Monday, November 10, 2008

Are Short-Term Mission Trips Valuable?

Paul Yanosy at Common Grounds Online had a great post up last week:
Are Short Term Mission Trips Worthwhile?

He concludes they are, and one of his main points is this: "These trips are often the best avenue for Christians to be exposed to the world."

I confess to being at first surprised that some Christian leaders were critical of short-term mission trips, and then angered by it, especially when most of what I've read comes down to embarrassment over our brothers and sisters in Christ.

One prominent blogger I read on this issue was mostly irked that one set of short-term trippers were acting "churchy" and -- gasp! -- trying to share the Gospel.

The critics also describe these trips as "vacations" and blah blah blah. Just more brethren-bashing, I guess.

Here's the way I look at it:

a) Are the trippers being exposed to people and places unlike them and their homes? Are they seeing the world as it is outside of the comforts of American consumerism?
If so, that's always good.

b) Are people being helped tangibly?
If so, that's always good.

c) Are people being helped spiritually?
If so, that's always good.

If it's "yes" to all three, the critics should shut up.

Honestly, the only people upset about short-term mission trips are those who wish more people did church like they do.
The best people to ask are not suburban pastors whose embarrassment is only matched by their elitism, but those who run foreign mission agencies and the people in other countries and cultures who are being helped.

Foreign missionaries love it when churches show up to visit and help. It helps them, and it lets them feel supported and encouraged. They get to show their supporters what they're doing and how they do it. It spreads fervor for mission work. The foreign missionaries I know love it when short-term groups come.

Those being helped love it when Christians visit and help. And usually you don't know this until you actually visit and help. They don't have the same concern for cool and clout. Every mission trip I've ever been has found me meeting people who love meeting "foreigners" and who appreciate assistance, even if it's just for a week at a time.

It's almost as if evangelicals are running out of things to whine about.


Bill said...

Well said!

My parents in law love it when people come over to see them and help them in Ukraine, even if it's just for a short time.

Lynellen said...

Eh. In regards -only- to the short-term mission trips I've been on (Jamaica, and Maine): I haven't seen any life change due to the teens being exposed to people and places unlike them, didnt' see any new gratitude in them for what they have nor a calling of sympathy to help those less fortunate than themselves. Some people were tangibly helped b/c we built them new plywood shacks to replace the ones the hurricane ate, but I didn't see any evidence of spiritual benefit. in the meantime, the teens complained all the time about how hot it was, how bored they were, how the work was too hard, how they were tired and dirty, about the insects, about the food, about the batteries running out on their electronic stuff and no electricity, etc. etc. etc. ad naseum.

Jared said...

Well, then, the answer of course is to not expose them to the third world.

Lots of people reject the gospel too. Should we stop preaching it?

Not everyone can be a long-term missionary. But if we continue short-term missions, it sticks with the ones who become senders or goers. We'll always have disobedient people in our churches; doesn't mean we stop preaching and leading them repentance.

Jared said...

Poor form.
My first statement in the above comment is me being sarcastic. :-/

I don't think spoiled teenagers acting like spoiled teenagers doesn't mean we stop exposing spoiled teenagers to the third world.

Sara said...

the critiques I've heard tend to be a bit more subtle. The complaint is that Western short term missions entrench the attitude of "the more fortunate us" condescending "the less fortunate you." In other words, that the often spiritually bankrupt western church has much to learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world, but that instead we end up reinforcing our colonialist tendencies, that we the rich need to go help the poor.

Having been on short term missions myself, I will also note that a huge amount depends on the organization ahead of time . . . making sure that the projects that need to happen actually happen, making sure that the help offered is more help than the work required to put the short term group up, etc. The trip I went on was something of a fiasco . . .

Dale said...

Not having read the article by Paul Yanosy wrote, I'd like to add one more possibility explaining why some of us hesitate to go on short term missions trips, the cost. Not the cost to us, the cost of sending ourselves rather than giving the nationals the money that went to high priced travel expenses and accommodations. While I'm sure some ministries keep these costs to a minimum, even just paying for my round-trip airfare while people in Haiti eat dried dirt pies, seems exorbitant.

Mike said...

The definitive book on making them work...