On Short Term Missions {Justifying the Truckload of Cash Spent}

by Laura on May 10, 2012

Consider this: a group of 15 high school students {with four adult leaders} want to go on a missions trip to Africa. They write support letters, hold spaghetti dinners, call up grandma and gramps across the state line. The cost of the trip is 8 days out of their summer vacation and $1800 USD out of somebody’s pocket. Per person.

The goal of the trip is to paint the outside of a church, do a VBS for an hour four evenings, and “love the orphans” at the local orphanage {a.k.a. play soccer and give lots of hugs, since they don’t speak the same language}. The group gets called to the front of the church for a send-off prayer before and produces a killer video that makes their mothers get teary after. There are lots of Facebook updates and instagram pictures of the trip– rich American teens hugging on dark African orphans– which become the profile pictures of the participants for a good six months post-travel.

The church got painted, which locals could have done for about 30 bucks maybe.

The orphans got hugged, and then had to say goodbye to people that they’ll never see again and who promise to write, but never really do.

The four days of VBS got delivered. And included the same bible stories which  the previous four short term teams had also told. Through the mud of translators and with songs and hand motions that didn’t really make cultural sense.

And the grand total of this particular missions trip: $34, 200 USD. Ouch.

In a country where the average wage might be $2USD a day. That would be the equivalent of 17,100 days of work for a local. At that rate, the money could have gone to give 46 single mothers honorable employment for an entire year.

In this part of the world in Asia, it could provide clean water filters for 1,700 homes in village communities or it could begin a business to give hundreds of future prostitutes another choice or it could fully fund several national pastors for a whole year.

Ouch, again.

And maybe I shouldn’t knock what I myself have tried, and tasted the benefits from. I went to Jamaica on my first summer missions trip as a jr. high kid, and I still remember the stories. My husband has led a half-dozen missions trips for teenagers during his work as a student pastor. And some of our ministry here in SE Asia has been based on the idea that there  is incredible value in the mentorship of young adults as they travel and volunteer internationally. {And we have seen that it has.}

I get it.

And I know that maybe that money wouldn’t have been given to support those other {more cost- effective} endeavors, anyway. I understand that  motivating a Westerner with an experience which could make him or her a financial supporter of missions for the rest of a career has value. I get that there is intrinsic value in letting the third world know that they are not forgotten by the first, and I can see that a missions experience for a teenager could translate into a lifetime of living overseas themselves.

Yet, yet. $34,000. For eight days? When people are starving and children are trafficked and pastors themselves don’t have access to Bibles?

It’s hard to swallow. Or justify sometimes.

Or, is it?

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Alright, short term missions senders or goers or proponents or hosters I’d love to hear your thoughts about the value of the short term mission trip and how it relates to the amount of cash we spend to get it.

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Some other great resources: Jamie the Very Worst Missionary’s Series on STMs  |  Are STMs the Answer? by the Hendricks  in Haiti  |  Rethinking Short Term Missions series by Desiring God

  • Gretchen

    This is something we’ve wrestled with at our church.  While it’s not a perfect solution, what we have tried to do is focus our efforts on building long-term partnerships with developing communities.  So, we let the community tell us what it is we need, and we do what we can to meet that need with personnel, material resources, etc.  Each trip we’ve sent so far is focused on us serving the community at their direction rather than with our agenda, and we try to raise money above and beyond the cost of the trip.  We also ask each person going to commit to paying 1/3 the cost of their portion of the trip. In return, there have been powerful stories, a lot of learning especially about issues that are relevant to us here in the States, a challenge to deeper faith, and a call to the larger congregation for monetary support for the communities in question (as well as renewed interest in them).  All good things, and the communities we have tried to serve have asked us to continue to send people over.  So, hopefully, STMs are doing more good than evil. 

    • lauraparkerblog

      Thanks for writing this! I think these are great ideas–

      individuals paying for a portion of their trip themselves and
      long term relationships and
      an attitude of learning.

      Ahhh . . . there IS hope!!!

      • Choosethisday

        Wow, and I thought my discouragement with STMs was unusual.
        Right now in our church some of the other leadership, (I am one of the elders),
        are trying to send a “vision” team to India. At first I was for this, thinking
        this made sense in building mission interest in our body. However, as I have researched
        this I now have serious doubts. The lowest cost per person is ~$3000, for about
        9 days in country. This may not sound too far out until one compares it with
        alternatives. Currently my wife and I support two indigenous missionaries in
        India. These two missionaries understand the culture, language, and fit in much
        better than even the best trained STMers or even long term missionaries are
        ever likely to. And they can drink the water, stay in lodgings we would never deign
        to stay in, and live so cheaply as to make us look like kings. The total cost to
        support these missionaries is about $1000 per year. So, for about what my wife
        and I could go on this vision trip for we can keep two of these missionaries on
        the field for about three years. So at least on first examination the vision
        trip seems to be a terrible investment.

         

        Right now I can hear a few of you objecting to these
        statements by referencing the value of building vision among church members and
        the feelings of support that can be communicated to the receivers of a STM. Just
        for the record, my wife and I have been through many mission related books and
        training programs including the Perspectives course, which I highly recommend.
        So, although space here does not allow a thorough answer, these objections don’t
        seem to hold up when examined. If these are one’s thoughts I suggest one
        research the Barna studies on STMs and their long term effects on participants
        and on field missionaries thoughts on the real effect of STMs.

        • lauraparkerblog

          I hear you. I think this reality is what prompted my post in the first place. It’s hard to justify sometimes– particularly when Westerners being “changed and inspired” is not a guarantee. I think one of the concerns is that people typically won’t give to the native missionary, but they will give to their niece for the summer. Which I totally understand, truly. So it’s not all “apples to apples”–

          But, yes, I hear you . . . That question goes too for what it takes financially to support a Western family overseas long term vs a local one.
          Thanks for your honest thoughts.

          • http://annkroeker.com Ann Kroeker

            Laura, did you ever write a follow-up to this post? I am so interested in this subject, as my daughters are old enough to be invited on short-term trips.

    • lauraparkerblog

      THis is a really funny video that kinda speaks to some of the problems with STM and some of the problems your church is trying to tackle . . . .

      Just wanted everyone to check it out if you are interested and in for a little laugh: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9fvlEFRT8o

  • http://twitter.com/theCanvasStory Heather Marshall

    It is not possible to crunch the numbers. The monetary value is much harder to calculate for the positives of short term trips. I fell in love with the third world on a hs mission trip. I met my husband on a hs mission trip, and I have spent, and will continue to spend, my entire adult life investing in the 3rd world because of those mission trips. If I could put that information into $ amounts I’m sure everyone would agree that it was worth it. It is inexpensive to paint a church, but it is extremely difficult to get an American hs kid to fall desperately…permanently in love with Jesus. I think you could make this same argument for long-term missions. How much money does it cost to sustain an American family each year on the mission field? A lot! But it is worth it in my opinion (and not because droves of ppl are coming to Jesus everyday…because they aren’t usually). It is worth it because anything that is invested in the Kingdom of God has miraculous return.
    With all of that said, I totally agree with you ;-). I do. I feel both sides and wrestle over them in my own life a lot. Bottom-line is obedience I guess.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Heather– yes, its ultimately not fair to crunch numbers on this. And it seems in your story, there has been huge value in the short term missions trip. I know when you came to visit us, it was soooo intentional and helpful and humble. You had this beautiful attitude of learning and support– aka– a million Wii games! ha ha. And I REALLY struggle with the cost it takes to keep our family of five on the field here. . . . ugh. Makes me sick sometimes, honestly. And makes me just want to go home lots of times, too. Think I will have to write another post about that one . . .

