Okay, the talk of the town (at least at my Christian university and among my Facebook friends) is whether short-term mission trips are meaningful or not. I recently read the article “7 Reasons Why Your Two Week Trip to Haiti Doesn’t Matter: Calling Bull on ‘Service Trips’,” and it filled me with sadness and anger. I must say- the title is much harsher than the article itself, but my point is: short-term mission trips have real value. Yes, motives vary person to person and trip to trip, but as my friend puts it, “don’t ever put someone down because they aren’t serving in your ideal form of ministry.”
Popular arguments against short–term missions include abandonment issues- can you even bond with the people you’re working with in so little time & if so, is it fair to love on them for a week and then leave? At first, this seems like a valid point, but how many Christians say that week-long Vacation Bible School is a waste? Not near as many as those who say that week-long overseas trips are. But why? Just like a short-term trip, at VBS you’re investing in kids you’ve never seen and probably will never see again. But that doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time. I accepted Jesus as my Savior and became a Christian at a VBS at a church that was not my home church. Without that week, my entire life would be different. Thank you to those VBS workers who realized five days was worth it.
Also, we as Christians have got to stop being so quick to judge! I think we judge our own family of believers even more harshly than we do nonbelievers. Those that do not support my short-term mission trips may look at my photos on Facebook and roll their eyes. And if you only think about 17 days in Cambodia or 8 days in Guatemala, it’s easy to assume that each trip was to check “good deed” off my annual To Do list. But hear me out…
By no means am I perfect, and evangelism is still not totally comfortable for me, but do not judge my heart based on my Facebook album of my short-term trips. You don’t know what I do the rest of the year or behind-the-scenes. Do you know that I’ve been learning Spanish for the past 8 years? So that I can love on those who are different than me. So that I can do international missions without being that white girl who knows nothing about the culture she’s serving in. And do you know that I donate? I help out organizations on a regular basis. Because when I’m not serving in places like Guatemala, others are. And finally, do you know my plans for the future? Do you know that I’ve always considered and prayed about being a teacher and missionary full time in a third world country? Do you know that I’m saving up for a long-term trip to Central America? The internship I have in mind is one that you have to pay for, and it’s a lot. Yes, pay to do work. To help people. To teach. To love. To serve. All for the sake of the gospel.
I know there are plenty of stories like mine. Plenty of people have found their calling and chosen their careers based on what some call “self-fulfillment trips.” I don’t know many missionaries who left the U.S. spontaneously to serve in a foreign country full time without ever seeing the suffering in another country first. Likely, that full-time missionary you’re thinking of went on short trips first, felt a call, and answered the call.
And if short-term trips are so useless, why do full-time missionaries organize them? Because they have a purpose.
You see a self-fulfillment trip …. I see a mission trip
You see a desperate GoFundMe… I see a chance for those who can’t go to support those who can
You see selfies with the poor… I see a newfound joy in the one holding the camera (and the children huddled around)
You see a meaningless short-term mission trip… I see relationships built, hope renewed, and souls saved
The Bible tells us to go. To love people. And to spread the Good News. It doesn’t say to do these things only if you have a long time to do them. It simply says “go.”
If you’re curious to learn more about short-term missions, check out an older blog post of mine here.
Note: not every short-term mission trip is done well or with the right heart, but these types of trips are a disgrace to the church, and they should not be used to stereotype all short-term trips