Twelve of our church members left this morning for a week-long outreach to a village in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.  There is a coalition of Korean American churches who have developed relationships with several villages throughout the Yucatan, and our church is one of them.  Apparently, there are Korean descendants scattered throughout the peninsula — this connection creates a natural kinship between many first-gen church members and the villages to which they are reaching out.

Instead of flying out from San Diego International Airport, our team decided to take a domestic flight from Tijuana — a relatively quick jaunt (less than thirty miles) across the border.  I agreed to drive the church van to TJ and bring it back to church.  The only problem was that no one was quite sure how to get there (or back to the church if we did find the airport).  One of the KM pastors who was going with the team decided to drive there, having been to the TJ airport a number of years ago.  I sat shotgun, furiously writing down notes (which consisted mainly of scratches like “turn left at the roundabout near Costco, with the big LG flatscreen billboard” because of distinct lack of street signage) while one of the elders joked from the back, “Daniel, I hope you don’t get lost.”  My reply: “Well, if I end up in a Mexican jail, I can count on you, right?”

After crossing the border and driving about a mile into TJ, we were pulled over by the Mexican police.  The KM pastor, who speaks a bit of Spanish, began trying to convince them to let us go.  Surrounding the car were a couple of angry looking Federalis, and the associate pastor basically kept on saying, “Come on, fellas… iglesia… Just let us go.”  The federalis escorted us back to the inspection station at the border.

Fortunately (providentially?), our senior pastor — who was also going with the team — and another deacon met us at the inspection station.  Not only are both fluent in Spanish (our senior pastor grew up in Brazil, the deacon spent many years in Argentina) but both are really great with people.  It only took about fifteen minutes before we were on our way again.

Last week, I spoke to a pastor who had recently returned from reaching out to college students in Russia for three years.  We had some really great conversations about short-term mission work.  I know these kind of one/two-week trips have kind of fallen out of fashion in some circles.  There are some legitimate critiques — maybe the money spent on airfare, food & lodging would be better spent if we sent it directly to local churches; these trips are often treated as a spiritual quick-fix; we always hear the “same old” testimony from people when they return — “I didn’t realize people there were so poor.  We have so much here, we should be more grateful, etc.”… However, my conversation with this pastor confirmed in my mind that there is an important place for these short-term mission trips.

One caveat: I believe short-term outreaches work best in conjunction with the local body of Christ, whether that means connecting with a local church or long-term missionary.  The “shock and awe” approach to evangelism — where a completely independent, outside team storms into town with a big production, gospel tracts and salvation prayers, and then storms out just as quickly — falls far short of our calling to help people become lovers of God and followers of Christ.

But, in the context of working together with the local body of believers, there can be really amazing results.  This pastor described how vital short-term teams were in his ministry to local students.  For example, his family had begun organizing a camp for students.  While it was great news that 200 Russian students had signed up, they simply did not have the resources available to pull off such a massive event.  Cue the team of twenty college students from South Carolina.  They spent two weeks registering students, organizing schedules, building friendships with individual students and basically generating a lot of goodwill within the local community.  When they left, their enthusiasm and joy reinvigorated this pastor’s family and made a lasting impact on the community.

For now, I’m just glad I made it out of TJ in one piece.  Although it took well over an hour to get back across the border into the States, I did make it back in time for a very happy belated Father’s Day.  Let’s see about next Monday, though, when I have to try to find the TJ airport on my own.