      Yet, yet, I agree, too, that some “good” is beyond logical numbers.

  • http://colebradburn.com/ Cole Bradburn

    Visiting from the High Calling today.

    I think the value is in exposure to the person going on the mission trip… to open up a deeper heart and vision for missions.  Yes, some practical things get done on the trip, and God-willing some people get saved, but as you said, it’s a lot of money to paint a church or build a house.

    The experience changes the person going, let’s them see a little more clearly what Jesus was charging us to do.  Hopefully the next mission trip is a few months, then maybe a year, and possibly a lifetime.

    • lauraparkerblog

      I agree, but I think the question then becomes, Are STM trips ultimately just selfish? We have the money, we use it in an effort to make US feel better, get closer to God? Is that an okay reason for them?

      • http://colebradburn.com/ Cole Bradburn

        Great question you raise.  I think that they aren’t intended to be selfish, yet in the way of spending, they are.  I’m not sure if that is an okay reason for them, but it does allow for very fertile soil in which God can plant a seed.

        • lauraparkerblog

          Yes, I love the fact that God can plant seeds always, always.

          Thanks for the conversation, Cole.

  • Daniel K

    Laura thanks for your thoughtful questions. This one really got me thinking. Sorry for my lack of brevity :-(

    Maybe the short-term mission trip has value beyond the value of saving lives. It gives young folks, unsure about their calling, an opportunity to experience for a moment, what a third-world community is like, and then to return home with more information in order to make an informed decision about whether they want to continue to pursue missions work. While they are there they do spend money in the local economy, share love, compassion, and hard work for those less fortunate, and preserve relations between host communities and the communities they support.

    Now surely the cost/benefit analysis that you describe above does not escape the givers and donors who make possible short-term missions trips. If that is the case, then we have to ask whether a large portion of “western”, as you call them, donors are ignorant, confused, delusional, or tuned in to something that your cost/benefit analysis does not recognize. What could that be? What could all of these generous, loving, caring, compassionate people be thinking? Is it really such a mystery?

    I’m going to suggest that the willingness of host donors to support short-term missions is neither ignorant, evil, nor misguided. Donors are motivated by a combination of love for missions AND love for those young folks in their communities thinking about missions. They give to these young folks just as much as they give to the poor and needy. They support their own along with supporting those they’ve never met. They pour their generosity, charity, hard work, savings into the lives of their own community and into the communities that will be supported around the world (even if less efficiently).

    Is such love of one’s own to be shamed? Are we to be brow beaten every time we spend a dollar on one of our own when we could have used the same dollar to support two halfway around the world? Are we to perform a cost/benefit analysis that includes the most wretched parts of the earth every time we save or spend?

    So, I guess my hunch is that short-term missions plays a different role in the life of the church than long-term missions does. Under my assessment short-term missions cannot be held to the same standard as long-term missions in regards to costs and benefits. And I applaud any community that provides its own an opportunity to explore missions even at the expense of the immediate needs of the desperate around the world. Maybe that sounds harsh. But I think it is reality and find no moral crime in such a choice.

    In another post it would be interesting to explore just how I can justify supporting the explorations of one of my own while people are starving. But all of us do it. Unless you are living the life of starvation, with no shelter and no clothing, you are undeniably holding back what could be given to another less fortunate than you. And either this is always to be considered a spiritual/moral crime or it is not always to be so considered. I submit that it is not of necessity a spiritual/moral crime and so their are occasions where it is justified. Could short-term missions be one of those occasions?

    Thoughts?

    • lauraparkerblog

      Daniel, I totally agree that there is nothing evil at all about donating to STM. I think in many ways people are supporting the missionary– short or long term– just as much and probably more, than the actual ministry itself. I know for us, there have been times when we have given to others going on trips, not because we even really felt called to what they were doing, but it felt like we were investing in who they would become as a person. Kinda like sending them on outward bound for a summer or a leadership camp or even helping them with college or something.

      I do think it would be an interesting things (and painful for us personally, perhaps) to look at the cost/effectiveness of the long term missionary on the field. It takes waaaayy more to keep us here than it would to keep several local families– and that is a really hard questions absolutely every long term missionary needs to wrestle with. But, maybe for another article . . .

      I like what you said about “helping our own” and the fact that yes, we all do that. All the time. And while I think that STM are in no way evil, I do think that they can be really harmful– both to the individual and the culture.

      I think the question I wrestle with is: Are we USING the poor to make ourselves feels good/grow individually? And is that an okay justification for the trip and the money spent on it. . . .

      Overall, STM just need to have a greater attitude of LEARNING instead of a
      “save the world and rescue people from hell” mentality, I think.

      • Daniel K

        I guess it’s certainly possible for the poor to be used. According to several commenters the poor are exploited and arrogant westerners behave, well, as arrogant westerners do I guess. BUT, I certainly don’t think that abuse and exploitation are intrinsic to STM or to westerners for that matter (as some commenters seem to believe).

        I think your post and questions raised two thoughts in my mind: first, how valuable is cost/benefit analysis and who do we include in the costs/benefits? Only the needy, only the givers, the needy and the givers? Second, can we find a defensible perspective of missions that nourishes all the different levels of missionary activity without poohpoohing the more minor efforts (STM) for not looking more like the more major efforts (LTM)? And I don’t expect perfect answers by any means.

        Your question about using the poor for our own development is a good one. We’d have to settle on what we mean by “use” which obviously has negative connotations. To my mind investing in a young team that will travel, work, encourage, and communicate with the poor of any land is not obviuosly using the poor. I would restrict using the poor to intentional stealing, assault, manipulation, and other such crimes. Donations of time, energy, and love to a poor community (even if less efficient in aid than they could have been, and even if the young team is improved by the interaction with the poor) don’t seem like clear cases of using. But that’s not to say that the poor are never used. It’s just to say that it is possible, and in countless historical STM events actually the case, that both parties ineract while neither is used. So, I’ll say it’s perfectly ok for STM participants to be improved by their activities.

        Thanks for your response Laura.

  • Sandy Kazim

    Many people comment on the “priceless” value of the heart of the youth that go on these trips – that they develop a deeper understanding of missions – that their world view changes – that they come back with more compassion.  I’m not so sure.  You receive lots of hugs and kisses and nice feelings on a short term missions trip.  You think you “got” the culture.  So you don’t understand why the long term missionary struggles so much and what his or her “problem” is.  You think you can speak the language fluently in six months.  You are not sure why there should be long term missionaries since you did much more than they will do in just two short weeks.   I think short term missions trip skew our perception of what it means to be committed to working in God’s Kingdom.  It promotes false assumptions of what it takes to truly step out of our own culture and understand another one.  It deceives us into thinking that we are more important than we really are making it even more difficult to develop a humble spirit.   That we should generously give?  Absolutely!  Freely we have received.  May we give in kind.  So how about a “summer trip” that is NOT tax deductible?  How about no missions credit for airline tickets and hotel rooms?  If you really want to learn, it should be of no benefit to your wallet.  

    Thank you Laura for your blog.  I have very much enjoyed reading it.  

    • lauraparkerblog

      THIS WAS AWESOME!! (Yes, I just used two exclamation marks!}

      LOVED your point about how a missions trip can paint a really inaccurate picture of the long term missionary and the lifestyle and I loved your idea that the trip shouldn’t necessarily have all the perks of travel miles and tax deductions– not that it is wrong to have those things, but sometimes our motivations get skewed.

