Their two children should also be very thankful for short-term missions. The church planting team leader and his wife, Craig and Ree, also came to Japan the first time as summer missionaries, then came back as 2-year short-term missionaries, and have now been missionaries with us in Japan for about two decades. I am sure that the young Christians in the team’s first church plant are very thankful for short-term missions, because these three couples working in their town to plant the town’s first church in the history of the world are there, in a sense, because God used short-term missions to get them there.
In 2002, my wife Carol and I wrote the article below about the blessings (and challenges) of short-term missionaries working with us here in Japan. I just reread the article with 11 more years experience here in Japan. Counting short-term teams since the 2011 tsunami, we have now had more than 1000 short-term missionaries come through our team to serve in Japan over our 27 years here. Three 18-year old “gap-year” short-termers living with us are being a little noisy downstairs even as I write this. They are a wonderful help to our ministry here, as over forty other gap-year missionaries have been over the last two decades. We now say in even stronger terms than 11 years ago, “Short-term missions is a great (net) blessing!” As we wrote 11 years ago (see article below), we have continued to see many short-termers turn into long-termers. Because of God’s blessing through short-termers returning as career missionaries, our MTW Japan Mission is growing rapidly while most Japan mission groups are shrinking. Short-termers know what they are getting into regarding career missions, and we career missionaries know whom we are getting if they want to come back long-term. We continue to see a great impact on our MKs from these godly young people who are often way cooler than dad and mom. We continue to see godly romance and marriage born from short-term missions. I could add many new stories, but the points and stories in this article still work just fine. Enjoy, and please pass this on. DI
Short-term Missions: Blessing or Bother?
By Dan and Carol Iverson
“It’s not worth the money to send short term missionaries!” some say. “Send long-term missionaries or give it to indigenous church planters,” others say. “Send only those who are fully trained and committed for the long haul.”
We hear and appreciate these concerns. However, as MTW long-term church-planting missionaries working with many two-week and two-year short-term missionaries, we could not be more enthusiastic about their role in kingdom advancement. Sure, there is a cost—to the long-term team receiving them, to the ones coming, and to the sending church. But the great benefits to the ministry, to the receiving team, to the sending church, and to the short-term missionary himself far outweigh the cost.
A great blessing to the ministry
From the beginning of our Japan ministry, one- and two-year missionaries helped us throw wide the evangelistic net. They made hundreds of contacts through our English school, hospitality, concerts, and college ministry. They were workhorses on the field, carrying strategic support roles in finances and in teaching missionary children. Short-termers helped us in broad sowing of the gospel and making new contacts through everything from concerts to English, sports, fun, and simple friendship. As Mr. Seima Aoyagi, our team’s director for the Chiba college ministry, says,
“Since Japanese students love to meet and talk to Americans, the short-term missionaries and teams bring us many, many contacts that we Japanese staff could never gather ourselves. They also model a commitment to Christ and his ministry that has deep impact on new Christian students.”
From darkness to light through short-term workers
Katsuya Shina came to learn English, but instead got the gospel from MTW two-year worker named Dave. Like most Japanese, Katsuya had never been to church in his life. He says, “I endured the Bible time for several years at the end of each English class, studying it as literature.” But God’s Word did not return void in Katsuya’s life. He testifies now with great thanksgiving how God used Dave’s love, hospitality, and witness to bring him to Christ. Katsuya now leads worship at a church plant. Dave went on to seminary, and is now the MTW team leader in Thailand.
Follow-up by email: Hudson Taylor could have never imagined!
“I am so thankful for Bart and Judy from Orlando,” says Mrs. Harumi Soneda, who came to Christ through our team. “They came on a two-week mission trip, and did a ‘home-stay’ at our house. I was the only Christian in my family then, but they showed such warmth and love to my husband, my two college daughters, and to me. They invited my daughters to visit them in America the next year. While there, God really opened the eyes of my older daughter, Yoriko, to the gospel through Bart and Judy, and the love they experienced at Orangewood Church.”
Harumi tells with great joy how Yoriko came back to Japan eager to study the Bible. For months, Yoriko emailed her questions about the gospel to Bart and Judy in Florida, and they sent answers bathed in prayer. She joined a Japanese Bible study, began coming to worship, and professed faith some months later. These are Yoriko’s words to Bart and Judy:
“God heard your prayers. Thank you so much. I am very, very thankful… My confirmation to live with Him is getting stronger each day. Isn’t it great!? He is really working in me. It is so thankful.”
“I know now that He is with me throughout my life (and even more), no matter what happens and no matter what I do… I just wanted share this joy with you two. I cannot wait to see you in June!! YORIKO”
Bart and Judy were reluctant ten-day missionaries, “dragged” to Japan the first time. Half way through their trip, as they saw the false worship in the Buddhist temples and so many towns with no church of any kind, God gave them a heart for missions. They now bring a team every year to help share the gospel. They are passionate mobilizers of people, money, and prayer. All because of that first ten-day trip.
Out of the mouths of babes…or sixteen-year-olds!
Who might imagine, in this culture where age is so highly venerated, that the life of a sixteen-year-old short-term worker would demonstrate the means of grace for a Japanese believer in her late forties? Toshiko, the first believer in our team’s history, was three years into her new faith when sixteen-year-old Laura came to do a two-week home-stay toward the end of her year in Japan. Toshiko had already observed from a distance the maturity and wisdom of this covenant child. Now she saw—up close—Laura’s daily walk with Christ: Prayer, undivided time in God’s Word, and an uncompromising commitment to make worship joyfully central to her week. Toshiko also began to experience the joy and value of using those same means of grace in her own life. She still walks with Christ, mentoring others in the disciplines of grace.
