The Ministry of Relationships: Why We Are FOR Relational Short-Term Mission Trips

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by Joshua S. Hopping

Occasionally I read an article or hear talk about how ineffective it is to send people on mission trips from the United States to other countries. The typical argument of these well-meaning folks is that the money spent on travel could be better used by people in-country. Furthermore, they claim that sending funds instead of people would help reduce the poverty tourism that has sadly spread across American Christianity under the banner of short-term missions. In listening to these arguments, I must admit there is a kernel of truth in them that appeals to me. In purely logical terms, it would be far more efficient and cost-effective to simply wire money to Christian leaders in-country rather than trying to coordinate a short-term trip from the United States.

The only problem – and this is a HUGE problem – is that the cruciform nature of Christianity cannot be measured on the balance scale of economics. If anything, the incarnational life of Jesus of Nazareth showed us that personal relationships are more important in the upside-down kingdom of God than the cold logic of a spreadsheet. This does not mean, as National Coordinator and CPA Bubba Justice is fond of reminding us, that we are to be financially ignorant! Far from it! No, the point of the incarnation is that the Trinitarian Creator King emptied himself of the riches of heaven to spend time with us humans. This was an incredibly inefficient use of heaven’s resources! But, wow, what a powerful statement of love!

Dutch missionary Brother Andrew discovered the power of relationships during one of his early trips behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950’s. Throwing caution to the wind, Andrew had traveled to communist Poland on a mission to encourage the Christians there who were living in a country that had outlawed their faith. After giving a short talk, a local pastor walked to Andrew and said, “We want to thank you for being here. Even if you had not said a word, just seeing you would have meant so much. We feel at times as if we are all alone in our struggle.”[1] Decades later a Lebanese Jesus-follower would echo these words to Andrew, “You know, when the war started, people stopped coming to see us…but you have come. Your being with us is the greatest encouragement.” [2]

Even though I had read Brother Andrew’s writings, I must admit that I learned the importance of personal relationship the hard way one day while in South America talking to a local church pastor. Having an embarrassment of riches with me from fundraising activities in the States, I offered him the extra funds only to be turned down. He, quite simply, didn’t want the money – which threw me for a loop as I could visibly see his needs around me. Thinking that his denial was cultural, I tried giving him the money multiple other times during that trip in various ways. Finally, he sat me down and told me to use the money to come back another time as it was more important to him to see me in person than to use the funds to repair the church building or any of the other countless items the church needed. In that moment, this amazing man of God taught me the value of relationship in ways that no article or book would ever do. He had shifted my paradigm of world missions by refusing to listen to the siren call of worldly manna.

The focus on relationships is why I love the local church partnership vision of Vineyard Missions. Rather than being a task-oriented organization with an unhealthy focus on economic efficiency, Vineyard Missions is actively engaged in the ministry of relationships. This focus can be seen very clearly on their website where they constantly promote the value of relationships in all levels of ministry. As they so ably state on their homepage, “engaging in global ministry starts with relationship.”[3]  Having worked with Vineyard Missions as a former partnership leader, I still see this value play out as they live their mandate to be a “catalyst for helping pastors, leaders, and missionaries to develop meaningful and lasting relationships with emerging pastors around the world who seek partnership and have a desire to grow and lead.”[4]

Though the siren call of economic efficiency occasionally tugs on my mind, I always come back to the incarnational value of relationship. No matter the cost, traveling overseas to be with people is worth every coin. Yes, we can (and should!) use electronic video conferencing or email to communicate. But nothing will ever replace the value of meeting face to face and enjoying a meal together. The bonds created in those moments last a lifetime.


[1] Brother Andrew with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, God’s Smuggler (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Spire Books, 1969), 78.
[2] Brother Andrew and Al Janssen, Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2004), 69.
[3] Vineyard Missions, Accessed on February 1, 2019, http://www.vineyardmissions.org/.
[4] Vineyard Missions, Accessed on February 1, 2019, http://www.vineyardmissions.org/connect/.