Short-Term Mission Trips:
Maximizing the Benefits
A burgeoning interest in Christian missions has produced a new interest in short-term missions (STMs). This has resulted in thousands of shorttermers going out across our world. (One recent report says that there will be one million going out from North America this year.) The results of these ministries vary. Some produce great personal benefit for those who go, but sometimes they leave behind less than desirable results where they have served. Some have actually created signifi cant dependency in a very short period of time. It is to this situation that I wish to speak....
I have often told the story of a missionary who took a group of young people from North America to Guyana, where they built a church in the three weeks they were there. They joyfully presented the church to the people and returned home. Two years later this message was sent from Guyana to the people in North America: “The roof on your church building is leaking. Please come and fi x it.” In this case those in the short-term group would have done well to become familiar with the concept of “psychological ownership” in cross-cultural ministry....
If short-termers can learn the importance of “being” rather than “doing”, great good can be accomplished. For example, one young woman went to Kenya on a short-term mission and was assigned to work in the home of a church leader whose wife was ill. As she cared for the children, did the laundry and prepared meals, she wondered if she was doing anything of value. She especially worried about what to tell the people at home who had helped her financially. When the time came for her to return home, however, there were many heartfelt expressions of gratitude on the part of the local people. Local people said they had discovered a different kind of short-termer–one for whom doing something spectacular was not the most important thing. Before sending out His disciples on a short-term ministry assignment, Jesus told them, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10: 16b). Short-termers and all missionaries would do well to remember these words when venturing into a cross-cultural situation. They will find that listening, learning and “being” are essential to an effective ministry.
Glenn Schwartz is Executive Director of World Mission Associates (WMA). This excerpt is from a larger article available here (January-March 2004 issue of the International Journal of Frontier Missions.)