Short-term missions raises up long-term missionaries
Eighteen-year-old Judith was our first short-term missionary—thirteen years ago. Straight out of high school, Judith helped home-school our kids while Carol met with Japanese women. As Judith also did outreach with Japanese high school girls and helped Dan with team administrative chores, God gave her a heart for Japan. During college she managed the team’s prayer ministry.
She returned to Japan after college for two years, stayed for three, and now is back as a proven, able long-term missionary with a passion to reach Japan. And, since she started young, she speaks good Japanese!
Two-week to two-year to long-term (and a Sprinkling of Romance)
• Daniel came to Japan for a year, came back for two more to teach missionary children and later to help run our team’s English outreach ministry to three hundred non-Christian Japanese. He married Mako, one of our first Japanese church members, and recently graduated from seminary.
• Robert came for a year at Daniel’s invitation to teach our team’s missionary children, stayed for two years, and now is long-term.
• Lisa came for ten days with Bart and Judy on their second trip, came back two months later for two years to teach MKs, and is now engaged to Robert, preparing to come back together as long-term missionaries.
• Roberta came on a short-term trip for ten days, came back for two years, but stayed for three. She ran the team finances as the church-planting budget grew over 25% every year and did evangelism through our English outreach ministry. She is now in her second term as a long-term missionary.
• Sally came to Japan for a summer, returned for a year with another mission and now is a second term MTW team member.
• Craig and Ree came for a summer, then back for two years, but stayed for three. They are now long-term, serving with Rev. Hirohashi in the Makuhari church plant and as our assistant team leader.
• Jon came for a summer, returned for two years of college ministry and now is raising support for long term in order to start our MTW college ministry on another campus.
• Anne Marie joined our team for a year at age sixty-six and stayed four years.
Investment in short-term workers is an investment in long-term kingdom work because many return to the field and many others return to their home churches aflame with a mission vision.
Strengthens the Missions Vision of the Sending Church
America certainly is spiritually needy, but it is also one of the most gospel-rich countries on earth. So many who serve short-term with our team are gripped by Japan’s “lostness,” and they passionately inspire others at home to pray, give, and come as new workers for the harvest.
Short-term Trips Mobilize Prayer
One short-term team came to help with pre-church-plant outreach activities in a new Tokyo suburb with no church of any kind. The team was a great help, and we made many new friends and contacts through special music, English classes, and outreach events. The greatest impact on the team, though, was through our monthly four-hour prayer concert in which we plead with God to pour out His Spirit, “…that the desert (of Japan) would become a fertile field, and the fertile field a forest” (Isaiah 32:15). We told them about other teams who had gone back to the U.S. with a new vision to pray, and encouraged them to do the same. God worked in their hearts; for several years they have gathered monthly to pray for an hour for our team and for Japan. We have seen this over and over again as God uses a two-week or two-year experience to mobilize fervent, informed prayer for kingdom advancement.
Great Spiritual Benefit to the Missionaries’ Families
We are so grateful for the friendship and blessing that many short-term missionaries have brought to us, especially for the impact on our children. Much of the blessing of raising our children on the mission field has come from God via these precious short-term partners in ministry. Often in their late teens or in their twenties, the short-term workers have loved our children and been godly models who were also “cooler” than Dad and Mom. They talked to our kids of Christ, ministry, and purity. They gave much.
Full-disclosure: The Cost of Short-term Missions
For full discloser, we do need to talk about the cost. Sadly, there have been cases where the cost to our team has outweighed the benefit from the short-termer, sometimes even requiring their early return. There have been times when their needs far exceeded our capacities, or where we failed to give the necessary time and energy to these brothers and sisters because of ever-increasing ministry demands. Those times have stretched us to develop greater dependence on Christ and they have modeled for the new Japanese believers the power of the gospel in broken lives. But it has all been well-worth the cost! I cannot imagine where our Japan ministry would be today without the contribution of short-termers over the years, and the ongoing contribution of the many who have become career missionaries here (and around the world).
WWII, Short-term Missions, and Long-term Missions
Someone once said that World War II was the greatest short-term missions trip in church history. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, and Marines returned to the places they had gone on their “short-term trip” armed the second time as long-term workers with the sword of the Spirit. They led a great wave of new mission effort to the end that God be worshiped in every tongue and tribe.
The growing wave today of short-term missions zeal seems certain to have an even greater impact on the world. Tens of thousands of short-termers are fanning out in missions service around the world, doing frontline evangelism and discipleship, working in support roles behind the scenes, and teaching missionary children. God often does much through them, but even more to them through the struggles and blessings they experience. God often uses the experience to call workers to return long-term to the places where they served short-term. And God sends almost everyone back to their homes deeply affected by what they experienced, much more ready in heart and head than most other Christians to mobilize the Church to pray, give, and partner with the work on the field.
Rev. Dan Iverson and his wife Carol are MTW long-term missionaries who have spent fourteen years in Japan where they have raised nine children. Dan serves as team leader for the Chiba/Tokyo church-planting team and pastor/church planter for Oyumino Church. This article is taken from Looking Forward : Voices from Church Leaders on Our Global Mission, which was published in 2002 and is available from Mission to the World.