      Loved your insights here, really.

  • Elliot

    I do think short term mission trips are “priceless”, especially when done by youth.  They allow youth to actually question a “cushy” faith, and then learn to fully rely and trust on God.  However, I do agree that many overseas short term trips are a waste of money and resources.  My youth group has been sticking to mission trips that are within a few hours of our church in Charlotte, North Carolina. ( we find most through http://youthworks.com/ ) There is so much need within the United States, and youth still get the same benefits as they would overseas.  They are still exposed to different cultures, they are just in their own country.  We save money, but youth still get great benefits from these trips.  

    • lauraparkerblog

      Love the idea of LOCAL MISSIONS– cheaper and just as effective at shocking kids out of comfort zones. Brilliant. Keep up the good work– I am from NC, btw! Lived in Charlotte for a year! :)

  • Marissa

    Great reflections.  I tend to think that short-term mission trips are valuable for young people – similar to how studying abroad might be and should be funded as such.  Rather than support-raising, I think people who want to do short-term missions should save up their money and fund their trip. Sure, this doesn’t dismiss the fact that those monies could be stretched so much further.  But that’s a bigger issue and one that plagues the rich.  In pragmatic terms, I think 18o0 saved up at a summer job is better spent funding an international experience than spent on entertainment, gadgets, clothes, or wherever else young peoples’ discretionary money goes.

    Perhaps this would remove some of the internal conflict if we could accept the benefit it has for participants and remove the selling point of “helping others”.  

    We were in Nicaragua for a summer facilitating teams that came down for a week at a time.  It was interesting to see how very much the kids were impacted and, of course, a lot of the good physical labor they did and buzz they built in a poor rural community for the long term missionaries who were continuing development work in that area.  But then I didn’t see the price tag these different churches were raising to fund the trip.  But I tend to get a bit frustrated with the whole support-raising model in general.  I would love to see Christian non-proftis that excel at fundraising administer funds and hire qualified missionaries.  I think this would be more strategic and less burdensome on all parties.  But what do I know – haha!

    • lauraparkerblog

      Marissa, I think you have a great point about the importance of people funding their own trips. It brings more value to the experience, even if they only partially fund it. And yes, in many ways, it is like study abroad, which does have lots of value . . . maybe the emphasis should be more on that, then on helping others in Jesus’ name . . . ? Hmmm . . food for thought.

  • http://www.nosuperheroes.com Chris Lautsbaugh

    Thank you for an honest and respectful look at this. Not all are. I am a vet of many short term trips and work in an organization that is involved in hosting them. It is how I ended up a long termer.

    I agree that it is a ton of money. I hate wasting money!  But, in many other areas we don’t have issues with dropping tons for conferences on social issues. Again, maybe that money could be used for the issues themselves. But education is a part of impacting the issues as well.

    All I can speak from is my experience. My parents made a conscious choice to spend money on experiences for me rather than “stuff”. It impacted me deeply. I did not have a room full of toys or later my own car like most Americans, but I had life changing experiences that shaped my future. The world was bigger than me and I thought of more than myself. That gift is priceless.

    I will send my children on short term trips as a parent. I want them to see a larger world and know that service, even with a price tag, is worth it.

    Great post, respectful dialogue, and real issues. Laura, you have some of the best stuff out there! 

    • lauraparkerblog

      Thanks, Chris– for your kind words. And it’s neat to hear about your parents who invested in your character/experiences rather than a host of material things. I love your statement that you will send your own kids on STM– proves maybe better than anything else that you really believe in them and have seen their value.

    • Callie

      Totally agree with you Chris. 

      There are defiantly great points on either side of the question. But what gets me is “what ever happened to if God tells you to go you go!!!”

      I have been on short term trips and now God has called me to Africa long term. No doubt God would have still called me here If I didn’t go on the initial short term trips. But If God calls you somewhere even for 2 weeks (and you know that it is truly from God, without your own agenda) you go, no questions asked! His ways are better and sometimes they don’t make sense but we aren’t meant to know everything. And yes short team trips can cause problems and sometimes they can bring out the worst but we aren’t to judge a persons motives for going on one. 

      Can see the concerns and totally agree, so please don’t get me wrong. But again it’s not our place to dictate the calling of God and how He works

      • lauraparkerblog

        In agreeance, completely, Callie– God’s voice trumps everything. Absolutely. I think the really really really hard part is deciphering that, when so often our christian subculture tells us that to GO is the only way to really Serve God, ya know? I think sometimes we Hollywood missions and then we all start thinking we gotta go somewhere dramatic to hear/obey God, while neglecting the ways we serve/love/obey in our own hometowns. You know?

        Awesome that you are in Africa!! YEAH!!! What are you doing there? Would love to hear! thanks for stopping in! Really loved your reminder to OBEY– YES. YES. YES.

        • Callie

          I totally agree with you Laura that sometimes it’s hard to discern whether it is God and at the same time it can be so easy to justify that it is from “God”  even if we are unsure. I don’t disagree with you at all. I just find it hard sometimes even being in Uganda full time and to justify the amount of supporters money that it takes to be based here. But our supporters are still doing God’s work by staying in their home country just as much as we are on the field. 

          It’s a tough on and loving everyone’s take on the subject. Some great points!!!

      • Victoria

        Thanks Callie, I was just about to comment and say the exact same thing! I am a long-termer now in Asia, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that God used two STM trips as a teenager and yet another as an adult to help me hear His call and get some level of preparation (eg seeing the land so it wasn’t completely an unknown).

        Interestingly, before starting my project now, God had me fly back and forth SEVEN times in 18 months in order to set it up… about $15,000 just in airfares. His provision is always enough, even when the cost of it doesn’t make sense to us.We must hear God’s voice for each one of us, and be obedient to that, no matter the so-called expense.

        Also, re: the expense of it all — even if one person is touched by the love of Jesus on a trip that cost a million dollars, who are we to judge whether that was worthwhile or not! We don’t know the end results of the money we spend now.

        Of course, I say this knowing that STM trips need good leaders who listen to the locals and the long-termers. I’ve seen several long-termers be asked to leave a certain area after the misadventures of “tract-bombers”. Now that is sad.

  • Charity

    I wrote a post myself on this topic not too long ago.  I’m not a frequent blogger, but this is something that I have pondered time and time (and time!) again.  My blog post on this and opinion can be found at http://www.njesada.com/2012/01/other-side-of-equation.html  .  I’d love to know your thoughts!

    • lauraparkerblog

      will stop by and check it out today– thanks for sharing it.

  • Torin Ruark

     That’s a hard question. Well, I guess it is only hard if we view money a certain way…Here are my two thoughts about the issue presented: 1) This issue seems to put a price tag on God’s work and human life. I know there are issues of stewardship, but do we really want to put a price tag on something like that? 2) It seems to assume that God’s resources are limited. As if our use of money for a STM trip might decrease what He could otherwise make available. 

    I hope that these two thoughts might make us take another look at how we view the world. You can read a longer explanation of what I mean in my blog post here: http://themissionsmoment.blogspot.com/2011/12/are-you-wasting-time-effort-and-money.html.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Great points here, Torin. I do think that its just an interesting idea about God’s resources not being limited. Absolutely. I just wonder if we all put our energy into holding fundraisers for the locals on the ground instead of ourselves to go travel, if that would be a better, or at least a viable, use of some of those resources?

      Definitely they are not all bad– I have greatly benefited from STM and from teams who come visit! I just think its important to really think about what we are doing as we are doing it . . . .

