about short-term missions

The following is a response to a wonderful blog that I read often.  Arnau van Wyngaard is a missionary in Swaziland who writes about Mission Issues. A recent series was on Short-term mission trips. I started to reply on his website, but it turned into a long post.

Short term mission work is something I’ve been thinking much about lately, also.  I’m torn much of the time in my thoughts because of my involvement in missions, both as a former short-termer and now as a full-time missionary.

I began mission work at age 16, going on one week mission trips with my church every year (except one year when i went with a well-known teen mission organization to Russia for 1 1/2 months).  I would say that all of those trips were successful, but from the perspective as one on the trip: I saw people come to know Christ and others encouraged in their walk (both in the local people and those in our group).  I had an incredible leader who started preparing us at least 6 months ahead with drama, music, bible study/memorization, prayer, and team building.  He really expected much out of us.  Yet, he did allow some new believers or those ‘riding the fence’ to come along – and it changed their lives as well – many are still passionate about serving others and sharing Christ.  My eyes were open to circumstances that I never really thought about before – children digging through the dump to find food, women whose breasts were eaten away from cancer because they couldn’t get healthcare, homes built from scrap metal and wood.  Also on these trips i grew tremendously in my walk with God; learning things about Him and experiencing Him in new ways.  Truly life-changing times for me and others in my groups.

Now, as a full-time missionary living in a place where many teams come each summer, I see short-term missions in a different light.  I know they can be beneficial; but here I’m seeing something different- hesitation from many local organizations to work with the teams (mainly orphanages).  Why?  Because too many of the teams come, take lots of photos of the ‘needy, downtrodden’ locals, and promise to come back (or write, or send aide).  But, once the team leaves to go home, they are never heard from again.  Many of the children in the orphanages have come to a point where they have been abandoned over and over again – not by their parents, but by short-term missionaries who promise to keep in touch or come back, and then they never do.  Now, they start to only see missionaries as people who bring gifts – an everyday santa claus, if you will.  Then, it becomes hard for full-time missionaries living here to really connect with these children because they have lost their trust.

Or another example: in Ukraine, the public schools are open to teams coming in and doing presentations for their students.  However, many groups have brought mediocre programs.  Why would a director waste their time again for a program that is shallow and uneventful?

Don’t get me wrong, there are great results from short-term trips…I’ve known missionaries who have spent months talking with someone about Christ with no result, until a short-term team comes in and does a program.   Also, a great team can be a blessing to the missionaries who have ministry opportunities but lack the people to implement them…such as special programs, outreaches, etc.

But what makes a short-term trip successful?  Too many people would say, “well, how many people got saved?”  yes, that’s the ultimate goal-to see them come into a relationship with Christ.  But, success is also when someone begins to think more deeply about God (especially in a place where God is never thought about).  Success is when physical needs are met – whether it’s just clothing or food or when a remote village receives basic medical care from a doctor who smiles at them and treats them with the love of Christ.

I think the difference between a good short-term team and a bad one boils down to their motivations & purposes.  Is Christ really the focus of their trip?  Do they really love and care about the people they are here to serve?  Are their attitudes that of servanthood or selfishness?  Are they willing to get dirty, uncomfortable, and active?  Are they doing everything to the best of their ability?  Are they seeking to do something just to feel good about themselves or are they seeking to let God be glorified?  Do they look for ways to show God’s love or are they too consumed with the cultural differences to notice where the need is?

Hmm.. I guess those are great questions not just for short-term mission participants, but for everyone who calls himself a Christian….


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Arnau van Wyngaard
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 18:33:08

    Great post! You really touched on a few extremely important matters – the one being the empty promises so often made to the locals. And the other issue where you got it spot-on was about the mediocre programs so often brought by short-term teams. I hardly ever visit schools with these teams anymore, mainly because I feel a bit embarrassed by what they sometimes do. But I’m still positive about the teams.


  2. Anna Rekow
    Jun 06, 2008 @ 02:55:46

    WOW- you have it nailed! Thank you for your thoughts on short term missions trips. God is definitely teaching you some powerful things and giving you an intense depth into His heartbeat for the lost. Thank you.


  3. ukrainiac
    Jun 07, 2008 @ 12:26:55

    Great post. I love that you’re writing from the perspective of a former short-termer and now a longtermer.


  4. talari padma rao
    Jun 23, 2008 @ 04:03:36

    Pastor.T.Padma Rao,
    Rock church, naidustreet,
    A.P. South India.


    Gods Ministers,

    Greetings to you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord for your fellowship and friendship in Jesus Christ Name. We are praying for you.

    I have found out your web site on the internet. Praise the Lord for your Gods service and fellowship. Thank you.

    My full name is Talari Padma Rao, I am doing a senior Pastor for 20 years in our Area.
    I have had studied B.Sc; degree, Physical Education Trained and Biblical Education. When I am doing as a High school teacher, which is Gods was called to me as a full time Gods Minister in His vineyard. I am obeyed to the word of God and my Gods vision. Isaiah= 56: 1 to 7 . So that I have dedicated to the Gospel work for my life. I am doing Gospel work since 1988, feb, 26th 5: P.M. Praise God, Halleluiah and Amen. This is Gods willing for my life. Thank God. Now and then I am independently gospel worker in our Area. I am doing gospel work at NUZVID town. I have had church, and congregation. Also I have had Villages Ministries.

    My wife name is T.Kumari, she has prayerful woman and I have two daughters, they are secular Education finished and now they are studying Bible Education at Bible College.

    Please pray for our Indian Gods Ministries and family in prayers.

    We are pray for you, your ministries in prayers. Please send your kindly a few words about your ministries.

    Please reply to me soon,

    Thank you,
    Your brother in Christ,
    Pastor.T.Padma Rao.


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