I’d Probably Still Cancel Your Short-Term Mission Trip

Here’s an article worth reading and considering in light of this discussion about effective evangelism. A family in my church spent a month in Kenya this past summer, and I plan to spend 3 weeks in the DR Congo in October. So I’ve been thinking about the purpose of short-term missions recently.

Americans think they can change the world with their money and influence, but I find myself being just as curmudgeonly about missions in general as this author. His eight points at the end of his article are very wise.

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From September 1983 to August 1987, I was senior pastor of the International Council of Vienna (hereafter the ICV), originally founded by the Conservative Baptist Foreign Missions Society to minister to a multi-national English-speaking population in Vienna, Austria. The congregation numbered approximately 400 souls, one-third of whom were missionaries and their families.

Most of these missionaries ministered behind the Iron Curtain (it was still up in those days), except for a contingent of YWAM missionaries and related missions who ministered at a large Eastern European refugee camp at Traiskirchen, about 30 miles south of Vienna.

The missions/missionaries ministering at Traiskirchen all worshiped at the ICV. By far most of those I baptized during those years were converts from the refugee camp.

With that background, I heartily endorse the opinions and recommendations of the TGC article. All the recommendations Darren Carlson makes that were applicable to our situation in Vienna I was making myself 36 years ago! Time after time, when I’d field queries from American congregations/pastors concerning “missions opportunities” in Vienna for high school or college or retiree folks back in the States, they amounted to requests for the missionaries who were already deployed to create something for the temporary missionary to do.

This is the most pungent sentence in Carlson’s article: A church struggling to support a skilled and trained long-term missionary for $200 a month won’t question raising $40,000 to send many untrained workers for a week.

I assure you, the missionary family in the field also knows how much money it took to send that “team” to them, and they know just how useful that budget would be to augment their own missions budget. If half the money used to send that inexperienced, untrained team had been sent in the form of an annual budget increase for the already deployed missionary, those already in the field would have been more productive, more encouraged, more motivated, more rejoicing.

As it inevitably turned out - the local missionary’s own meager budget faced significant redeployment and their efforts were curtailed toward hand-holding untrained “team members” whose presence slowed down the work the local missionaries were doing.

Sorry if I sound cranky about this. After almost four decades, I still have vivid memories of the dismay the local missionaries in my flock expressed to me - hoping I might undertake to deflect some of these teams from making their burdens heavier than they already were.

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One useful short-term mission that I have seen is sending a seasoned pastor from the U.S. to train local pastors in countries with little Christian presence. The local pastors usually have not had the opportunity to obtain much theological education and training, and the 1-2 week time period of a short-term mission matches the available time that a local pastor can go away for training. A couple years ago a missionary arranged for my pastor to visit a closed country and meet with a group of local pastors for a week. My pastor changed his teaching plans on the fly when he saw what the local pastors valued most was training on how to prepare a sermon that exposits and applies a Bible passage.

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Is it TLI? I’m an enthusiastic supporter.

No. It was arranged by a MTW missionary associated with out church.

This is a fascinating discussion that I’ve really wondered about. I still think there are a lot of decent reasons and ways to do forms of short-term missions though. And I really question the findings of the research that these trips don’t change the lives of the participants. How was that measured? What would they have considered a change? Who has been on a short-term mission trip in their past that doesn’t feel that it changed them?

But I do agree about what I think are the majority of short term mission trips. We had close friends go on one as a family to Peru this last year and everything I heard about it made me cringe. I knew they were really desiring to be helpful and everything she told me about it was further confirmation that it wasn’t going to be. Including the fact that one of the previous teams had asked the host family to get hot water so they could take hot showers while they were there. They offered to pay for it of course! But they found “it wasn’t even worth it. The water was hardly even hot!” :weary::confounded::persevere:

But at the same time I have continued to push hard for our high school youth group to go on some form of mission trip each summer. I think it’s critical for our kids to have a broader awareness of the needs in the world around them, and try to find trips that will allow that and not be harmful. It has a lot to do in my mind with the awareness of the group we are going to serve and why they have teams come work with them.

In a similar vein, I had a parent ask if our school was going to do operation Christmas child again this year. I said no because of articles I’ve read about the unhelpfulness of that. Here’s one of them I found for her:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/12/20/filling-millions-of-shoe-boxes-of-toys-for-poor-kids-seems-like-a-great-idea-heres-why-its-not/

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