      Will check out your link! Thanks for posting!

  • Jim

    Living overseas as a full time missionary and receiving numerous teams to help at our children’s home I can attest the teams usually do more harm than good.  Especially if they come from a wealthy western culture.  They step off the plane with their loud, arrogant and disrespectful attitudes thinking that their way of painting that wall is the “only” way to do it and totally disregard the local way of doing it, although it has been done that way for thousands of years. 

    Apart from the genuinely good desire that short term missionaries often come with I find it a struggle to agree with their method of selling their trip to others.  Short term missionaries stamp Jesus name on what they are doing.  This raises a whole host of concerns.  Often staying in nice hotels and bringing more luggage than the average locals total belongings short term missionaries swoop in to “save the day” and paint that wall.  Even if they do give the gospel, which is a real challenge through translators anyway, it will not be a culturally sensitive message.  The gospel has been used in the past to shame cultures for their religious practices and threaten the punishment of hell to very loving and well meaning people.  Jesus never gave the gospel that way.  Then after the short termer has raised thousands of dollars to go and “bring the gospel” to the poor people, they often treat the poor like zoo animals by taking pictures of their homes, their family and even their children without permission.  These very pictures end up on facebook and newsletters touting what great deeds where done by the short termer, when in fact very little if any true help or aid or gospel was given to that impoverished village or individual. 

    We, the wealthy, seem have a knack at exploiting the poor, even in Jesus name.  When we visit the poor, take pictures of them and offer no benefit, then raise money or improve our own social standing based on their picture we are exploiting them.  We are using them to make us feel better.  Having directed a children’s home in the developing world I had to design policies to limit the amount of western visitors who would come regularly, line the children up, take their photo and then after the children had all fallen in love with the white saviors, break down in tears as they would leave after one or two weeks.  When this exact scenario happens five to ten times a year, the idea of white people helping the poor loses its luster. 

    If a wealthy culture desires to send their children to travel and see the world, then call it travel, not missions.  Please stop putting Jesus name on selfish desire and exploitive mechanisms. 

    • lauraparkerblog

      Jim, wow, lots of good stuff here, for sure. I totally resonate with a lot of this– I think this was more where I was coming from with the post. A few things you wrote really really struck me:

      “We, the wealthy, seem have a knack at exploiting the poor, even in Jesus name. ” And I loved your point about not calling travel “missions”. I like the idea of “exploratory/learning trips”– the idea that the STM is not a savior, but a humble learner in another culture and with the long term missionary.

      I think what you say about the gospel has a lot of truth too–

      Do you think there is any place for STM to be done well?

    • Brent Hisgen

      Man! Well said! I loved this! Jim, I want to be your friend! (Laura, you too!)

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com/ Kelly @ Love Well

    I like what Gretchen said. This is something I’ve thought about a lot lately. All the concerns you mentioned resonate with me, Laura. You raise many serious issues that I think the Church needs to discuss.

    That said, my own internal dialogue always brings me back to: if the way we are doing it now is hurtful more than helpful, how could we get some of the same benefits of STM without doing it the way we do it now? I don’t have solid answers. But I’ve been encouraged by our church. They only send groups to 2 places, both places where we have established a local sisterhood with the church in that city. (Haiti and Ukraine, in our case.) Teams go 2-3 times a year to do whatever needs to be done, be it building or teaching or medical work. It isn’t work that is being done by locals (except in the case of building, in which case they are doing it because there is a backlog). And while the teams do solicit donations, they mostly raise funds. The teenagers who go auction off their time and talents. They babysit, clean houses, mow lawns (or shovel snow, depending on the time of the year).

    • lauraparkerblog

      Kelly– LOVE that your church is modeling “deep, not wide” missions influence– long term relationships. And I love that the people going raise funds by working. Seems pretty right on . . . .

  • Elizabeth

    Another great post, Laura.  Thank you.  Lots of good points here and I tend to agree with you. 

    A doctor friend of mine recently went to Malawi to help out at a rural clinic for a couple of weeks.  Yes, he saved some lives but he also felt like what he was doing was a drop in the bucket and that his presence was hardly worth it.  There were hardly any drugs available so even when he could diagnose things, often what should have been treatable, wasn’t.  He asked his Malawian colleague:  What is the point of me being here?  Am I doing any good at all?  

    His Malawian colleague replied:  “The benefit is to all the children in this community.  They see a doctor and realize, ‘Maybe I could do that if I stay in school.'”  This is, perhaps, not the answer we would have expected but it carries weight coming from a Malawian on the ground.

    I wonder if there are perhaps 2 groups of people that it is worthwhile to send on STMs:  1. Young people – let them go on ONE trip for the exposure, experience, learning, etc…As others have said, they should view it as a short, educational course – not a vacation where they are “bringing the gospel to the poor people.”   A prerequisite should be that they are already serving at home and they have done their homework and learned some of the culture and local language before going.   2. Highly sought after professionals to temporarily fill a gap in situations where there is no one local with the skills needed…and the goal should be for these professionals to train a local person if at all possible.

    On a slightly different note – have you read this article by Kent Annan yet?  It is about how ‘we’ tell ‘their’ stories.  I think it should be required reading for anyone going on a trip and planning to write about it (or post FB pictures!) afterward.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/aprilweb-only/kony-2012-golden-rule.html

    Having said all that, God’s economy is beyond my understanding.  Sometimes totally ridiculous things end up being worthwhile in the light of eternity.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Thanks for posting this article! I have actually read it and will share it on a later post, i think. Because I agree, it is rich.

      I think its an interesting idea to send youth and professionals . . . I love your story of the doctor friend too about the value of just an “educated” person’s presence to inspire young people. I do think there is value in that, for sure.

      • Elizabeth

        I should clarify that I don’t really think that ONLY youth and professionals should EVER go.  That certainly isn’t always true, of course.  It just seems that perhaps there is some more obvious value for those groups to go….

        When I was a MK I remember seeing the full spectrum of good/bad/ugly when short termers came:  hard working people who didn’t mind roughing it, people who made a lot of work for the long term missionaries, generous and fun people who encouraged everyone around them, (many) people we kids laughed and marvelled at because they were just SO white and from another world.  The lasting visual impression I have of most short termers was that they had nice clothes!  Interesting what the salient memories are of kids.

        If you like Kent’s article, have you read his books?  You might especially enjoy Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle.  Excellent.

        • lauraparkerblog

          so funny that memory of STM’s having fashionable clothes! i totally get that!

          i knew you weren’t saying only– just a loose encouragement.

          will have to check out that book, for sure . . .

    • Janie

      “God’s economy is beyond my understanding.  Sometimes totally ridiculous things end up being worthwhile in the light of eternity.”

      Nuggets of wisdom like this one are always found in the comments to Laura’s posts.  Thank you Elizabeth, it’s going in my Spiritual Quotes folder.

      • Elizabeth

        Glad you found something in my ramblings helpful!  

        Similar to you,  I have a journal devoted to quotes on Christianity and community development.  I’m so glad I started it years ago…it is something I would try to grab if my house burns down!Have a wonderful day.

      • lauraparkerblog

        Thanks, Janie– I agree that oftentimes the comments are the richest place on this blog!! I loved Elizabeth’s point here, too!

        Love from here, Janie, to still-chilly Colorado!

