Getting Results from Short-term Missions

This is the first of several posts that we will be doing to explore Mission, Missions, and Short Term Mission Trips together.

by Dr. Steven Rasmussen



For decades I have enjoyed going, sending, leading and hosting short-term missionaries. I have encouraged people to “just do it.” So have others. Short-term missions (STM) has exploded around the world. Just in the USA, 2 million short-term missionaries go outside the border each year using 1/3 of all missions giving (Priest 2009 personal communication). The average time on the field is now 8 days (ii).1 Recent research tells us the results and how to do it right. Let me highlight a few things that I have learned from research and my own experience:


Get Real: Be Realistic about short-term’s results. As goers, we love it. We feel we have been transformed by the experience. However, quantitative research measures little positive change in spiritual growth, giving, going long-term, cultural sensitivity, etc. From 1992-2005, the number of American long-term, overseas missionaries has grown slightly, while Canadian missionaries have decreased by 33% (3, 21). The money spent on STM does not come back. No comparative study shows any significant increase in giving by those who go or their churches.2 What happens on the trip is it. Why do studies show little lasting impact on receivers or short-term missionaries? Excitement is easy, lasting change is hard. After a resolution or a revival meeting, we usually return to reality. However there is hope.


Re-learn: Everything you think you know really does not work in this very different culture. You will probably have to learn how to learn from another culture even to notice this. Then you will have to work to learn the uniqueness of this specific culture.

Despite years in Tanzania, I did not realize that in every death most people assumed a witch had caused it. It was not until I began a disciplined program of listening and research that I learned. I asked my good friend, pastor, and neighbor how I could miss for eight years what was obvious to everyone else. He said, “You never asked.” This is also your chance to see yourself, your walk with God and your home culture in a totally new way. Don’t waste it. Spend most of your time looking, listening and learning. Your help will only be helpful if most of your effort is to hear. So try this:

– Stop (not so much activity, have a long cup of tea), Look (keep your eyes open, write down what you see, ask an insider about it), Listen (don’t tell them what you know, ask what they know, wait for them to speak), Act (only after you have done all of this relearning and listening).


Respect – do not consider them poor children who need you. Consider them wise elders who you need. Respect and act on what they tell you. Empower the people there to make the decisions and follow them (227-231). Don’t take advantage of their time or hospitality, reward them for their work as you would an American who was serving you. We assume a little thank-you tip is enough since after all they have benefited so much from our presence. Realize how important honor is in many cultures and give it. Also accept it graciously, but with a grain of salt. You may not be the greatest thing that has happened in this place in 100 years even if they say that. Tell them how great they are.

Show pictures and give reports that increase peoples respect for those you met rather than for you. Show pictures of their significant ministry, not your significant ministry, their great leaders, not just their needy children; their accomplishments, not just their needs; their amazing adaptation to their situation (ingenious inventions), not just their lack compared to your standards (primitive toilets). Don’t judge by GNP. Judge by GKP-God’s Kingdom Productivity. (Howell 2009)


Relationship: Focus primarily people, not projects. Build relationships for the long haul. Don’t just be friendly, be a friend. Reciprocity – What can you do for them and what can they do for you? At present we tend to have a “paternalism” – we give them money and they give us significance. Make it even more than a partnership, make it koinonia.

A study by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) found that expertise in the task one was assigned was only the fourth most important thing in being effective on an overseas assignment. “Far and away, the most powerful factor in overseas effectiveness was the ability to initiate and sustain interpersonal relationships with local people” (Elmer 2006, 96).3 I have frequently observed that especially in East Africa, everything depends upon relationship. Achieving the task will only bring success if good relationships are built and maintained.


Re-invest: It is not enough to go back and be grateful for all that you have. Use what you learned and the relationships that you built to invest back into the kingdom. I encourage groups that come to me that they should spend good time in learning before the trip. On the trip they should do mostly learning and relationship building. When they return, they should focus on doing ministry with what they have learned – at least as much time and effort as they did before the trip. If they spent 6 months, 5 meetings and three fund raisers before the trip, why not do the same afterward? Minister to those you met or to local immigrants from that country. Inspire others to invest in what you saw, not just to go see for themselves.

