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One of the TV news programs recently featured the story of two men who had previously worked for a very large computer games company but had now launched forth on their own. They sank all of their own personal savings in the venture without making provision for possible failure. They “jumped without a parachute,” said the newscaster. Our Australian friends speak of such a commitment as jumping in “boots and all.” Others say, “hook, line, and sinker.”

Over time a trend has clearly developed throughout evangelical churches with respect to overseas missionary outreach. Personally, I rarely ever hear a challenge to young people to dedicate their lives to full-time missionary service any more. Untold financial resources are now being channeled toward the support of short-term mission projects. Groups of either young people or adults are being sent to this country and that, to serve for a couple of weeks or longer, in countries all around the globe. Some such efforts are aimed at giving young people the opportunity to see if full-time, long-term missions, might be in their future. Each person is responsible to raise thousands of dollars and is, inevitably, directed to raise that support from his or her local church for the most part.

Those who are sent experience a short burst of culture shock, eat exotic food, contribute some sort of service building a structure, working with children, or whatever. No one needs to engage in serious language study. Everyone knows that he or she will be safely back home in short order. Tragically with a few, an attitude has been adopted – “been there, done that!”  Undoubtedly, and hopefully, there will be those who are truly inspired to commit themselves to fulltime service for Christ overseas.

No one involved in such short-term projects has jumped without a parachute. None has made a permanent, no-going-back, commitment the way Dr. A. W. Tozer described the Japanese Kamikaze pilots, nose-diving down onto the decks of Allied ships in suicidal missions during WWII. These pilots had no plans to return to base.

When applying for overseas missionary service to The Christian and Missionary Alliance years ago, I met with Dr. W. F. Smalley, from the headquarters office in Nyack, New York. I am somewhat embarrassed over my youthful enthusiasm as I think back to that interview. In all sincerity I asked Dr. Smalley, “Is there anywhere in the world where no one wants to go? Please send me there!” With some amusement he replied, “Mr. Henry, our missionaries are willing to go anywhere.”

As foolhardy as it may sound to those who read these lines, that request does reflect the attitude of a great many of us who were convinced we had heard the call of God to missionary service. At Bible College, on Friday nights after the traditional missionary service, some of us men used to meet for prayer down in the “band room” praying that reached into the early hours of the morning. There, in fervent prayer, we begged God to send us forth to the ends of the earth with heartfelt pleadings which reflected the prayer of John McKenzie of Scotland, who, when still a young missionary candidate, knelt on the banks of the Lossie, and prayed, “Oh Lord, send me to the darkest spot on earth!” In the same spirit James Fraser of Lisu land, wrote, “Give me Lisu converts, and I can truly say I will be happy even in a pigsty!”

These men committed themselves to overseas service without a parachute. Is this an outmoded concept? Are those who adopt this mindset “old fashioned” suffering from the generation gap syndrome? Does the call of God have a proviso clause which reads that we must first “test the waters” first-hand for a couple of weeks to see if we think such a life of missionary service might be compatible with us? Does God only call us if we discover after a couple of weeks that this kind of life is suited to our personal taste? Must we now travel here and there to see if we think we will like that kind of life over the long haul? Do we now do this simply because we can? Some adopt the attitude, “Seeing we CAN go – we have the money, we have the means – then why not?” Is this a way in which we can now “improve” the experience of determining the will of God? Obviously there are many who believe that it is.

But can young men and women of today’s generation still hear the call of God deep within their inner souls without the confirmation of liking what they see by means of an on-site visit? When mission authorities approve our application for overseas service, and ask us if we will accept an appointment to such-and-such a country, should our response be, “Hang on…. I want to take a trip there first to see if I like it.” Is my calling determined by the seeing of the eye or by the hearing of faith?  Am I motivated by the thrill of an adventure in a foreign land and culture or by the love of Christ that constrains me. Many will answer, BOTH.

I have been part of a denominational administration that has promoted short-term missions and I have personally contributed to the support of young people who have gone forth on such ventures. But I am increasingly wary and uneasy about the way short-term missions has almost eclipsed the call to, and emphasis on, fulltime, long-term missionary service. It is true that the impact for good that is made in short-term ventures is primarily the impact made upon the one who is sent rather than the permanent impact he or she will make upon the people in these overseas locations. So comparing the worth of short-term missions vs. long term missionary commitment is like comparing apples with oranges. But in all of this growing trend toward short-term missions let us not lose sight of the value of those who go forth without a parachute, who diligently study the language of the people- the “key to the soul”- endure all the ups and downs of adapting to the culture, raise a family in a foreign land, suffer various illness and diseases – those that can be diagnosed and those which cannot – face innumerable obstacles and opposition, but still labour on in the heat of the day, year after year, until self-propagating and self-supporting churches are planted and matured. May God yet raise up an army of men and women with the woe of the Gospel on their hearts, willing to commit themselves for life to carrying the Gospel to all nations – without a parachute!