My friend Carleene recently sent me some articles by the Gospel Coalition that raised some concerns about short term missions. There’s been a fair amount of research and a great deal of reflection on the pluses and minuses of such ventures. Is it good stewardship? Do the trips bring great benefit? Do they advance the cause of Christ? Do they really promote cross cultural friendships? Do they do more harm than good?
I appreciate their concerns. A steady stream of relatively well-to-do Americans flying in to disperse American style Christianity casually pouring out wealth, creativity, and energy, can send the wrong message about who we are and who God is. They can harm local economies, even undermine local churches. Read the articles. (Links are below.) If you are planning on taking a mission trip, read the books Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts. You’ll be a better mission trip taker if you do. But I suggest reading them a little skeptically. My sense: they are heavy on analysis and light on being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. God is using the flawed mission adventures taken by Americans to awaken us to what it means to be a global Christian. And, I might point out, Short Term Missions are biblical. Read the first parts of Luke 9 and Luke 10. Jesus sent the disciples out on short term missions.
No question: I am deeply grateful for the short term mission experiences I’ve been able to take and lead. In the past, we’ve worked with Vida Joven (Young Life) in Nicaragua. The way we worked with them allowed us to avoid some of the problems identified in the books and articles. For that matter, we were introduced to Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts by the American and ex-pat missionaries we worked with in Nicaragua.
We required three things in our Short Term Mission trips.
1) They had to be relational. Our trips have been about building and maintaining relationships in the spirit of partnership. We built friendships, and, for that matter, we put ourselves under the authority of the local ministry leaders in terms of what we would do, when, and how. We did not go to be served, but to serve.
2) There had to be a sense of exchange. Sure, we offered resources and labor. A couple of the trips were medical missions. But… we were there to learn from those who followed Jesus in Nicaragua. They had a lot to teach us about hospitality, about evangelism, about the power of Jesus to change and transform lives, neighborhoods, and cities. They showed us what it looked like to serve and follow Christ courageously in their context. We came back with more courage to live out our faith, better skilled and motivated to pray and live our faith, and refreshed by our witness of the beauty of Christian community.
3) The trips stated goal was to encounter Jesus Christ in a different place. We were there to see what God was doing in another place. God met us there! We returned encouraged.
I would say that Short Term Missions have been instrumental in helping us learn, by example, to be more intentional in our witness and ministries. Involvement in missions trips really set the stage for how we’re doing life at LoveFirst Coast. Resources of time, talent, and money are being released more generously here because we went there. Because of the love and blessings we received on Short Term Missions, love and blessings are flowing more easily, more naturally here.
Of course that doesn’t excuse us from learning how to do better! So take a little time. Read the articles or even the books. But remember the words of Jesus, “As the Father is sending me, so I am sending you!” (John 20:21)
You are sent! Go!