Volunteers: The future of border missions
By Craig Bird
Texas Baptist Communications
MISSION–Volunteers “are pretty much the future” of Texas Baptist efforts to share the gospel in the Borderlands, insists Loren Fast.
“The population is growing so rapidly, and the local personnel and financial base is far too small to address all the opportunities,” said Fast, field consultant for the Texas Baptist River Ministry in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
But the importance of those opportunities underlines the need for “ministry visitors” to strategically support the dreams and goals of local Baptists with manpower and skills, just as the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas missions provides financial support.
Conversations with pastors, associational leaders, local program directors and volunteers yielded 10 things to consider when planning a Borderlands mission trip:
Anticipate and work toward a mutually beneficial experience. When different parts of the body of Christ gather, there is no room for parent/child or donor/recipient relationships.
Always keep in mind you will be serving in places that not only are bi-lingual and bi-cultural but also bi-traditional. This isn't Texas as you know it, and it's not Mexico. This is the Valley. You won't always feel comfortable. Trust the residents to interpret for you–not just language but also what works and what doesn't.
Get oriented. River Ministry presents workshops around the state to provide information on prospective projects and contact information. Baptist associations offer on-site seminars, which include one-on-one time with directors of missions. After identifying a project, plan a preliminary visit to the location several months prior to the mission trip to meet the local leaders, discuss their needs and take photographs to share with others back home.
Stay oriented. Commit to open communication with the pastor and other local leaders during the mission trip. Have your prayer support team include prayer that each volunteer would always maintain the attitude of a servant and share the love of Jesus in a Christ-like manner.
Prayerfully and carefully consider signing up for a “three-year plan” with a clear exit strategy. A typical approach is for the volunteers to do 75 percent of the project the first year with local believers responsible for 25 percent. Year two, the work is split 50-50. The third year, it is the volunteers who handle 25 percent of the tasks. Whether construction, Bible school, teacher training or revivals, the goal is for volunteers to work themselves out of a job by training local Baptists to take over.
Similarly, avoid returning to the same location over and over. This is difficult, since you will develop friendships with fellow Christians. But if the volunteers provide an unending source of money and materials and manpower, the local church members are tempted not to take on the work themselves.
Stretch the concept of who goes on mission trips. Seek Spanish-speaking members in your church, and encourage them to participate. Partner with a Spanish congregation in your town, perhaps helping some of its members with travel expenses to increase the bilingual capacity of your mission team.
Stretch the concept of what goes on during mission trips. Consider interactive training so you leave behind skilled Bible teachers and witnesses instead of just memories of the Bible passages you taught or the people you witnessed to. Don't impose a project on the local church. If you have a 60-voice youth choir but their performances don't assist the local believers in what God has led them to do, don't insist on a concert.
Don't donate directly to individuals. Buying shoes for a specific child or buying groceries for a specific family can be gratifying. But allowing the local church and pastor to handle distribution offers multiple long-term benefits.
Match donations to their usefulness. Leftover Vacation Bible School material likely uses illustrations that won't make any sense to children along the Rio Grande. Ask local leaders about Spanish-language Christian publishers. Also, Spanish-language hymnals and Bibles often are needed.