        Love, Laura

  • Mariana

    Great post !
    I have gone thru all this questioning and tried to reason and tried to justify etc… And at same time NOT wanting to be an anti short termer.
    In reality .. I don’t think that money is wasted as it wouldn’t otherwise go to that nations needs.
    Having seen many teams come thru here … I can say that some have been blessings and worth their weight in gold and others have been more difficult and seemingly a waste of time and money and strength.
    I think it all depends on leadership … Both the ones sending, the ones leading the team and the ones receiving them. If that leadership is solid and focused and praying and seeking God then in general it’s always good.
    I love the teams of retired folk who come down and rebuild schools and paint and just help ~that are always a blessing and amazing testimonies of just getting on with a job. They don’t TRY to minister and just want to invest those years well.
    I love the teams who come to do VBS …. national kids know that it’s just for a week and they get blessed with teaching and I have really seen those teams make a difference… When done in the right spirit.
    I hate the teams who come … Thinking they know it all… Taking photos at every opportunity and no respect for locals or local church etc… They are the ones who do most damage.

    For me cash part is clear :
    I would rather see cash spent on a good solid short term team go somewhere and at least try to invest in lives who don’t know Jesus …
    than to see that money used on building a huge temple/church/social club with all mod cons with heated pews and fountains to accommodate and bless the ones who do already know Jesus !

    • lauraparkerblog

      Yes, Leadership is KEY for the whole thing to work– A team’s general culture can be so greatly influenced. I love what you said about there being real value in short term teams . . .

      I DO AGREE with you on this. There can be real value, to everyone involved, if done in the right method and with the right heart.

    • Danilo Dias

      Hi Marianna,
      Are you comfortable sharing where you’re from and where you’re serving?
      I grew up in the church and always had a heart for missions. Currently, I’ve been wrestling with this (and a bunch of other “Christian stuff”). Knowing where you’re coming from* would help me understand your comment.
      Thank you.
      * no pun intended.

  • Ktenclay

    Well said! It isn’t that short term projects are in and of themselves good or bad, but we DO need to step back and look at the costs and benefits.   Likewise, I am not willing to say there aren’t benefits, but often thing about the numbers which can be as you said ‘hard to swallow’ or ‘justify’ sometimes.

    One thing you don’t mention, though I think that is is closely related is the added stress short term teams can put on the long-term missionaries.  This includes the work in organizing, hosting, translating, etc for the short term groups, the often inconvenient times they schedule their trips, etc but also a lot more.  I haven’t experienced this much directly (because of the nature of my assignment and the fact that I don’t have a lot of direct contact with short term teams where I work), but a lot of my long term friends can share story after story of how short term teams can often create unrealistic expectations that they are somehow then expected to continue (and realistically cannot) or can break rules that they don’t understand the importance of and end up poorly representing the missionary and Christian community to the local population.  Yes, these things can obviously be decreased and/or avoided through knowledge/education, but that education often doesn’t happen and teams (honestly, this can be said of many long-term people as well) so often are sent with the expectation that THEY are the ones GIVING and the locals (be they in an inner city soup kitchen or some country on the other side of the world) are the ones GETTING.  That mindset is in its very nature flawed and gets in the way of ministry and building relationships.  This past year I read “When Helping Hurts: by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, and John Perkins.  I think this book should become required reading before anyone (short term or long term) heads out to ‘help’ – especially across cultures but also within our own.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Absolutely! The stress on the long term missionary is HUGE to host a team– and people coming should definitely understand this! It takes a million details to figure out transportation housing, ministry projects, etc. for a big group of people. And I totally agree that When Helping Hurts should be required reading for everyone involved in any kind of missions. That book greatly shaped my outlook on humanitarian work.

  • Tricia Fiechter

    OK, I never comment on blogs of people that I don’t actually know, but I just couldn’t help it! 
    In recent years the amount of people participating in STM has absolutely skyrocketed.  However, statistically there has been no increase in people going long term to the field, or the amount of money that is given to missions causes today compared to before the STM boom. Thus it’s safe to assume that people who say they were led to the field because of a short term trip would have ended up going long term regardless. People who say they give money to missions causes because of a short term trip they participated in, probably would have given that anyway. 
    Anywho, not that it can never be done well, but the idea of “opening people’s eyes” so that they will serve long term, or give long term, may not be too valid. 

    • lauraparkerblog

      Interesting point, Tricia. I have NO statistics, so I can’t speak intelligently about this (not that that is a shocker) but it would be interesting to see the correlation. I totally use that as an “excuse” so often for STM, but maybe like you said, it just doesn’t happen more often than not. I do think the people thinking of living overseas and the people actually choosing to live overseas is hugely different. It’s a bummer that the stats don’t show an increase in giving though. Wish that weren’t the story.

      • Richelle Wright

        the book “meeting of the waters” addresses the fact that stm and ltm are being redefined in this current generation. in other words – movement in and between categories is more fluid. stm trip leads to future employment with ngo and then eventual employment with faith based ngo. return to the states, get married, start a family and head out for a long st trip with the possible intent to commit to longer… quite a bit dierent from pack up, take the big ship and come back maybe once in the next 30 years mentality of a hundred years ago…

        • lauraparkerblog

          Totally, Richelle, I get that idea that missions and its terms are changing. I look at the commitment and the faith it took to do missions 50 years ago and i guess I could classify MYSELF as a Short Term er! ha ha!
          Will need to check out that book, too . . .

  • Shannon Mintz

    Apologize in advance – too long I know. I guess I’m not used to dialoguing in blog conversation but felt I could add my voice…I actually couldn’t fall back asleep early this morning after reading your post, and I was supposed to be sleeping.

    So I am short-termer turned short-term leader turned long-term missionary,  and I would say that I wouldn’t be a missionary if it were for my short-term experience. And I think some other long-term missionaries might say the same thing.

    When I look at your scenario I guess I see A LOT of the $1800 going to plane tickets (I live in Africa and buy those plane tickets).

    And I guess a lot of questions come to mind:

    Will the “Westerners” stop doing short term missions? Why or why not?

    I’ll follow the “no, they probably won’t” for a bit. So then, how can short term missions be changed or influenced?

    Motivation: The “why” short termers go? Well, I know many people would say they go, “for the wrong reasons.” Sure. But others go for good reasons. And “wrong reason” guy might be so transformed on the trip that he becomes “good reason guy” only to influence his friends, community, and the world. And who’s to say who has the “right” reasons – I am a missionary and need to give my motivations or “what I think my motivations are” to God All. The. Time. So WHO evaluates who goes? Well, someone does. I agree. But hopefully, sound judgment and God’s leading are used.

    Communication and Preparation = Service: Who starts communicating and what is communicated? If the missions teams are doing a lot of singing “Every Move I Make is in You, Jesus” with non-sensical actions and hugging a lot – WHO instructed them to do this? (Yes, I’ve done this as a student and a leader – I can just see the flack I could get for admitting that.) To answer my question: Who ever is Responsible – both parties: the short term leaders asking (before leaving for the trip) the long termers how best to support them and how best to prepare. And the long termers (missionary/local church/ministry) making sure to communicate: a) I don’t want a short term team because you’re not beneficial to my ministry so don’t come (This is not my experience doing short term missions, but anyway),  and b) how to prepare them and for these types of ministries! What a great way to serve the long term work – by doing what they think would be best (supposing they are trying to follow the Lord’s leading!

    Money: Let’s not forget the $$$ mentioned previously. I’ve wrestled – am wrestling – with the wealth disparity where I currently reside as I am the “rich” one working with people affected by poverty. And I would go back to my communication/preparation questions – Missionary/local worker states to short term leader, “Dude, this is a moderate budget to SERVE the people of this nation. Thanks.”

