Generalizations can be absurd. But here I go anyway.
Work teams are a powerful weapon in the hand of God to build His Kingdom. I know it goes both ways, when it comes to work teams. They can be a blessing of unimaginable proportions or they can be ineffective and disturbing. What I want to share is why I love work teams and how I have seen God use them in our 20 years of ministry in Brazil.
They cost so much. I love that it costs so much! It is an impossible task unless for Jesus. God is never particularly concerned with the cost of anything, especially where His Kingdom is concerned. He provides it all anyway. It is His money. I love that work team members commit themselves, by faith, to raise a huge amount of money and then watch to see how God responds. It is just one of many steps of faith a work team member has to make. I hear from most proponents against work teams that the money would be better spent if it was just sent to the field. But here is the hard truth, no one sends the money.
They mature people. With so much prayer, planning, working together, and facing the great unknown, people change and grow. It seems to be viewed as a negative thing, for those who urge you not to go, as if personal growth is a selfish thing. We all are mandated in Scripture to grow-up spiritually. Work teams provide one of many experiences God can use to grow a soul. I have seen people finally liberated from deep wounds when they left that comfortable life in the U.S. and went where it was only Jesus who could sustain them. They were able to hear God clearly in a way they could not before. And that is a bad thing? Really?
They bring people together. It might be just Brazil, I don’t know, but there is such a wonderful chemistry whenever we get North Americans and Brazilians together. It is a taste of heaven. New friends are made. The differences bring laughter. The similarities ignite an understanding. When we have had teams who specialize in worship music the bond is instant. Work teams never go it alone. They always work in tandem with Brazilians and it is astounding how God knits together the hearts of His people.
People need people Our whole aim for existence is to see God’s kingdom expand. I believe God calls us to encourage one another and help one another, across cultures, in this enormous task. Ministries always need encouragement and an influx of God’s spirit, no matter where it is from. This insurgence of power comes when God’s people unite. The only way to reach people is through people. Money may build a church building but people touch people. That is another reason why just sending your money doesn’t always work. Money does not win souls. People win souls.
Sometimes people need a jump-start. It took a bus load of Brazilian Wesleyan youth to enter into a town very resistant to the gospel, where the Wesleyan church has labored faithfully for many years, to provide a needed catalyst. This work team, along with members of the local church, held home Bible studies and led youth oriented workshops (Archery, Martial Arts, Guitar, Chess, and Theater). This brought curious people into contact with those who were sold out to Jesus. More than 30 people from that town were changed forever as a result. Did I say I loved work teams?
Why can’t we do that too? A beautiful outcome of having a steady stream of work teams come to Manaus has been a quickening of the hearts of many of our people. Seeing how much is accomplished and how many lives are touched, they are encouraged to do similar teams. We have seen a healthy growth in Brazilian work teams launching out into the Amazon basin and other parts of Brazil carrying on innovative ministry because they saw it modeled.
I know that work teams can be done poorly. I know that people who have been burned don’t want others to be burned as well. Yes, work teams need to be aware of all the pitfalls but this growing trend of discouraging work teams from pursuing what God maybe calling them to do is unsettling. We still need work teams.
It took a Canadian work team to come to Brazil to boldly enter into a community controlled by drug lords. While they labored in extreme heat they reached out to all. This attracted the attention of one of these drug lords, who was so miserable that he was thinking of taking his life. But instead he set foot in that nearby Wesleyan church. There he encountered Jesus and was changed forever. Priceless.
If God is calling you to do short-term missions, do it. I can only see solid Biblical support for short-term missions work. It was all that Paul did. It changed a huge pagan town called Nineveh. Who knows what God can do through you?
To say all work teams are bad is as equally untrue as saying all work teams are good. When work teams come with a God-given purpose, humility, a heart for service, lives are forever altered.