Is it too high a standard to say that if money is raised for the personal expenses of a short-termer in the name of “mission,” the returnee should raise the same amount for the long-term work? How else can we ensure that short-term mission adds rather than subtracts from long-term mission. But isn’t it mostly relatives and friends who fund and pray for short-termers, not churches? Maybe so, but most long-term missionaries are dependent on relatives and friends as well as churches for funds and prayer. How can the church that sends short-termers create benefit for the kingdom from what they learned – Not just benefit to this church, but outflowing benefit to the kingdom outside the church?


Relationships and expectations are key to this reinvesting. Research says people often achieve much more if they make public, specific, demanding goals, and then have others hold them accountable to and encourage them toward those goals.4


We need to do more than hope that long-term benefit will result from short-term missions. We need to do more than redefine the benefit.5 Research results are in. We need to respond and readjust to get better long-term results. Don’t just do it. Do it right.


Of course, what matters is God’s mission not our mission so one last set of R’s:

– Repent of self-focus (my comfort, significance, fulfillment) and refocus on loving God and others

– Release, relinquish, relax – let God and your hosts be in control

– Rejoice as you notice God


One last tip on how to begin:


What do you think? What questions does this research and these conclusions and suggestions raise for you and for your church? We’ll continue exploring thoughts on Mission, Missions, and Short Term Mission Trips in the coming weeks.

Dr. Steve Rasmussen and his wife Jan have been serving God in Tanzania and Kenya since 1996 founding TEAM (Training East African Ministers). In that capacity Steve has helped to develop Lake Victoria Christian College in Mwanza, Tanzania with several other branches located throughout the country and now teaches Cross-Cultural Ministry and Missions at Africa International University in Nairobi, Kenya.


From Elmer, Duane. 2002. Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In Around the World. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic. p. 72


1 [Unless a year is listed all references in the article are from the recent quality research of 22 experienced experts contained in the best book yet on STM: Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right edited by Robert Priest 2008].

2 Two examples: Hosts in Honduras appreciated the relationships with, changes in, and houses built by short-termers after Hurricane Mitch. But they appreciated those built by local partner organizations just as much. However given that it took $30,000 to build a small house with short-termers and $2000 with a local partnership organization using local labor, locals said they would rather have more houses. [Unfortunately, this is one of the very few studies on how recipients are slightly impacted.] Was the difference made up by increased giving after the excited short-termers went home? 60% said they increased their mission giving to this organization, but they actually increased their giving from $31 to $33 per year. The churches that sent teams increased 1% (478-480). An 11 year partnership sent 1398 short-termers from Kentucky to Kenya and Brazil. An explosion of excitement for missions was reported in Kentucky. Missions giving increased 0.7% annually. Since as much as $450,000/year was spent by these churches to subsidize trip costs, giving to long-term missions was naturally reduced (486).

3 “Positive, realistic predeparture expectations” the third most important key to success (Elmer 2006, 96). Which fits with our first point about being realistic. Skill at doing the job assigned was actually only the fourth most important (97).

4 In the Honduras case, the short-termers did little of what they hoped to because they had no goals, accountability or on-going relationship. However, much positive change occurred through accountable goals and long-term relationships between the Honduran Christian development organizations and the new home owners (492-495).

5 Too often we draw the bulls eye around where the arrow landed: If we don’t know if people are being discipled, we say the benefit is encouraging long-term missionaries. When more long-termers are not sent, we say blessing and gratitude are enough and no more can be expected from this generation.

Mission, Missions, and Short Term Mission Trips

by Sam Snyder

I am so thankful that the FCA is so involved in fulfilling the Great Commission in so many different ways around the world. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for other ministers and ministries in the FCA who have partnered with God in His mission in these different ways:

Seriously, I really wouldn’t be who I am or be doing what I’m doing. I was raised on the mission field: I was only 8 days old when my parents took me on the 24 hour drive back into southwestern Mexico and it wasn’t until I was 18 that I moved away from home to go to Bible School in the USA. While on the mission field, and during college, I helped host mission trips and I even went on some national mission trips within Mexico with our churches there. While I was in college I got to travel as a participant on several national and international mission trips sent from the USA. While I was a youth pastor in rural Minnesota I led local, national, and international mission trips. I have seen almost every side of mission trips (sending, receiving, participating, coordinating, leading, etc.). And as a church planter I have been learning what it means to live my life on mission in my local context and what it means to lead others into a lifestyle of partnering with God in His mission in their world. I have a passion to join God in connecting the relationally and spiritually disconnected as He continues to reconcile the world to Himself through Jesus Christ.