    When I visit my “Western” nation, ahem, I am hit in the face with the materialism, spending, and extravagance EVERYWHERE. Not saying everyone – I know some of the most Generous people monetarily and also going and serving their neighbors of various economic status. So my next question is, “If not going on a missions trip,  what is the money going to – for the high schooler who could supposedly go or the kind,  “responsible” adult who gives to the trip? I’d dare say it wouldn’t be spent on the people in Africa as an alternative to the missions trip but rather on a new iphone or bigger flat screen tv (I’m not saying this is all bad, or to live in squaller or without nice things.). I guess I’m pointing to Moderation vs Extravagance and evaluating our Hearts, and If our Actions are in line with our Hearts – because I know many meaningful hearts.

    There is a thing to say about Experiencing something to impact you – You can talk and read and go to classes and hear speakers  that are all about Poverty and Suffering and Injustice and Crime and…in Africa, for example – but hopefully and prayerfully – and yes, at times the short term trip impact lasts a year, 6 months…and it does become that story about something you once did (it’s okay)  – BUT HOPEFULLY you will be changed to NOT FORGET and NOT JUST WITH WELL-INTENTIONED THOUGHTS.

    As I ask these questions, I ask myself them to myself as well – I definitely want to learn from my experiences and from others – and maybe I can pass something along – to think more deeply…
     

    • lauraparkerblog

      Shannon,

      first off, awesome that you are in Africa! And I love hearing about how short term-ers turn into longer term-ers. That is a beautiful progression, and I love hearing it. I think it is true– that when you get a taste for missions, it oftentimes never leaves you.

      I love your thoughts, and loved this, esp:

      “So my next question is, “If not going on a missions trip, what is the money going to – for the high schooler who could supposedly go or the kind, “responsible” adult who gives to the trip? I’d dare say it wouldn’t be spent on the people in Africa as an alternative to the missions trip but rather on a new iphone or bigger flat screen tv (I’m not saying this is all bad, or to live in squaller or without nice things.).”

      Yup, this is a really good point.

      Thanks for entering the conversation here, Shannon! What are you doing in Africa? Love hearing about places around the world!

  • http://twitter.com/johnlambert John Lambert

    Here are my few thoughts.  

    Scarcity in finances is not a valid argument in my opinion or “the money could be used to do more good locally etc.”  

    In my experience, people who have experienced a STM are more likely to become givers to work oversees if they don’t ever go long term.  

    The same argument could be made for the billions that are spent on church buildings in America and how the tithes and offerings of Americans are spent mainly on their own church communities versus going to the least reached people of the world.

    The same argument could be made against sending Western missionaries versus simply supporting locals etc.  And there are no simple answers in any of these situations.  There is more than enough to go around when needed and some times money is not what is needed (though some always helps).  Sometimes it hurts (see “When Helping Hurts” and “The Great Omission” for examples.So, I don’t want to see STM go away.  But they should have much higher standards and training/debriefing (before, during, and after the trips.)  They should be seen mainly as discipleship opportunities that go to serve the local mission and THEIR needs, not the perceived need of those who are coming inexperienced.I recommend “Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions” (http://www.soe.org/explore/the-7-standards/).

    The missionary (should they choose to accept the assignment) should view the STM team as a prime opportunity to do discipleship and mobilization with the goal of raising up new potential Great Commission believers (Know, pray, give, go).  they should inspire and not try to scare or “show them what REAL missionary life is like” (stuff my trainer used to called “missionary bull cr*p).  :-)  Most missionaries don’t have it that bad.  We need to make missionary life attractive again.  Something that lives up to the quote…

    If God has fit you to be a missionary, I would not have you shrivel down to be a King. – Charles H. Spurgeon

  • http://twitter.com/johnlambert John Lambert

    If we used the scarcity argument (the money could be better used elsewhere) then it could also be used against:

    Why we still spend billions on church buildings each year while others go into foreclosure?
    Why we spend most of our tithes and offerings on our own church operations and congregations?
    Why we still send expensive Western missionaries instead of simply supporting native pastors?

    There are valid arguments for and against each.  Same with STM’s.  

    I don’t think we should do away with any of the above.  Each has valid reasons even though there are abuses and downsides.

    There is more than enough money out there.  The problem is that there are not enough people inspired enough to give it to the places and people that we think matter the most.  Then when it is given, many times, we as missionaries many times have not figured out who to use it so that it does more good than hard.

    if we believe there is more than enough to go around then we will see STM as an opportunity (for those who count the cost and choose to receive them) as a discipleship experience and a practical service to the mission they are sent to serve.  The problem is mainly when the cart starts leading the horse.

    Standards of Excellence in STM  http://www.soe.org/  should be required of any and all that comes with a special emphasis by the missionary host to do his best to inspire those who come to long term service or ongoing support of mission financially.  

    This would be in distinction to what some missionaries have done when they try to show teams what “real missionary life” is like.  Something my missions trainers would call “missionary cr*p.” :-)  Most missionaries don’t have it that bad but they try to make life miserable for the teams that come in order to teach them a lesson.  Then we wonder why people don’t come out long term.

    We need to make cross cultural service as noble and attractive as it once was when Charles Spurgeon said,

    “If God has fit you to be a missionary, I would not have you shrivel down to be a king.”

    Thanks for the conversation Laura!

    • lauraparkerblog

      Great points, John. Money comparisons often just don’t work because you can use the same principles for lots and come up with answers that none of us like or are fair! I haven’t heard of this:

      “This would be in distinction to what some missionaries have done when they try to show teams what “real missionary life” is like. Something my missions trainers would call “missionary cr*p.” :-) Most missionaries don’t have it that bad but they try to make life miserable for the teams that come in order to teach them a lesson. Then we wonder why people don’t come out long term.”

      Sounds kinda crazy to do that, but I guess maybe people do. I loved your link and will share that, as well.

      As always, thanks for your thoughtful words!

  • Tamara Buttery

    Ok.  I’ve helped send kids on mission trips and I’ve been on mission trips.  We have spent loads of cash on this.  My thought process and prayer results have been that we haven’t paid to send – or go- to those places that cost SO much (I can’t support a week of work for well over 1K each).  Have been shown that, right or wrong, it’s those short-termers who grow more than the native-born are “helped”.  We truly have believed that when we go somewhere and do and see and experience life SO differently and do it with an eye toward how God would have us serve in our own back yard, we are a part of the greater good.
    And now.  You speak to that quiet niggling voice inside us that asks:  “But are you doing harm to those who are native born when you go and ‘help’?”
    Well, shoot.
    So, how do we avoid being pew-sitting check-writers? How do we propel ourselves and others to get up off our butts to truly serve?  Because in my experience we do tend to do one or the other but rarely both.   How do we do BOTH?
    It seems to serve so many to do the both:  write checks to dig those wells by the hands that will pump them and to send those books to those that are already in relationship with those who need/want them.  AND serve those in our own communities who are hurting and need to know The Way In to the Body. 
    What I also know is that from missions teams with which I have been familiar have come MANY long-term missionaries, pastors, counselors, and great-big-check writers.  And even when I write this I wonder about those we left in the village and if they remain enriched.  And I don’t know.  Shoot.
    Did you know how tough this post would be for all us ‘out here’??
    Last word:  when we do what we do prayerfully, lovingly, we really can’t go toooooo wrong.
    Thoughtfully, prayerfully . . . . hugs from here!

    • lauraparkerblog

      Tamara, this is really the struggle isn’t it?

