May 25, 2011

The Value of Short Term Mission Trips

See this article.


Alain Maashe said...

Charles, It is interesting that the article solely focuses of the benefits for the short term “missionaries” and says little about the primary objective of a mission trip, namely, to bring the gospel to those who do not know Christ. As someone who originates Cameroon, Africa, a so-called mission field (which is ironically true of the rest of the world), I feel strongly about short term mission trips, and there is nothing positive about that feeling. I find it hard to justify spending $2000 to $4000 for a few weeks when the same amount could support one or two local missionaries for an entire year. It is hard to justify spending that much money to help build a school when you are far from being a construction specialist or try to witness to the “locals” when you struggle with the language and know little about the culture and the people (without mentioning the fact that some of those first time missionaries struggle to witness at home). Tasks that trained local missionaries can do more efficiently and much better while providing the necessary follow-up. Short term mission trips generally result in poor stewardship (since the money could be better used by local missionary or even helping someone in need back in the US) and for many are nothing more than an excuse to experience exotic locations. Maybe if short term mission trips were called “mission field awareness trips” or “spiritual discovery trips”, then one could begin to justify such costly endeavors since they end up benefitting some of the “missionaries” who return home transformed (however, the fundraising pitch might need to be modified and would look less attractive). However, it has little to do with the biblical definition of missions. It would be another matter if these short term missionaries had specialized skills that are not found among local believers and could be used in a medical or community improvement mission. However, most of them are generally less skilled than the locals they are supposed to help. I won’t even mention the harm done by short term missionaries who do not have the necessary respect for the local culture and cannot refrain from judging the local customs and food by US “standards” and bemoan the lack of a Target after a few days in the field. I have no doubt that there are good intentions behind short term mission trips; however, they mostly benefit the “missionaries” and do very little for those in the mission field.

Charles Savelle said...

Thanks for stopping by Alain. I appreciate your perspective. You raise some valid and valuable points.
I have gone back and forth on the issue myself. But, I would offer several observations based on my own experience. First, the problem is not entirely on the sending side. Missionaries have often asked for short term mission groups to come. Second, the funds raised for short-term missions might not ever have been raised for missions in general. I have seen unbelievers give to a short-term mission trip only because they know little Johnny or Jamie. These same people would never give to missions in general. So while the funds raised might better support a local leader for a year, the fact is, that apart from short term missions the funds might never have been raised to begin with. Third, the value of a transformed perspective can be hard to measure. One of the staunchest and most influential proponents of supporting missionaries in our church will be the first to tell you of the profound effect of a short term mission trip as the basis for his zeal. Would he have the same zeal without the trip? Maybe, but unlikely in my opinion. In any case, I know that our church has given thousands of dollars to missionaries in part because of this man's tireless promotion of missionaries. Fourth, I have seen how short term missions has motivated people to pray for those they have met first hand. One can and should pray for requests sent by letter, e-mail, etc., but I must admit, that it is easier to pray for people that you have met personally. As one who has relied on financial support myself, I think I would be glad to trade some financial support which would help me in the short term for fervent prayers that would be offered for me and my ministry in the long term because someone could put a face, voice, and heart with their intercessions.
I also have negative examples similar to those you raise. But overall, my personal exposure to short term missions has been generally more positive than negative.
That said, I hear what you are saying and value your participation in the discussion.