by Wade T. Coggins
What kind of challenge to overseas Christian work can prompt inquiries from 700 volunteers from within a small denomination during a four-month period? Such a response came when the Free Methodist Church established a program known as Volunteers in Service Aboard (VISA), and called on young people to go for a short term of service abroad.
What kind of challenge to overseas Christian work can prompt inquiries from 700 volunteers from within a small denomination during a four-month period? Such a response came when the Free Methodist Church established a program known as Volunteers in Service Aboard (VISA), and called on young people to go for a short term of service abroad. Richard Wolf, the director of another interdenominational program, Short Terms Aboard, reported that inquiries were running about 30 a day by young and old who were interested in donating their service on a short-term basis.
The practice of spending short terms (one month to two years) in voluntary Christian service on a mission field is not limited to these instances, but is reaching considerable proportions among many evangelical organizations.
Most programs provide that the individuals involved give their time for the duration of the assignment without remuneration other than living costs. Many also require the volunteer to raise funds for his transportation. Exact details of the arrangement vary widely with the individual organizations. Recruits go to fill numerous kinds of positions on the field.
This concept has been used to a limited degree by some boards for several years, but since the advent of the Peace Corps, it has developed to proportions that demand the attention of missions leaders.
Missions executives may be confronted with demands for this type of program, either by field leaders in view of special needs, or by their youth at home who want to give a term of service. At least three reactions are evident among mission leaders. (1) Some have tried the plan and are enthusiastically developing it. (2) Some are studying the situation and giving it careful and cautious consideration. (3) Some still feel that it cannot work and have no plans to try it.
The Sudan Interior Mission, which has an active shortterm program, made a survey of the matter by sending questionnaires to the member missions of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association.1 Over 100 questionnaires were sent out. Fifty-one responded. None of them viewed short-term service as unscriptural. Twenty-two of the fifty-one are now using "short-termers" to some extent, while four others have used them, currently do not have anyone serving in this way. Of the twenty-six who have been or are involved, seventeen promote it, nine use it but do not promote it.
The twenty-six missions using this type of approach feel that under the proper circumstances the program is practical. Twenty-two of those not involved consider it impractical. Five others indicate they are open to consideration of the subject.
Those who are enthusiastically backing short-term assignments view it as an effective tool to help the full-time resident missionary, and as a means of recruitment.
Statistical evidence of its role in recruiting is still too meager to be conclusive, but some who are deeply involved feel optimistic about the prospects. Literature Crusade, a Plymouth Brethren short-term missionary project, is one example that leads to optimism. Of the original twenty-three crusaders, fourteen are now back on the field in long-term capacities.
Dr. Paul Carlson was recruited for the Congo for a shortterm under "Operation Doctor," a project of the Congo Protestant Relief Agency. The call to full-time service as a medical missionary crystallized when he returned to the U.S. He applied as a regular missionary with the Evangelical Covenant Church of America, and went with his family to serve in the Congo. His dedicated life was cut short by the rebels during the uprisings of 1964.
In discussion of short-term service at the annual convention of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association in Denver, Colorado, in 1966, Dr. Milton Baker, foreign secretary of the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society, reported good results in their Missionary Assistants Corps (MAC) program. He reported that a high percentage of the MAC volunteers are now in training for regular missionary service. He was optimistic about the potential for recruiting, and indicating that MAC personnel would be increased in the ensuing year.
Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick was also enthusiastic about the Free Methodist Volunteers in Service Abroad (VISA) program, which is conducted cooperatively by the General Missionary Board and the Youth Department. In 1965 VISA sent fifty youths into service, and the number for 1966 was projected as sixty. In addition to those involved in three-month summer tours, a number are spending longer times of service with special projects in some countries.
For a number of years, Youth for Christ International has been using teen teams to carry on evangelistic work in countries all around the world. World Gospel Crusades has also made wide use of "vacation crusades" taking young people on evangelistic tours.
In 1962, Laymen’s Overseas (LAOS) was organized at Jackson, Mississippi, by a Methodist seminarian, Robert B. Kochtizsky. By the end of 1965, Loos had sent out some 150 volunteers who had contributed about thirty years of combined service. Laos has worked primarily through the larger denominations, and has been described as having a "working relationship with the National Council of Churches’ Division of Overseas Ministries."
The Christian Service Corps (csc) of Washington, D.C., is headed by Robert Meyers, who sums up the csc goal as a challenge to "each Christian to plan his life in such a way that he provide a two-year period at some time in which he can lay aside other responsibilities and completely give his life and skill to the work of the Lord." Details of their assignment will depend on the administration of the mission that places them.
Short Terms Abroad (STA) of Wheaton, Illinois, headed by Rev. Richard Wolff, recruits and places persons "between 18 and 80" who can supplement the work of regular missionaries.
By mid-1966, STA reported that from hundreds of inquiries, thirty-eight applications had been processed and their files made available to mission boards. Nineteen had been accepted by boards.
All the leaders of short-term projects – those within missions and those in intermission situations – are equally emphatic in stating that short-term service does not in any way replace regular missionary work. It can only be viewed as important and effective as it relates to established missionary work, and aids those who are involved in long-term endeavors.
Those who have concerns generally find them focused in three areas. (1) Will funds raised by short-termers cut into missionary giving that has normally gone to regular missionary work? (2) Will the prospect of a short term sidetrack young people from making a lifetime commitment? (3) Is the service provided by a short-termer effective enough to justify the expenditure involved?
Concern about funds arises from the fact that most shorttermers are asked to find friends who will contribute money toward the transportation costs and a monthly expense allowance. This generally means that student groups, churches, or groups within churches are footing the bill. This same money could be used in getting a regular missionary to the field, they argue. "But would it?" the proponents of short terms would reply. Some leaders of student groups and pastors who have been involved report that the impact of having one of their number on the field has created so much interest that finances increase more than enough to pay for the shorttermer’s trip and his allowance.
Two well-defined opinions also exist on the effect of short terms on recruitment. One is that short-term service becomes "an easy way out" when a young person is stirred by a missionary challenge. Would it not be better, they say, for the young person who is challenged to commit his life for missionary service "once and for all" and complete his preparation before going out. Short-term proponents hold that if the young person is in reality called, the brief time on the field will become a stepping stone, making preparation more meaningful, and that he will eventually get back to the field. The movement is still too new and statistics too scarce to make an evaluation of these positions.
Another area of concern that awaits an effective evaluation is the practical logistics of the program on the field. Can the short-termer who is generally without a working knowledge of the language be effective? Does his (or her) presence disrupt the efficiency of the resident missionary who will sponsor the short-term recruit? What about the potential dangers involved when short-termers are thrust into a cultural situation for which they have not been adequately prepared?
Almost everyone seems to be in agreement that the effectiveness of short-term service in terms of time and money spent depends very largely on the individual situation. The two- or three-month tours frequently involve Scripture and tract distribution and other mass participation activities, and may not require a specific skill. The longer terms, however, are generally limited to persons having specialized skills that are not heavily dependent on the use of the language. Where the short-termer can by use of his skill release a regular missionary for other fruitful activities, he can virtually have the effect of doubling the missionary’s work.
1. Reported by J. Herbert Kane in an address entitled "Viewing the Missionary Horizon" delivered at the eastern regional convention of NAE, March, 1966.
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