Disclaimer: I’m not a cross-cultural ministry expert and I won’t play one on my blog. If you are interested in this topic a must read book in my world is When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself. I also did an interview on the podcast with an expert on this stuff – Christa Hesselink – that you should listen in on.
I used think that short term missions trips were the worst idea in the church world. They were a complete waste of resources … they were sideways energy to our core mission … they siphoned limited resources to non-essential functions … it was basically “petting the poor” or “poverty tourism” …
The list went on and on about why I thought these were such a terrible experience. Although I still do believe there can be real damage done by these experiences my heart and mind has shifted.
Over the last 5 or so years I’ve found myself softening to the idea of short term trips and ultimately have become an advocate for these experiences being a part of church’s discipleship strategy.
Recently, I had the privilege to lead short term trip from our church with Living Water International and I got thinking about the change that I’ve seen within myself around this whole area.
Here are a number of areas that my thinking and attitude has shifted … I’d love to hear from you!
1. A deeper understanding of the universal human experience.
People are people. Whether they are across the street or around the world people have the same needs … they want to know and be known and they need Jesus.
When short term missions are done participants are reminded to care for the people in their own community!
2. Clarity on what happens with people serving in other countries.
Each community and culture has unique challenges to serving in it. It’s one thing to talk about those challenges … entirely different to get up close and see those challenges first hand.
Being informed at this level gives trip participants the ability to be more informed advocates when they return home.
3. It’s a chance for people to be in the role of learner.
Often the people who travel on these trips have some sort of day job where they are the “expert” or “teacher” or “leader”. These trips are a gift to these people because it gives them the opportunity to be in the role of “learner” or “servant” or “helper”.
Jesus said that we’re called to the the “servant of all” and these trips give people the opportunity to actually do that … and hopefully this taste will ooze into the rest of their lives when they get home.
4. It makes better donors.
Can I be honest for a minute? As someone from a “rich northern country” traveling to a “developing southern country” often your biggest “next step” from a short term missions trip is to be a donor/advocate.
The biggest way you to “help” long term is to go home and figure out how to restructure your world so you can be more generous. Seeing the needs first hand generates a depth of knowledge and empathy that no amount of spreadsheets, emotional videos & glossy photos can generate.
People get informed and motivated … and that can translate into them being smarter and more generous with their financial resources.