A Washington Post article last week entitled "Churches Retool Mission Trips" examines the criticism that short term missions are high cost and lack value. HT: Seth Barnes Its a good article and worth reading. I share many of the same concerns. Yes - a $2000 house built for $30,000 by an overseas mission team might not be the best use of money and someone needs to rethink these kinds of trips. But what are the costs of NOT sending out our youth on altruistic Christian missions? Here are ten quick responses.
1. Short term missions might be an expensive past-time but if they are a far better alternative to overseas vacations and holidays. They are a lot cheaper, especially when teams stay in homes or sleep on church floors rather than hotels. Short term missions are less selfish, and they help redirect resources away from tourist destination to more needy areas.
2. A cross cultural experience, even if only for a week, is good training for a career in overseas social enterprise or preparation for long term missions. Sometimes the impact is felt more in the volunteer than the community she is sent to but this is also a viable reason to continue in short term missions.
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3. The fall in number of long term missionaries worries me but I am encouraged by the number of missionaries being sent out by the global south.
4. We should send out young people for longer periods of time. My short term mission lasted two years. I think the article rightly criticizes the 'religious tourism' aspect and the often selfish and consumeristic nature of these trips. But tell someone they are going for 2 months (or 2 years) and they will have to put their career on hold and you will weed most of them out.
5. Short term mission should be more relational, connected with local authorities, churches (if they have any) and local families.
6. Missions today is multi-directional and it is a mistake to talk about missions only in terms of our country sending missionaries to others. Christian communities in every country should expect short term missionaries to be sent to them and start making provision. For example, a suburban church in Manchester or Dallas or Sydney might have accommodation ready for mobile missionaries, or even camper-van facilities in their car park. Families should expect to be hosting internationals in their homes and know how to orient them to the local scene.
7. Pilgrimages and self-guided mission experiences, although not mentioned in the article, are also on the increase and sometimes offer a better posture of learning and receiving hospitality than traditional short term missions.
8. When I was with Operation Mobilization, I heard founder George Verwer say that churches must stay involved in both sending overseas missionaries or they will lose their vision within one generation.
9. Partnering with an established mission organization is a good way to get some cross-cultural sensitivity training for the team. CMS (Church Mission Society) in the UK do a great job in this and many American mission agencies also. Short term missions like OM and YWAM normally offer their own training and their expertise can be utilized for your teams. See if the mission you have chosen is connected with Global Connections (UK) or Standards of Excellence for Short Term Mission (USA)
10. And lets not forget the massive resource we have with retired missionaries now living back home who can guide and train short term mission teams. Hey . . . invite them along!