All of these experiences have helped me to grow in my understanding of God’s work in the world, but I also have lots of questions about how to best be involved in God’s mission in my context and around the world.

God’s heart for every tribe, tongue, people, and nation to know Him is undeniable, yet I think we all need to wrestle with questions about how to partner with God in His pursuit, like:

How can we balance local and international missions?

How can we live incarnationally here and now while still being involved in international missions?

How can we lead mission trips so that they’re not exotic service projects for participants?

How can we prepare, send, fund, and care for long term missionaries?

How can we encourage, support, and network with missionaries from other countries who are being sent out to other mission fields?

There are lots of questions. What would you ask??? Maybe you have questions about Mission, Missions, or Short Term Mission Trips too. Or maybe you have answers to someone else’s questions. Either way, I would love to hear from you: leave a comment or send me an email with questions that are on your heart and mind so that in a few weeks I can begin a short series of posts with thoughts on Mission, Missions, and Short Term Mission Trips from leaders around the FCA.

I look forward to exploring this very important topic with you!

Tackling the Challenges of Witchcraft and Witch Accusations in Africa

Fifty Christian scholars and church leaders, a majority from Africa (Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania), but including participants from Asia, Europe, and North America, gathered at Africa International University (AIU) in Nairobi March 6-9 to discuss how the church should respond to witchcraft and to witch accusations. While a variety of secular human rights groups have organized against witch accusations and violence, this historic gathering marks the first large-scale, international and interdenominational effort within the church and within the framework of Christian theology to address the growing presence of witch accusations and violence.

Health problems, death, infertility, and financial problems are widely attributed to “witches” thought to be acting through evil occult power. The consequences of witch accusations are devastating, ranging from social ostracism to exile from one’s community to beatings and murder. Cases of murder from Kisiii and Malindi in Kenya were discussed. According to police records, almost 10 suspected witches are killed each week in parts of Tanzania. Dr. Steve Rasmussen and Joshua Lusato of AIU shared their research results from Northwestern Tanzania where such killings are most frequent because in every case of serious illness or death most people suspect a witch. There, as elsewhere, elderly women are the ones most often mistreated as witches. Orphaned children are another vulnerable group. Often they falsely confess to practicing witchcraft according to Rev. Haruna Tukurah, AIU graduate and Nigerian pastor with ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All). He reported that 250 out of the 300 children in the orphanage he ran had been accused of being witches. Even pastors are often accused of being witches.

Those most frequently mistreated as witches are also society’s most vulnerable: the elderly, widows, orphans, and strangers. Dr. John Jusu, Dean of the School of Professional Studies at AIU, stressed that these are precisely the categories of people whom God calls on us to protect.

Dr. Timothy Nyasulu, Synod Moderator and Education Secretary of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, Malawi (the largest Presbyterian church in Africa), highlighted the role of traditional diviners in witch accusations, reporting statistics on 586 church members (from ten congregations over ten years) who received church discipline for consulting diviners when they felt someone had bewitched them.

Diviners are often more accessible than either health services or police. They may be motivated by hope of profits to tell their clients that a family member or neighbor has caused the sickness or misfortune. Christian “prophets” and “prayer centers” also frequently endorse witch accusations. AIU student Henock Banda reported on his research into “child witches” of Malawi, and said that when pastors pray for or attempt to exorcise these children this sometimes has the effect of providing pastoral endorsement to the charge that they are witches, rather than freeing them in the eyes of the community.

Some alleged witches actually seek exorcism, often after confessing under duress. Dr. Opoku Onyinah, Chancellor of Pentecost University College, Accra, Ghana, and Chairman of the largest Protestant denomination in Ghana, the Church of Pentecost, cautioned that discernment is required. Exorcism may not be appropriate because the accused may be neither a witch nor a person possessed by demons, but a person suffering psychological and social problems.

Researchers suggested that “neo-traditional witchcraft” was the most appropriate term for the contemporary phenomenon because both traditional and modern influences contribute. Contemporary influences such as Nollywood movies and the popular Ghanaian film genre that was analyzed by Professor Asamoah-Gyadu of Trinity Theological Seminary in Accra, were cited as contributing causes. Deliverance ministries and the prosperity gospel (sometimes influenced by ministries from the USA) also reinforce the belief that witches are harming others through evil supernatural means.

