This post is an excerpt from my book, Holding the Rope: Short-term Missions, Long-term Impact published
by William Carey Books, to be released in 2014.
In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. That little ditty has helped many historically challenged kindergarteners cement the date of the discovery of America into popular consciousness. But a comprehensive and true-to-life rhyme of Christopher Columbus’ success would read more like a dissonant tale by the Brothers Grimm. The iconic explorer commanded almost no skills besides sailing a ship. He could travel far, but rarely to where he was aiming, and upon arrival was never quite sure how to make the most of the accomplishment. The popular historian, Bill Bryson, commented wryly,
It would be hard to name any figure in history who has achieved more lasting fame with less competence.”
Resolutely aiming his fleet at the Orient, Columbus inadvertently stumbled upon South America, believing it to be India, which explains why natives in the Americas were unceremoniously dubbed “Indians.” He then haphazardly explored this area for about eight years, bumping into various Caribbean Islands, which he pertinaciously continued to label as Oriental. He mistook the island of Cuba for mainland Asia, and he neglected to actually set foot in America, the territory most people assume he discovered.
Throughout his voyage he gleefully loaded his flotilla with copious amounts of fool’s gold and prodigious quantities of random plant matter that were to his estimation highly valuable spices from the East. Upon his return to Europe, as part of their exotic cargo, his surviving crew delivered their own dubious contribution to the Old World, namely syphilis.
Nevertheless, Christopher Columbus undeniably changed the world forever. By establishing contact with the New World and lugging unknown foodstuffs back home, he began an irreversible historical movement of seismic proportions, the social, political, economic aftershocks of which are still being felt today. The quake would significantly affect Church history.
In a similar way, a short-term missions trip (STM) can have lasting effects that cannot be predicted. A poorly aimed trip has the potential to wreak cultural and spiritual havoc in a village in Africa, or it can create a lasting bridge for the gospel to bring hope and change that echoes in eternity.