So, are short-term mission trips a waste of time? part 1

As I noted, there is ample evidence that short term mission trips can be problematic. Yet, year after year, I continue to organize, train and lead groups into the northeastern region of Brazil.

Why?

Even with the problems and potential dangers (which I’ll discuss later) of such trips, I’ve found that they can have, or add, substantial value to the work in the host country. Three spring immediately to mind.jeff-drew

First, there is what I’ll call “Enlightenment.” Simply put, the nationals see that someone cares enough about them that they would travel to their country, live in their circumstances and go out of their way to demonstrate love. While this may not be viable in a metropolitan area, in the rural setting of Brazil it is invaluable.

The love poured out on the children in the little village of Ubaúna over the last five years has resulted in doors being flung wide open for the advancement of the Kingdom. The visiting Americans are heralded as “gentle giants” who brighten an otherwise dismal existence. Dirty, lice-ridden, scab-covered little kids climb all over these prim and proper “gringos” who, though initially hesitant to embrace such a child, scoop these little munchkins up into their arms and become their inseparable companions for days on end.

I recently was talking to a young lady in Ubaúna, now 18 years old, who had her first experience with an American “short termer” five years ago. She has not seen her American counterpart since, but spoke so fondly of the experience that you would have thought it had occurred yesterday. It marked her and changed her perspective she had of herself. Because a “foreigner” proved to her that she had value by loving on her, this young lady’s life had been forever changed.

I could repeat this same story time after time. The enlightenment that American Christians can bring in a short period of time in invaluable.

Coming up: Encouragement and Advertising…

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8 responses to “So, are short-term mission trips a waste of time? part 1

  1. Hi Joe, I think you are onto something here. There is a lot of “backlash” towards short-term missions these days. I say that, in the early days, we believed that STM was all about Mobilization. As the number of STM trips have skyrocketed and number of long-termers mobilized has remained essentially static, we have to admit that if it was about Mobilization, it is a horrific failure. If it is about changed lives on the part of “host” cultures and on the part of the STMers themselves, then the metrics are a bit more difficult to measure. Anecdotes are not metrics, but do help to shed light on the value of STM. 🙂

  2. I really want to get my hands dirty in that…soon 🙂

  3. Hi fletchboy. I agree wholeheartedly. I think the STMs can play an invaluable room IF we don’t deceive ourselves into thinking that the STM is the goal.

    As a vehicle for mobilization and fostering interest in an American going full-time into missions, there is a very small role that a STM can play. I don’t know, however, if it merits such a massive outlay of capital, if that is the primary intended goal.

    I am firmly convinced that we are missing the boat missionally. We need to empower the nationals to rise up and become the force that the Spirit enables them to be. Last time I checked, American Christians weren’t the only ones who received the Spirit. We need to treat the national as a peer, not a peon.

    In my experience, it is the national who is the most effective in church planting and growth in his culture. Cost-wise, there is no comparison; in terms of language, culture, etc., again, no comparison.

    A STM can bolster the national initiative, but it cannot substitute nor supplant it.

    Let’s use the STM as a tool, not as a method.

    Thanks for the input!

  4. patrickandchristy

    Joe, the enlightenment is on both sides of the mission I believe. For us, it showed us that however flawed, spiritually immature or “unworthy” we are, that God can use us to make a REAL difference in another’s person’s life. That God can use us witness to the lost and hurting. It showed us how much God loves US, and how much he loves those that we often consider undeserving of our time and effort because God has gone through all the “trouble” to send our caravan to Brazil.

    Additionally, the people, especially the children, show, and give us, such a geniune love and appreciation that it touches you. I feel we don’t often get that type of appreciation and geniune affection and love in America when we are ministering and witnessing. Both sides of the mission see Christ-like love in a new, dynamic and life-changing manner. Basically, God allowed us to see others through His eyes, and when you first experience that, it’s a humbling, powerful experience.

    We don’t go looking to be blessed personally, but I feel we come away changed and affected much more than the people of Brazil. If both sides of the mission feel this way, then you know that God was truly at work.

    Maybe I’m rambling but I hope this makes sense.

  5. patrickandchristy

    As we were preparing to leave Ubauna in July of 2004, Christy gave Isolda (I know I butchered the spelling) a worn pair of her shorts. We didn’t think anymore about it but last year she told Christy that she still had the pair of shorts. She added that she had not worn them but slept with them because it reminded her of Christy, and how Christy cared enough to give her something of hers. She told her it also made her think of the friendship they have through Christ. Wow! That hit us like a rock upside the head. We just never know how our obedience to “Go” affects someone do we? Or how the “simple” things make the most impact.

  6. patrickandchristy

    A so-called, “Revolution in World Missions.” Absolutely right that we have to build up a Brazilian field army of disciples and support them in anyway necessary.

  7. Pingback: So, are short-term mission trips a waste of time, part 2 « ru·mi·na·tions

  8. The word that I feel God has emphasized to me with regard to STM is “context.” Without a view of the larger work going on in the host country, without plugging into the ministry of an on-the-ground missionary or church, our STM efforts are shots in the dark.

    That said, let’s correct the problem of acting out of context rather than throw out STM all together. Yes, let’s be vigilant against wasted effort, but let’s not let results-based American thinking overshadow the intangible, long-term benefits of STM.

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