I have a good friend named Caleb Lorenson. In the forge of affliction our friendship was created, but that is another story. Maybe we will get back to that some other time. Let's wrap the part about Caleb up by saying that I trust Caleb with my life. Enough about that for now.
Caleb has a friend named Samara, and she is a missionary type, like many of us are. Caleb and I were talking on the phone a few weeks ago, talking about a trip he had recently returned from to Thailand. We talked for quite a while, and in the conversation he reminded me about Samara, and that she was back from the race. I told him I really wanted to talk to her about it, because of my familiarity with The World Race. It is something of an emerging expression of short-term missions in my mind, and I have talked with the founder, the director, and some of the staff in person in recent years to try to understand what they are doing and why it is experiencing such growth. If Samara was willing to talk with me, in some ways it would make my exposure more complete. I was hoping to get something deeper than the marketing view. I did.
Samara and I caught up by phone on August 30. A pleasant girl, saved in the last five years or so, her willingness to talk and transparency were refreshing. (Thanks again Samara!) We talked for a few minutes about Caleb, how we knew him, and about some future work they are planning in Thailand. God's grace and guidance to them in the ongoing endeavors.
After the introductions and the like, our conversation turned to The World Race, which is a ministry of Adventures in Missions of Gainesville, GA.. HERE is a link for The World Race; and HERE is a link for Adventures in Missions, if you want to get familiar with them. My purpose in doing this article is not to promote or detract from the efforts of this group, in any way. I am more interested in how this type of missions expression is a rising tide in short-term missions, and what can be understood about the reasons young people are giving eleven months of their lives, and around $15,000 USD to be involved, and what the results are, in their lives, the missions agency, and the host ministries that they are working with in the countries they are visiting. (In summary, The World Race is an eleven month missions trip, covering eleven countries – also known as a mob of young white people in migration. haha )
I am going to summarize our conversation and offer some conclusions, or thoughts, and they may not be the same you would draw, or even the same as Samara has. I think that is OK. We all look at things from our own perspective, and can learn from each other. This is a summary, and time doesn't permit me to be exhaustive on this subject or my thoughts on it. I applaud, without question, those who devote themselves to doing such work, and those who put it on. It is difficult, laborious, and thankless to a large degree. I hope we will see more of this kind of thing emerging in the future, and I hope to be involved in a meaningful way, and also to encourage those who are.
Samara was on a World Race route that took her to the other side of the world, in Europe, Africa and Asia. She had been saved for five years, had done roughly one short-term trip per year since she met the Lord, and most of that was in Latin America (SISTERHOOD!). We agreed that she would have loved to have been in Latin America on the race. 🙂 She felt that here experiences in short-term trips really helped her be ready for the race, and she also wished that some others on her squad had had the same preparation.
I asked some pointed questions:
Was it too long? She said no.
Was it too short in each country? Again, no.
Who is better off as a result of this effort, the racers, the host ministries, or Adventures in Missions? (I thought that was a good question…) Samara is better off, the host ministries too, she felt, tho the host ministries at the beginning of the trip faired a lot better from the teams being fresh, while the ones at the end got the shaft (her words). That makes sense. People run out of steam, I have witnessed and have lived this myself.
What was her favorite thing? The team became a family, in the midst of a lot of adversity, and a lot of diversity. Many of the racers were less “full gospel” and had real problems with a lot of what they experienced, and no place to put it in their theology – the demonic, encounters with witchcraft, dark spiritual power, etc.. This was a big source of conflict within the team, as there was no compatibility of belief used in putting teams together. There were too many spiritual backgrounds and worldviews thrown all together.
Least favorite thing? There was no spiritual nourishment on the field. No one was pouring into these young people who were constantly pouring themselves out in ministry. The well ran dry often, and especially in a broad way toward the end of the race.
Samara really got a lot of questions about all the countries she had seen when she got back. She doesn't remember the countries so much, as she does the conditions her heart was in as they were moving along. What this trip asks of people of little experience is a lot, and the personal impact is at times so big that it eclipses the surroundings.
Samara is not going to back to the World Race organization. She has a strong community in her church, and she can clearly see the next steps for her life, and is planning to go into those white fields of harvest again soon, for a longer term, with a team of church planters being sent by their congregation. That is awesome for her, and unfortunately for many this is not the case. A large, perhaps staggering, percentage of young people who return from this trip “ruined” for normal life. Don't get me wrong, being ruined for a normal life is a positive in my book. But not if there is nothing to go to. She estimated that only about 2% of former racers have a track to run on. Most are too different upon returning to go back to where they are from, church or work. And for those who were from more conservative doctrinal backgrounds, they had major issues with what they had been told was true.
For many, the hope of going forward is present in ministries that seem to be leading the way in our times, Bethel Church of Redding, California, or International House of Prayer in Kansas City. Many are making their plans to go. How could you go back to what was after this kind of exposure? I have recently heard of efforts by Adventures in Missions to help former racers segue into what's next. This is an awesome step, and one that should be applauded.
So many are drawn to identify in our times with the extreme, the radical. This can be good. A large percentage of these end up getting their world rocked and have a hard time stabilizing afterward. This kind of thing is disruptive. I agree that much of our church culture needs to disrupted. At the same time, I think we have to judge all things by their fruit, not so we can proclaim them false, but so we can continue to improve and lower our casualty rate. Help us all, LORD, to improve our results in the lives of those entrusted to our care, and in the fields of harvest that you have told us all to enter!