      “So, how do we avoid being pew-sitting check-writers? How do we propel ourselves and others to get up off our butts to truly serve? Because in my experience we do tend to do one or the other but rarely both. How do we do BOTH?”

      And I agree that oftentimes the real change comes from the person GOING, not the PERSON being “helped.” I think the break down maybe mostly comes in how we communicate that. We Westerners inflate our benefit to the world. Hmmmm . .. actually, maybe that is what irks me most. The idea that the trip is really a gift to the GOER, but we “sell” it like it’s a big GIFT to the ones being visited. To the inflation of our own pride, usually.

      Hmmm . . .you are making me think, girl! Love it!

  • http://blogs.ntm.org/david-abbott David Abbott

    Great topic and discussion.  I think the conclusion is there is not a “one-size fits all” answer to short-term missions. New Tribes Mission has offered three options: work teams (Assist), overseas education teams (Interface) and USA-based education teams (Wayumi) —  no short-term “ministry” teams in a cross-cultural context.  All these short-term options that do not address the cultural felt need of helping others have been struggling to have a large number of USA participants.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Wow, this is really interesting! That NTM doesn’t do short term missions cross-culturally. Hmmm . . . . wonder if they are on to something? Would love to know how they arrived here . . . .

      • http://blogs.ntm.org/david-abbott David Abbott

        NTM sends short term mission teams overseas for education or work project purposes, but teaching is only done by career missionaries who understand the culture and language and can stay long enough to establish a mature church. The most popular mission education program NTM offers is is located in Pennsylvania and simulates a tribal village without the overseas expense and time extracted from church planting teams on the field. There is a video about the mission experience in Pennsylvania at: http://www.wayumi.com

  • Scott

    I’m not sure you can or should measure the value of short term trips in $$. Perhaps their real value lies in the way lives are or aren’t changed…lives of those who go and those who recieve their ministry. Of course those measurements are difficult, if not impossible, to make by us. I can only speak from my experience. Every short term trip I have ever been on (6, I think) was encouraged by the missionaries in the field. They never once mentioned the idea that the money I spent would have been put to better use as a monetarty gift to their ministry.

    • lauraparkerblog

      I do agree that you can’t really judge STM by money, not really. I was just trying to “stir the pot” a bit and help us to think about trips and their effectiveness. Especially when using students, I think it’s important to be careful that kids not begin to think of STM as Spring Break Trips, fostering potentially harmful reputations in the host country, stress on the hosting missionary, and false ideas of missions in the first place.
      In so many ways, I agree, the Spirit can not be judged by a price tag. Things of ministry often just don’t fit into cost/reward/budgetary standards. For sure.

      Hope ya’ll are doing well!

      • Scott

        We’re doing fine. Jeremy and LB are trying to sell their house and move to A FARM!!

  • http://annkroeker.com Ann Kroeker

    I was just talking about this with my niece. You and she have similar thoughts.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Ann, and you? I do think its a tricky idea . . . one that is in no way “all right” or “all wrong”. I am actually working on a post about BETTER ways to do STM. Maybe your niece would agree with some of that? :) Thanks for stopping in!

      • http://annkroeker.com Ann Kroeker

        I have to be careful, because lots of friends are going on STMs this summer. I don’t want to discourage them, so I’m avoiding making any definitive statements or offering too much criticism…but you can guess where I lean.

        Here’s a thought that someone may have already brought up in the comments: when a short-term missionary can tap into personal strengths/resources (such as a wildly popular social media platform, widely read blog, well-known radio show, etc) to reach an audience regarding a program…and while on the STM, this person can spotlight needs and raise awareness and funding that far exceeds what it cost to take her there…that seems like a good thing.

        For example, I know about Vi Bella jewelry because my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee went on a trip to Haiti and wrote about it on her blog. I’m super-aware of Compassion International because so many bloggers have gone on those trips. I know about your work in Thailand because you’re writing about it (and writing well).

        What do you think about that? Does that financially justify getting the short-term missionary there, if his reports on the trip raise funding above the initial outlay?

        • lauraparkerblog

          Ann, I really really really love this point. If people who go could be advocates for the needs they see, there is definitely huge value for those in those more possibly impoverished countries. I, too, love the Compassion bloggers and other similar communications from the field.

          Thanks for bringing this up. I do think it’s an important point in this social-media-crazy world!

  • http://twitter.com/SnortingHorses Dan Benson

    Often wondered myself. Doesn’t seem right. The other sad part is they go back to their homes and neighborhoods and aren’t a witness for Christ there either.

  • Lisa Inman

    I like your thoughts. In addition I have heard natives say that when a team of 15 Americans (or other westerners) arrive, it hurts the local church financially more than it helps them. In the numerous times I’ve been to Africa I am always amazed how the nationals will literally give you their own arm to make you feel welcome. Or more literally they will slaughter the goat that is their only source of income to feed it to you. You didn’t ask them to do it but they feel obliged to do it because you came all this way to minister to their church. After you leave, it takes them months or maybe years to rebuild. We’ve been told that locals really love to have westerners come and minister but maybe only in groups of 2 or 3. It is much easier to host a team of 2 or 3 than 8 or 15….hate to think how many goats and chickens they have to slaughter for a big group! 

    Just a thought. As a long term mis*sionary I sometimes feel it is “wasteful” of resources to send these STM trips. In fact, the $1800 you mention seems very low compared to what I know most short term mis*sionaries raise- usually at least $3,000 per person. Overall, I think churches could do more good if they tightened the criteria for who they send on these STM trips and required members to get more training before they go. And I agree with some of the commenters, it’s usually the “goers” who benefit spiritually more than the locals being ministered to. 

    • lauraparkerblog

      Great point that actually I hadn’t thought of but is so very true. Absolutely– smaller is often better!

  • Lorie Greer

    Jesus said, “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” He’s talking about investing in our eternal home instead of our temporary home but I heard this scripture  used once to demonstrate that our hearts tend to go where our money does.  For example, about 10 years ago I stopped to give money to a man hitchhiking on the side of the road. I still think about and pray for that man.  My money probably didn’t change his life one bit but maybe my prayers did. It seems that, for me, once I’ve invested my money, time, talent somewhere or in someone, that place or person becomes a part of me forever.  So even thought the initial cost of the short term trip is out of proportion to the impact made at the time, over a person’s lifetime the pendulum of impact swings the other direction. 

  • carin

    We have many teams talk to us about their own struggle with the price tag on their trip and nay sayer’s at home saying they should just send the money to the field and not go themselves. 
    STM is a wierd concept to me, because Jesus commands us to “go”, not to send out cheques. But, as is stated in other comments, STM can be very disruptive and destructive to those who live in the host country,to both national and missionary. 
    Our mission looks at STM as global discipleship and a way for Canadian churches to experience God’s kingdom abroad and then to reflect on what God worked in and through them during the trip and then to apply it to their local Canadian context.
     We encourage the Bolivian’s who interact with the Canadians on the team, to be missionaries to the Canadians as well. So it is our prayer that the exchange goes both ways and that God blesses in two directions and then in the long run the Canadian church is then strengthened and encouraged to do local missions. 
    I also find that Bolivian Christians are encouraged to know that people as far away as Canada know about them, care about them, and pray for them and it really impacts them deeply.
    This is a large and deep topic and one that is so very important, thanks for having it and I pray you continue it.

    Blessings,
    Carin

    • lauraparkerblog

      Love that idea and term that STM are opportunities for “global discipleship”– I really like the intention of that . . .