The assumption that witchcraft fears would wither away with increasing access to modern education has proven flawed. The wearing of amulets as protection against witchcraft is common among even Christian high school students in Kenya, as demonstrated by Justus Mutuku, Chaplain at Kabarak University and AIU PhD student. According to Nigerian theologian Dr. Samuel Kunhiyop who is currently serving as General Secretary of ECWA – a denomination with over 5 million regular attenders – there is currently a “wildfire” of witch accusations across all denominations.

How to understand the role of the demonic in the lives of accused “witches” and in the “accusers” was a matter of discussion. Many African church leaders stress that “witchcraft is real,” and many African Christians pray regularly that God will protect them from the attacks of witches.

Meeting in small groups, participants shared case studies and identified theological and Biblical themes that can inform our understandings of witchcraft, can help counter witch accusations, and can underpin pastoral counseling. Biblical and theological scholars guided initial reflection on critical passages and doctrines. Plans were brainstormed for further research and writing, for curricular development, for partnering together and with others to turn the tide on the modern epidemic of witch accusations and violence, and for finding additional funding to help make all this possible.


You may not be in Africa facing this form of demonizing and marginalizing of people God has called us to love, protect, and care for, but this same type of thinking can affect us where wherever we are. How have you seen society marginalize “the least of these” that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25? How can the Church respond to serve and love the least of these?


The conference was sponsored by the Carl F. H. HenryCenter for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Deerfield, Illinois as part of TEDS’ partnership with Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST) of AIU. The conference organizers were Dr. Robert Priest, Professor of Mission and Anthropology at TEDS, Dr. Tite Tiénou, Senior Vice President and Dean at TEDS, Dr. James Nkansah-Obrempong, Dean of NEGST, and Dr. Steve Rasmussen, Lecturer in Missions and Intercultural Studies at AIU.

3 Ways God Wants Us To Be Different For Others

By Sam Snyder


I read an article today that really made me think. It’s a great article and I would encourage you to read it here. Don’t worry, go read it, these thoughts will still be here when you come back…

…Alright, you’re back. As I was saying, the research really hit me; it stated that “20 percent of non-Christians in North America really do not ‘personally know’ any Christians.”  That’s over 13 million people!

Check out this graph below:

Did you notice how few of those who don’t personally know Christians are Atheists or Agnostics? What do the majority of these people who don’t know Christians have in common??? Most of them are from ethnic groups that are different than the ethnic groups in America with large Christian populations. What does that tell us? Well, that tells me that we’re not doing a very good job of loving our neighbor.

In the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 Jesus teaches that to love our neighbor really means to love the LAST person we would think to associate ourselves with. The religious leaders would never have thought of a Samaritan as a neighbor, much less as one who was neighborly. Jesus was using this Samaritan to illustrate that loving God is demonstrated in loving others. Specifically people who aren’t like you, people whom you might avoid, be scared of, or have “nothing in common” with. Those are the people Jesus was telling us that we are to love! People who are not like us. People who we may have to go out of our way to  serve. People who are around us already, but that we don’t even notice are there.

This reminder really burdened me throughout the day today. How often do we do ministry, as individuals and as churches, without thinking about engaging or serving those who are not like us, whether in belief, culture, or practice? How often do we “travel over land and sea to gain a single convert” on a mission trip but avoid engaging in God’s mission field that He has brought to us HERE because it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient???

The last I checked though, God doesn’t call us to what’s comfortable or convenient, but often to what’s costly and challenging as we partner with Him in His Kingdom advancing here on the earth.

I grew up on the foreign mission field and I’ve been leading a a church that’s a house of prayer for all nations in Minneapolis, MN, yet the greatest realization I’ve had in the last few years is that God has called me to live as a Missionary wherever I am and with whoever He brings into my life. You would think that this would have come naturally to me having grown up with parents who were ALWAYS on mission, but it doesn’t. I like what’s comfortable and convenient too. I don’t like being stretched and challenged. Yet what has it taken for me to get to the place of longing to reach the LAST people we normally think of as being near the Kingdom? God has been teaching me to:

THINK Different: God has helped change my paradigm from a drought mentality to a harvest mentality. There is a harvest that is ready! God is working in people’s lives and I need to find out what He’s doing and join Him in it instead of just working where I already know doing the things I’ve already done. Who would try to harvest in a field that hasn’t been sown in or try to plant in a field that’s ready for harvest?

