Re-thinking short term missions

31 Jan

Often, when folks return from short term mission trips and give a report to their church family, they will say something like this: “It turned out that our team got far more out of this trip than the people we served.”  The sad thing is, much of the time, they are literally correct.

From Larry Brown:

I read where the churches of America annually send 1.6 million people on overseas mission trips, at a cost of $2.4 billion. Most of the money spent goes to the travel industry, not to people who need help. On the day my wife was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, we had dropped our health insurance because we couldn’t pay the premiums. I think about that when the mission trip bus goes by my house.

We now have U.S. churches that are cutting support to career missionaries in order to have the means to send out more mission trips. It is like replacing the armed forces with high school ROTC. Just think of an African pastor standing in front of his house with his wife and daughter. What do you suppose he thinks when the mission trip bus pulls up and out come Americans with bottled water, hand sanitizer, iPods and digital cameras? From his perspective, the Hare Krishnas have arrived; why should he trust them?

If I were the Grand Poobah of world missions, mission trips would continue, but I would not pass around sign-up sheets and send as many laypeople as possible; I would carefully and prayerfully approve selected specialists who had skills that could make a difference to the people living overseas. My goal is not to abolish mission trips, but to make them more worthwhile to the Great Commission and the Kingdom of God.

In planning your next mission trip, ask yourself:

  1. Who is this trip for, us or them?
  2. How will we build relationships, before, during, and after the trip?
  3. How will we do long-term follow-up and monitor for sustainable change?

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