Are short term mission trips still relevant?
I feel like short term mission trips have been under attack for quite some time now. Books have been written about the subject; pastors, preachers, leaders, authors, even long-term missionaries have been very vocal about their opinion on the matter.
Some of them don’t find enough valid points to make those trips a priority for churches and mission ministries nowadays. Some of them even suggest that such experiences are more harmful than helpful for both the sending church and the welcoming church.
Here’s a list of a few points they bring to the table.
• Locals miss job opportunities when short-term missionaries work on projects locals could do as a source of income.
• Sending financial support would be more beneficial for the churches in need (money isn’t always sent, because sometimes there is a lack of accountability).
• Locals know how much it cost to come to their countries and when they do the math, they feel discouraged by such investments.
• Some of these people going on these trips are acting more like they are on vacation.
• These groups come to their destination with an agenda and don’t care about the actual needs of the missionaries, pastors, or churches there.
I don’t know what take you have on short-term mission trips. I want to do my best at keeping this impartial. However, I know that will be hard since I have a strong opinion on the matter.
I would like to start by saying that I came to know Christ through a missionary who moved to my college town and shared his faith with me after maybe a week or two of his arrival. After that he invested seven years of his life helping me mature as a believer. He sure had times when he wondered what he had gotten himself into. I praise God for my friend’s life and everything that God did when He was pursuing my heart. If you are interested in a more detailed story, send me a DM, email or text message and I can elaborate more on my personal testimony. However, today, I want to share more about short mission trips.
When I was a college student, I was able to experience groups that came to do short mission trips to my college town. We would join forces and go out to the university campus and do different things to strike up conversations with students. To be honest with you, here is the first thing I am now able to see as a plus or benefit of having foreigners come to your country. People want to talk to them. Maybe locals are not as interesting, lol! As college students everybody is trying to learn a new language and of course these groups represented chances for people to practice their English skills at least. That right there, opened doors for us! My experience then was typically positive. We always had bilingual literature anyway, in fact when conversations got complicated, then it was the locals who had to step up and carry on with the presentation of the gospel. Some people might think that then short-term mission groups are not needed per se. Locals just had to decide to share their faith without requiring foreigners to come and do it for them. That is a very simplistic way to look at it. I prefer to think that it helped us see that we were not alone. That more people love Jesus and want to share his love with others.
After a while, I was invited to be part of the first team of Mexican students who would go on a short-term mission trip within Mexico. It was a huge challenge! It was also very bumpy, since it was planned remotely. It was a domestic trip, which made it seem like it wasn´t going to be too complicated. Not accurate! We were going to go for a little bit over a week to a beach in the Mexican pacific coast. Our understanding was that we were going to be sharing the gospel with our counterparts from this beach town. Most of our team came from the center of the country or the opposite coast, so we thought the school calendar might be different. It was summer break for them as well and some interesting adjustments had to be made. Instead of sharing at the university, we were presented with a new plan. Now we were getting on public busses and trying to strike conversation with people without knowing when they were getting off. Public squares, people hanging out at the beach, malls, etc. The trip ended up being a great experience that started months before we even got on the bus, plane or car that took us all there. Fast forward several years and I am able to use those experiences in what I do with short term missions now. By the way, two other teams, myself included went back to the same town to continue the work we had started that year. Two other destinations in Mexico opened in those following two years as well. God was doing great things and Mexican students were being challenged to be part of their own mission trips and not depend on other nations to do it for them, or at least become part of the workforce that was trying to bring the good news to other Mexicans.
The leadership in our mission decided that it was time to take it up a notch. After three years of domestic short-term trips, they decided to go international. I was invited to go on this new experience as well. First international mission trip with Mexican students. At least in our ministry. We went to Chile. After three years of domestic experience, things were shaped differently. Lots of things went well, but other things which were out of the leadership hands did not go so well. God took care of things, and we were able to go into the universities and connect with students and local believers whom we helped to share their faith. Chile is always going to have a special place in my heart, because my missionary friend is Chilean. Remember, the one who shared Christ with me. I had the blessing to visit Chile for three summers in a row. The friendships we made are still relevant to this day, due to technology. After those trips a couple of my closest friends decided to become missionaries in Chile for a few years. The local church continued with what we were able to help with, but they also received reinforcements from Mexico. What a blessing to see the body of Christ come together for His glory!
I was on my way to become a full-time missionary in Mexico, and I always thought I was going to work with college students. God had different plans. I had to move to Monterrey and find a job teaching English. I thought I was going to work, serve in my church and eventually maybe become an entrepreneur. Little did I know, God once again, had different plans for me.
I am now serving the local church and very much involved in short-term mission trips. Don’t get me wrong, now you are thinking all of that reading just to promote what you do. I mean, you are hearing from a person who gets to see the good, the not so good and the areas that we can improve in the subject we have at hand. My team and I are the long-term missionaries who work all year round with our local partners and we also keep our international partners updated. We serve our churches and pastors on a weekly basis. We do our best to know what they need and where they are at in their vision for their churches. Then seasonally, we welcome groups that come and join their forces with our national churches. We love being the middlemen for these two groups that have a heart to help others know God and advance missions. The Mexican churches receive a boost when they welcome our groups. They are encouraged because they see they are not alone or the only ones serving God. The American churches learn that the need for a savior is as real in their hometown as it is abroad. They experience worship in a completely different way, out of their regular environment. They build long lasting relationships and partnerships. They also acquire new skills to share their faith when they go back home. We have no control over what God is going to do in their lives, but we make it our goal and are very intentional when we tell the people we come across with that the mission field is back at home as well.
We stay behind with our national partners to provide follow up. God grants us blessings to see His word flourish in people’s lives. Individuals who then impact their families with the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ.
I count as blessings all the opportunities I had to be part of short-term mission trips and enjoy, learn, and even whine a little bit about things that at the time I thought should have been done differently. I know we are not the only organization that works in a similar format. We are also far from being perfect. But we praise God for the opportunity to serve our partners the way God allows us to.
Even amidst all the rush that happens when groups are on site and after all the dust has settled down, we see the way God continues to use short-term mission trips. To be able to build up relationships that last for a lifetime. Help people navigate the ups and downs of following Christ. There isn’t a lot of glamour involved in doing missions and when I think about it. The parable of the sower (Matthew 13) always comes to mind. Sometimes we get to be part of people’s lives for a short time. Sometimes for an entire season of life. When we get to see what God continues to do in people’s lives long term is what gives a great boost to our calling. We wish that would happen every day, however, salvation is always from our Lord.