SEE Different: God has been teaching me to see people of other cultures and religions as people to be loved and served more than people to be taught.  Jesus was a master at cross-cultural communication because He loved and served people and He sends us in the same way that He was sent.

ACT Different: God has been reminding me that I am called to be an ambassador of the Kingdom here and now. I have had to begin to ask myself what I would be doing if I was living as a missionary in another country and begin to act with the same sense of mission here and now.


So the questions that come to my mind today are these:

– When faced with these facts and the people around you, do you have harvest or drought mentality?

– When you see cultural and religious barriers, do you see yourself as a teacher or fixer, or do you simply try to avoid those altogether, or do you look for ways to be a servant?

– Are you willing to GO wherever and to whomever God sends you, to do whatever He tells you, whenever He wants you to go?


I know that I have definitely not arrived and that our church has not arrived, but times like this challenge me to keep asking God to open my eyes to see who He wants me to see the way He wants me to see them so that I can love them the way He loves them. How tragic for someone to live surrounded by Christians and never experience the love of God through one of them because they weren’t seen how God sees them! Let’s lead by example BEING Different and raising up others who will also Think, See, and Act Different than we have in the past so that EVERYONE may know the love of God through His people.

How about you, how do you feel about this research?

Staying Focused – A Canadian Prospective

by Dr. John W. Lucas


When I was first introduced to the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies in the early 1960’s two things impressed me the most:

– The emphasis upon the sovereignty of the local church vs. denominational authority and it’s ownership of church properties.

– The Fellowship’s strong missionary emphasis.

This strong missions emphasis was tremendous and was seen all over the FCA!

Congregations such as the Duluth Gospel Tabernacle (under the leadership of the late E.C. Erickson) and their investing of funds and manpower into the Liberia, West Africa field which has continued for more than 80 years.

Philadelphia Church in Seattle, Washington (under the late Roy Johnson) in church planting efforts throughout the Seattle area, purchasing of a radio station in Uruguay, South America, pioneering missions in Japan and their increasing involvement in Mexico.

The Philadelphia Church (Chicago) with their investment in Fred Weinberg’s Honduras missions and the Madison Gospel Tabernacle in providing faithful support to Jane White in Korea.

John Kennington in his insightful book “God’s House our Home” indicates in Chapter 12, “The Mission of the Local Church,” that “the FCA has 2.6 active missionaries per church” while the largest Pentecostal denomination in the U.S. has one missionary every 6.6 churches” (pp 175-176).

While I was privileged to serve the Canadian Fellowship as the National Coordinator, we endeavored to emphasize ministry to the ethnic groups who have been immigrating to Canada. As a result, the Canadian Fellowship currently enjoys an increasing membership of non-Caucasian pastors and local churches with weekly ministry across Canada in 21 languages. Children born abroad or immigrants to Canada in early childhood want to be Canadian. They appreciate their roots but prefer an English language church service. To address this unique situation, we have simultaneous services in other languages on our church premises. Parents enjoy their service in their mother tongue while the children join in the English Sunday School and youth activities with their adopted Canadian Christian family.

I was recently at a supper meeting in Toronto, Ontario with 50 FCA Filipino pastors and spouses in attendance. The speaker’s emphasis was to “maintain our ministerial focus” and not to go off on tangents. We also need to maintain our ministerial focus! We need to reach the nations coming to us too! The foreign university students during their study time in America; the immigrants and refugees who are trying to make new lives for themselves within our borders, the least reached in the world are now in our own backyard!

It is also reported that there are 78 million ex-church attenders in America. This is also a fertile mission field of reconnecting church drop-outs back into fellowship with God and with the local church. Millions of dollars have been invested in missionary efforts to other countries. Now we have the opportunity of reaching people who don’t know Christ here on North American soil. Don’t leave it to the parachurch agencies here and abroad. Let every FCA church accept this evangelistic challenge: Let’s stay focused on reaching EVERYONE with the Good News!

Dr. John Lucas has served in pastoral ministry for over 50 years and is the former National Coordinator of The Fellowship of Christian Assemblies of Canada and is now an Elder Emeritus of FCA Canada.