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Missions 101

Short-Term Missions or Glorified Tourism?

Sep. 30, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

George Houssney, the President of Horizons, has written a helpful article on the strengths and weaknesses of short-term missions. Below are what he sees as negatives and positives. You can read the entire article here.

The Positives

1. A good percentage of short-termers end up going long-term. Some statistics claim 50%. Many would never go to the mission field were it not for these short- term opportunities.

2. Many gain a heart for missions, and they return often and/or become supporters, prayer partners, and mobilizers.

3. Short-Term mission trips are eye openers for many. It is one thing to read missions newsletters and reports, it is another to actually be on the mission field and see the poverty, the hardships, and the spiritual depravity of people of other cultures.

4. Some who have never witnessed back home become bold in witnessing when they are with a like minded team witnessing in a cross cultural context. This can even help them begin to witness when they return home.

5. Those who are hesitant because they are not sure about their calling use short-term trips to test the waters and see if career missions might be what God is calling them to?

6. Some cannot be career missionaries because of job and family considerations. However, they do want to make a difference, so they use their vacation time or a break from school to do something for the Lord, rather than spending it on themselves.

7. Many who go on mission trips come from affluent families. They are not used to doing dirty work. Manual labor gives them an opportunity to serve others and to experience hard work like they never have before.

After looking at some of the pros and cons of short-term missions, let us see what the Bible says about this.

Missions is a word that came out of the Greek Apostolos, a messenger who is sent to accomplish a certain mission. To better understand the meaning of Apostolos, we must look at the life of Jesus and the apostles, and what they did as missionaries.

Negatives and Drawbacks

1. Many who go on mission trips have no cross cultural experience and due to the shortness of the trip, they are sent with little or no preparation or training. As a result they are likely to behave in ways that are not culturally appropriate or sensitive. I have seen young men dress in shorts and women in tank tops in conservative countries where men and women cover the majority of their bodies. Young people also tend to behave immaturely, with coarse joking, flirting, and inappropriately touching others of the opposite sex. On the other hand, some come with their expensive clothes, expensive gadgets, computers, phones, ipods, Cd players, BlackBerries, and flash money around while people in the target culture cannot afford such luxuries. This results in either disgust or adoration of the missionaries. In either case, it is not healthy.

2. Many go on short-term mission trips in response to short-term guilt trips laid on them by preachers or missions speakers, who rightly challenge them to do something about the unreached people. For many, going on a short-term mission relieves them of their guilty feeling. Rather than consider a longer term commitment, they settle for a trip or two here and there. Some feel that they now have missions checked off on their "To-do in my lifetime" list.

3. Due to the excitement associated with going to a foreign country, some fall in love with the new culture and do not see beyond the facade of its external expressions. Rather, they become enamored by the culture’s music, folklore, dress, and lifestyle. In fact, some expect to see a much darker side of other cultures than they discover. As a result, they fail to see the lostness and spiritual depravity of people from the target cultures.

4. Recruiters who are anxious to sign up people for these trips tend to exaggerate how great these trips are. They raise the expectations too high. The result of unrealistic expectations is usually disappointment. Some expect to love the people in those counties but find out they are not as kind or attractive as they were promised. Some expect to see many people saved. They end up painting walls and laying bricks and hardly seeing any natives. Some return from a short- term mission disappointed because they did not lead anyone to Christ and they feel that they have failed and that they are not made for missions.

5. A percentage of those who have a positive experience on short-term mission trips end up returning for a longer term. They often discover that living in that country long-term is not as exciting or intense, so they get disappointed. They reason that if they had so much fun for two weeks, living there would be even better. By some estimates, half of those who go on long-term trips return home disillusioned. Long-Termers cannot maintain that level of intensity and excitement over a long period of time. It is like going on a honeymoon or vacation; you do not have to go to work, and you enjoy every moment. Then reality hits and you are back to real life, where there is work, tiredness, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and countless other things that keep you busy. Many missionaries expect that when they return full time and for a long time, they would have the same experience as they did when they went short-term. They end up disillusioned and frustrated. Some missionaries do not realize that just figuring out how to live in a foreign country takes up a huge chunk of their day. I know missionaries who have taken a year or more to settle down, spending time looking for a house to live in, furnishing the house, dealing with shopping, transportation and doing many more things.

6. Short-term trips are expensive. Once I was on a prayer walk trip in Morocco. Four hundred came from many parts of the world for the five day journey. I estimated that no less than one million dollars were spent on travel alone (400 X $2500). Some have argued that it would be better that we send this money to the mission field where it can make a much greater impact.

7. The impact on the national church is not always positive. Some churches are inundated by short-term teams that demand a lot of attention. This takes national pastors away from their regular routine and disrupts the ministry

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International.  As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

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