Blog posts on short-term missions seem to be quite popular these days. I have been reading quite a bit (no links as my battery is about to run out and I don’t have time to hunt them down now), but have pretty much kept from the conversations and debates. However, a friend on facebook asked me today what I think of short-term missions, and here is what I wrote. It’s admittedly short (it was a fb comment, after all) and isn’t comprehensive, but I would love your thoughts or responses.
This warrants a much longer response than I can write here, but it is such a good question that I want to say a bit…
I think short-term missions can be really good. They are good for the people who are served. Whether that is by physical help (building a well, a school, a house) or spiritual encouragement (discipleship, VBS, etc.), God’s love is being shared. Short-term missions are also good for the people who go. For many, they are exposed to more of the world. Ideally, they see God at work in other places and have the opportunity to join in what God is doing. It works against the general ignorance we have of people different from us. I know so many people whose lives were changed by being involved in trips like this – myself included: eyes opened, new opportunities explored, gifts and passions discovered, a greater sense of God’s work around the world. Who knows what God may grow in us because we have made ourselves available. And here I am now, a long-term overseas missionary!
Can short-term trips be exploitative? Yes.
Can they be largely unproductive (or even counterproductive)? Yes.
Can they be designed in a way that the “haves” need to go somewhere else to share with the “have nots” – reinforcing our own sense of superiority? Yes.
Can they give us the false sense of security and warmth because we’ve done a good deed? Yes.
BUT, none of these have to be true. Good leadership and working with people on the ground can help facilitate wonderful experiences.
When we go somewhere to JOIN in what God is doing there, I think everyone wins. We all learn. We all grow. We are all blessed and bless one another. God’s Spirit in me joins with God’s Spirit in you and amazing things can take place. We become neighbours like Jesus talks about – loving one another rather than simply offering charity. So, if we are to go, I recommend to work with those who are there already. You are correct that they know the people, the place, the needs – far more than any well-intentioned people who hop off the plane.
As far as sharing resources… investing in Kingdom work is a good investment. I think it’s a both/and – investing in someone who is working overseas is hugely helpful to them and those they are working with. Investing in someone who is going on a trip is hugely helpful to them and those they are working with. I can’t quantify which is MORE helpful per se, although it is my opinion (and experience) that someone from a western country going on a short-term trip can often raise money more easily than a long-term person working overseas. I am also slightly biased as a long-term, under-funded overseas missionary who thinks they are a good investment
In the end, we want people to experience the Good News of God’s salvation. I suppose one has to consider and pray about which to help, how much, etc. For most of us, we support some of each, just as we give to our church as well as special needs. I also have to trust that if we are asking God and letting God touch our heart with what is on His, we respond as He leads.