I always thought I would live in a remote village for a long period of my life, or even most of my life. I would devote myself to that place, those people, and raise my own family there. I even travelled to India 2 years ago thinking that I would live there long term – hopefully in one village. Over the past two years of living there, and watching others serve God in various ways, I’ve realized that the days of the foreigner coming in and staying for the duration of their lives are becoming less and less.
I left India thinking, “I want to travel to a lot of different places and multiply myself quickly, and then move on.” I don’t know what that will look like, and it very well could change again, but that is still how I feel about overseas work.
It doesn’t take long (usually) to train a few local people to do what the foreigner came to do. And they can typically do a much better job at it that the outsider ever could. Yet, both long term and short term workers are still needed.
A few thoughts on long and short term: Staying long term gives me the constant excuse, “I’ll get to that later, cause I’m going to be here a while.” The sense of urgency is decreased. Staying long term can result in nationals becoming dependent on the foreigner for a variety of things that they can and should provide for themselves. Staying long term gives a sense of worth – ‘I’m good for these people/they need me, I can help them’ – rather than realizing that I am just one leg of the journey these people are on.
On the positive side, the long termer has more personal benefits – i.e. raising their own family, maintaining stability emotionally/spiritually. In most places, the long termer is respected because they stuck with it – they may only gain the respect of the community after 2+ years. They are able to be involved in a wide variety of work. The long termer acts as a resource for the short termer to come and glean from their wisdom and experiences.
Now, the short term work (1-2 years?) also has benefits and is something I think I am more drawn to – which is opposite what I thought 3 years ago. BUT, short term work has to be done carefully, or it can have a worse effect on a group than a long termer. For example, a short termer has the constant excuse, “I’m leaving soon, it doesn’t matter, I don’t really have to learn the culture/language.” I have to be disciplined to buckle down and acquire the knowledge needed to complete the task assigned to me. The short termer has to be careful to make sure what little work he/she accomplished is sustainable and reproducible without them. A short termer brings a positive burst of energy, but if that energy is not grounded, the results don’t last long.
On the positive side, the short termer has the sense of urgency always before them, and as a result, is often more motivated. The short termer knows he/she is only a piece in the puzzle – his/her task is to train others to do what he/she came to do. To replace yourself, to work yourself out of a job. Then move on and do it again. The local people have less time to become dependent on a short termer; they see the need to learn and grow while they can because they will have the responsibility of leading when the short termer is gone.
In reflecting on short term and long term work, I think one thing is crucial to keep in mind. Be sure that you are enabling others to carry on the work. Whether I stay 1-2 years, or longer – I will eventually leave (either voluntarily, non-voluntarily, or through death), and my work will be in vain if I have not left capable, trained, self-dependent, nationals to carry on the work.