      Fantastic points here, Carin. Thanks for stopping in– as always. :)

    • http://www.angiewashington.com/ @ngie

      You are so cool, Carin! I love that you are my friend, girl. By the way, Laura, I started reading When Helping Hurts. Carin has read it already. Can’t wait to chat with her about it. Wish you were here to join us for that, Laura!

  • Terisita

    Q:  Would these same people ask the people they work with if they know Jesus or if they have a physical need or anything they need help with?   How about folks in their own neighborhood??  Do they ask if they are hungry?  Need their screen-door fixed?  Help with the water bill?  Ride to work or grocery store or Dr. office???   Do they call their family nearby (or at least nearer than Africa to see how they are?)   Do these same folk volunteer at an old folks home, street reach mission, salvation army

    • lauraparkerblog

      These are great questions, and I agree that it is really important for people to be intentional with the ways they are helping/loving others right in their own neighborhoods, FIRST. If a person is selfish at home, chances are they’ll be selfish overseas. Location doesn’t change character. Having said that, I do think there is value in a total shift in location to give people different perspectives of the world they couldn’t get in the comfort zones of their home towns.

      Thanks for your honesty here . . .

  • Jeff

    Laura – I completely understand your point and in what I’m about to write I am in no way mocking your article, I just want to say it a different way!
    Consider this:  a group of 15 high schoolers and 4 leaders want to go on a missions trip to Africa.  After realizing the amount of money it will cost they decide to just raise the money and send it.  They set a goal to each raise $1800 (the cost they would have paid for the trip).  Five of the students and one of the leaders are no longer interested.  Seems like a lot of money and they don’t get any benefit out of it.  Five more students and another leader send a few letters out but not much comes back – It seems Grandma and Grandpa are more interested in supporting their grandkids than kids in Africa.  That leaves 5 kids plus two leaders (the Youth pastor and his wife) (and one of the kids is also the youth pastors son :-) ) Between the 7 of them, they raise $6500 after a lot of hard work.  They send the money and may never truly know how it was used.
    Ok, maybe its close to a “worst case scenario” but I think missions trips are invaluable to youth.  They are highly impacting and have the ability to set a vision in one’s heart for a lifetime of ministry.  They experience different cultures and learn to appreciate much more what they have.  I don’t think you can compare the money spent on a mission trip to the money it would take for things in other countries.  We are in an American economy with American currency.  It costs $3000 for a kid to play club volleyball for a season.  Under the same thinking, they could skip volleyball for a year and that money could be used to save people in foreign countries.  I’m not saying that wouldn’t be a great idea!!!  I just don’t think its very realistic.
    All that being said, I do think its possible to spend too much on a mission trip and I think there are some trips that are better than others.  But in my opinion, let the youth groups go!  Its money invested in people that would otherwise likely be used for less noble purposes!

    • Lori Botting Schout

      the kids will become much more aware of what the mission field is really like – it will raise awareness – it may light a spark and one of them may return to missions full time – or from the experience one may become a fervent prayer warrior or fund raiser for the field they visited – this may be the shock it will take to help them see that there is so much more out there than their comfortable lives – and maybe just for a little while the world won’t revolve around them

  • Toeverynation

    I’ve served in vocational missionary service for the past 24 years. When addressing this question of short-term missions, a bigger issue is missed. Envision this: A team of eight high school students, heading to the Bahamas (an officially “Christian nation”) for a two week “mission trip”, stands side-by-side with a career missionary family returning to serve with an unreached people group in Chad, Africa. The mission pastor then calls on an elder to come and to pray over those being sent out by the church to the mission field. No differentiation is made whatsoever.

    The bigger issue the church is facing is not a question of cost. It is a question of ignorance. Today “everybody” is a missionary. And because everybody is a missionary (since I’ve put in my two weeks on a construction crew in the Bahamas) then nobody is a missionary. This diminished and unbiblical view of missions has effectively destroyed the sacrificial and honorable role of the true missionary, who, in an apostolic role (the word missionary is a Latin transliteration of the Greek word apostolos) is sent out vocationally into the unreached regions of the world to plant churches (Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations was to be done in the context of planting the body of Christ where His name had not been heard – Romans 15:19-20).

    While this may upset many, it is what it is. If any of this is going to change, short-term missions must be put in its proper context and order of importance  when compared to that of a true missionary, who gives his or her life to face separation from family, unimaginable hardships, language and cultural barriers, isolation and more in order to make true followers of Jesus Christ. The problem of the cost of short-term missions logically follows the unwise and unbilibcal steps any church takes to replace its responsibility for long-term missions with that of short-term trips.

    By the way, that missionary and his family that returned to Chad after completing his furlough, was shortly after taken hostage for more than a year by a radical group. I have been honored to serve with men and women like him — of whom this world is not worthy — long-term missionaries who have suffered in Turkish prisons, multiple times for their devotion to the Great Commission. I serve now with a couple who were taken hostage and severely beaten for three days in Kosova. They remain in the Balkans to this day.  These are the unsung heroes of the faith. If we are going to raise and spend $30,000 for missions, let’s make sure it is to fully support these dedicated servants who are laboring year in and year out in the fields — those, who, when they go to sleep tonight, know they will not be heading home with their families to America at the end of the week.  

  • Julie

    On this topic my thoughts are that short term missions are really more about helping the person/people who come than the local ministries. It is about them learning and being stretched, going back to thier homes and being able to share with others how God has changed them and what he is doing. Short term teams cause lots of work for the missionaries and sometimes takes them away from things they may think are more benificial or important. They often drain time and sometimes resources from long term missionaries and missions but in the big picture I still think they have many benifits if handled well.

  • Sharyll M

    Having been on 11 short-term delegations, I can say that I do see the positive impact westerners have had on the orphans, AND the impact they have had on the westerners. We can’t forget that there are hands and feet required on the ground to do the work. It costs $3600 per person to go to central asia. I know where I could give that money but there are not enough hands and feet to disburse that money. It is much more complicated than just equating dollars with the cost of filtered water or employing people. There has to be a means to helping people help themselves. That is our impetus for going. Going to serve the people is the best reason to go; not to have an experience. I agree completely with that point.

    • Danilo Dias

      Thanks for sharing Sharyll. I’m reading every single comment on this post. It’s great to see different perspectives. I’ve been struggling with this issue. I suggest you to read “When Helping Hurts: by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, and John Perkins. Then come back here and let me know if you still have the same perspective. You would be great for you and it would be great for me to know if you have the same perspective after the read. My church currently requires everyone who will go on a mission trip to read the book.

  • amyr

    Great post. I also just read your ‘Why did you have fun?’ is the wrong question post. I think you can apply the same principle to short term missions. It’s all in the debriefing, which most churches/groups spend little or no time on. Rather than, what’s your best memory? what did you like? did you have fun?… We should be asking questions like, How do you see God differently now? What was the most challenging for you? How did God shape you? How does this ‘fit’ into your life? How does this change your everyday life?…

    And, someone told me years ago that most people in full time missions decided by the age of 11, in some capacity, that God was calling them into ministry. Maybe we should bring families over. Are we focusing on a target group of teenagers when it’s almost too late to impact their life long-term?

    I have a lot more questions than I do answers. I’ve led student and adult trips all over the world. In 1993 I visited Eastern Europe for the first time and fell in love with the people and the culture. I knew that God would bring me back at some point. I came over 25 times for ‘visits’ in many capacities and finally moved here 4 years ago. I also work in counter trafficking. It’s all about God’s timing and His grace.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

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