Send Me Your Short-Term Missionaries

Since the summer of 2008 our fulltime mission team in Honduras has hosted 50 short-term mission teams consisting of 500 short-term missionaries. Many people ask, “Wouldn’t it just be better if all those people sent you money instead of wasting their resources and your time?” Our answer is an emphatic NO. Money cannot hug a fatherless child or fellowship with Christian brothers. Money cannot play soccer with drug dealers or wipe the tears from a hungry child. Christians we are called to serve the poor, sick, widows and orphans. Money can buy food for the poor and build houses for the homeless, but just as Christ touched the leper (Matt 8:3), the poor also desire the touch of a loving and merciful hand.

In 2005, 1.6 million US church members took a short-term mission trip. Increasingly church leadership and laypeople are questioning the wisdom of sending short-term mission teams. Some argue short-term missions cause more harm than good. Objections include increased dependency, lack of compassion for local cultures, incorrect motivation, circumvention of existing ministries, and excess costs.

As an experienced host of short-term mission teams I will be the first to admit there can be problems when hosting teams. However, those problems can be reduced if not eliminated with communication and altered attitudes.

Beforehand

To the short-term missionaries: Churches sending short-term missionaries must stress that participants are going to assist and serve the long-term ministry. They are to provide love, fellowship and resources to people who minister in that community. Short-term missionaries must leave their expectations and cultural biases at the airport and must trust the indigenous leaders or long-term missionaries. A mission trip should be approached with the desire to be a servant and not a burden.

To the long-term missionaries: Long-term missionaries and national partners who host short-term mission teams must establish guidelines before the short-term missionaries leave home and must enforce guidelines while they are on the field. The hosts must protect their ministry and advance God’s plan for their calling. If a short-term missionary did something to harm a ministry it occurred because you let it happen.

The leadership in your home church would never allow a visitor to walk in the front door and demand your pastor preach a different text or the worship leader play a new style of music. Short-term missionaries should go on short-term mission trips with the perspective that they are in the new location to serve as the long-term ministers deem appropriate. John Piper stated, “If older people, or young people, or multi-generational teams are really serving, pouring themselves out according to the needs of the missionary, then it’s the best of both worlds.”

Why are short-term missions positive?

As an ex-leader in my home church and a current international missionary I see short-term missions as beneficial to both the home church and the receiving ministry. Here are a few reasons:

Christianity is a global fellowship. It unites people regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status. Frequently we tarnish Christianity by viewing it threw our cultural biases. Short-term missions allows those serving and those being served to see they have brothers throughout the globe. Philip Yancey stated: “I support short-term missions. Despite their drawbacks, such trips provide two distinct cultures a taste of the harmony that exists between members of the Body of Christ.”

Believers can give and receive love. I often tell short-term missionaries that I don’t just need people to come to Honduras who have construction or language skills. I would welcome a team that is willing to sit on a soccer field and hug a child for a week. We work in a culture where few homes have a father and mom is off working. The kids in our community don’t know unconditional love and seldom interact with adults. You can send a check, but I’d rather you brought a willingness to hug a skinny, dirty, snot-nosed kid.

Missions can be expanded in our home churches. Missions is at the heart of Christianity. Unfortunately, it is under taught and undervalued in our Western churches. Short-term missions can increase the understanding of the importance of missions in the sending church. If your church sends a short-term team it is reasonable to think your congregants are thinking and praying more about their role in the Great Commission.

Increased prayer and giving in Christ’s name. If your church sends 10 people on a short-term mission trip the assumption is each of those missionaries asked 10 others to pray for them and asked 10 others to write checks supporting the mission trip. Realistically, your short-term mission trip results in 100 additional people praying in the name of Christ and for the advancement of God’s Kingdome and 100 people writing checks to the glory of God.

Increased participation in long-term missions. Our mission team consists of nine fulltime, adult, missionaries. Each of them got their first taste of missions through a short-term mission experience. It is easy to say that most current missionaries under the age of 50 got their start in missions during a short-term experience. Not every short-term missionary is called to long-term service. But, increased exposure to missions result in increased prayer and financial support for missionaries.

Let’s Go

The Apostle Paul was a long-term missionary who advanced Christianity through short-term missions.  It is widely accepted that Paul seldom stayed longer than a few months or even weeks in a single location. What about Jonah, Jesus, the 12, the 70? We can say short-term mission principles were used throughout the bible to expand the early church.

With a Christ-centered, servant’s heart short-term missions can be used to aide the needy, educate fellow believers and expand God’s kingdom in all corners of the globe. Short-term missions has and will continue to have a healthy role in the advancement of Christianity.