bonar crump

bonar crump
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Friday, November 18, 2011

The Alaskan Funk—Short Term Mission Gone…Meh…

Last week I spent 5 days in Alaska on a mission trip. Our goal was to finish up a lengthy punch list of projects intended to get part of the hosting church’s building closer to an initial building inspection. Stairs/handrails brought up to code—electrical conduit run—drop ceilings installed in kitchen areas—vent-a-hoods and exhaust fans installed—all the stuff that city inspectors and fire marshals require in order to operate any type of commercial facility.

10 men ranging from ages 20 to mid-60’s from South Texas flew 4200 miles (one way) to donate our construction skills and time in an effort to “advance the kingdom.”

I don’t really know what “advance the kingdom” means, but it seems like a good fit.

So, we’re fed three hearty meals a day at the church. We’re separated into groups of two or three to stay at different church member’s homes. And we’re only asked to do inside jobs because, let’s face it, we’re all from South Texas and this is Alaska in November…those things aren’t even close to the same.

The hospitality was fantastic. The food was delicious. The homes that we stayed in made us all feel like we were part of their families.

So, this is the part of the tale where we metaphorically land on the carrier and announce “mission accomplished.” This is where I’m supposed to talk about the bonds that we formed within the workgroup and what a wonderful experience we had enjoying the magnanimous hospitality of these wonderful Alaskans. This is where I’m supposed to thank God for the ability to go—serve—interact with folks that I might not have ever had the opportunity to share life with had it not been for this short term missionary opportunity.

After 4 days of contemplation and analyzing this trip, I find myself increasingly disillusioned. I know we went there to meet a need. I know we went there to offer help. I know we went there to minister to the needs of this small congregation. I know that we went there with all the right motives. I know that the work needed to be done to further their project toward completion. I know that it was all seasoned with the best of intentions and that we exceeded their expectations.

Why do I feel so funky about all of this?

Oh, wait! I know why I’m jacked up over this trip. It’s probably because over $4000 was spent on airfare to get us all there and back.

It has something to do with the fact that the part of the building we were doing work on was 12 years old and had never been occupied because of a lack of completion.

I’m certain it has something to do with the observations that this all took place near downtown Anchorage (not out in the wilderness) where there were 5 churches within a 3 block radius.

And…you know…if I’d known that these folks were potentially competing with the mission across the street instead of partnering with them…Oooo…let’s not go there.

Call me na├»ve, cynical, overtly zealous, or just plain stupid if you like, but here’s my analysis of the funk:

·         You partner with other churches in the area, thereby, developing long-term relationships with your neighbors to collectively meet the unique needs of the community that you share.
o   You DO NOT ask a group to front the bill for airfare in order to get free labor from men that you’ll never see again. It’s the missional equivalent of a “one night stand” (the term missionary position should be worked in here, but I’m not that clever).

·         You analyze the needs of the community and weigh out whether or not the facility you’re trying to complete has any tangible value in relationship to those needs. If not, you leave it be (it’s set for 12 years—couldn’t be that critical to the overall mission of this particular church).
o   You DO NOT prioritize the completion of a building which has never been used simply because “we have to finish what someone else started” or because someone in the congregation offers a large sum of money to facilitate the completion of a portion of the project.

·         You determine what the direction of your church is and how God intends to use it BEFORE you engage in costly renovations without any concrete ideas about what you’re going to do with this structure once it’s completed.
o   You DO NOT repeat the mantra, “someday God’s gonna give us some direction” or “once this is complete our mandate from God will become self-evident.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There was a crazy homeless guy that was around the place quite a bit. He was allowed to sleep in the church’s van and camp out inside the building sometimes while we were there. He was obviously deranged and easily agitated. He was tolerated, but never welcome. Most of the members of the church avoided eye contact and relied heavily on one or two people to control / direct the crazy homeless guy.

No one engaged him.
No one made eye contact with him.
No one gave any indication that he was present.
Everyone tightened up a little with fear when he was present.

Would $4000 and the attention of 10 Texans have made a meaningful impact in this man’s life? Probably not.

Would an institution devoted to feeding homeless folks like this man every week have benefitted from $4000 and the effort of 10 volunteers for a week? Most definitely.

Will the money, effort, and time consigned to this Alaskan church’s building ever be justified through service to the community? Well, at last check, no one seemed to have much of an idea.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Can we just cut through the BS?

Anchorage has a huge homeless population. Why in the hell are we riding the non-committal fence of “praying that God will lead us to understand what our unique mission is in this community?” FEED THE HUNGRY—not feed the overweight Texans.

You’ve got 20,000 ft2 that hasn’t been used for anything other than a 12 year draw for mission groups from the lower 48? LET THE HOMELESS IN OUT OF THE COLD—not let the Texans avoid the cold with inside-only projects.

Anchorage seems to have as many churches as any small city in the Bible Belt. Why aren’t these churches working together for any other reason than to eliminate the $4000 captured by Delta and forgotten like it was just spare change found between the cushions of the pews? BE GOOD STEWARDS OF OUR BENEVOLENCE FUNDS—don’t waste it on frivolous self-affirming travel agendas.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

All the men and women involved with this endeavor were good people. They had good intentions. They probably feel very good about how it all turned out and the means by which it was carried out. There were good things that resulted from the trip.

But there are far greater needs in this world than the fixing of stairs and the running of conduit. It’s an appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s a lazy way to serve and it’s an inefficient use of time, energy, and money.

It’s leveraging a nice destination in order to gain free labor. It’s fun, it’s somewhat beneficial, and it generates a good feeling among the participants. We exceeded their expectations because their expectations were too low.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Final shot of Bruce Almighty is a gradual close-up of a dirty homeless guy holding a sign. As the shot grows closer the man’s face begins to morph into the face of Morgan Freeman (who plays God). The visual message is that God IS the least of these. God IS the crazy homeless guy with a short fuse and a mean disposition.

How dare we ignore the crazy homeless guy! How dare we avoid eye contact with the dirty disenfranchised! How dare we heat a building for 12 years while the homeless sleep on park benches throughout the Alaskan winter which lasts a really long time! How dare we complain about the length of the flight or the width of the seat on the plane or the lack of leg room as long as God is hungry, cold, weak, and lonely!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Last week I spent 5 days in Alaska on a “mission” trip. Our goal was to finish up a lengthy punch list of projects intended to get part of the hosting church’s building closer to an initial inspection. Stairs/handrails brought up to code—electrical conduit run—drop ceilings installed in kitchen areas—vent-a-hoods and exhaust fans installed—all the stuff that city inspectors and fire marshals require in order to operate any type of commercial facility."

I’m ashamed that I ignored the homeless guy in order to work on a building.

I’m ashamed that I ignored God.

I’m ashamed and confused about what to do next.

Are we really meeting needs or are we nurturing our self?

Where do we go from here?