The Short Term Conference made me think. Why exactly do we take short term missions trips? Do they make a difference and who do they help the most? What sort of work should we do on the trip? Here are some unique challenges that short term teams face in other countries:
- At times the trips are seen as tourist trips/pilgrimages for the goer-guest paid in full by the church in the name of “missions”.
- Groups go into areas with a “conquer” approach and have no follow up with the receptors. “A Short-term mission is like a firework," describes one Japanese church member, "It goes boom and is beautiful but then it vanishes forever.”
- Short-term team members are often ill-prepared for their tasks and not ready to function appropriately in another culture.
- Evangelistic efforts by short term teams do not visibly produce fruit and can even hinder the spread of the gospel because of cultural barriers, language barriers, etc.
- There may be little or no collaboration between the short-term teams and the local churches/ long-term missionaries of the receptor culture and no collaboration with other previous or future short-term trips. This may lead to duplication of work or even division in the church.
- The host cultures could form a dependency on short-term missions trips causing the receptors of short-term teams to miss the need to become self-sustaining.
- Service projects done by short term teams end up costing significantly more than it would to just send money over to the local church to hire people from the local economy to do the same projects.
Clearly short term trips have some significant hurdles to overcome in regards to logistics and practicality. Ric and I have both been on short-term trips (in fact we met on one!) and we are richer people for having taken the trips. However, we need to be sensitive to host cultures, take on a servant’s attitude when living in another country, and make sure that our short term trips and teams are making an impact and really making a difference in the long term!
If we prepare well, partner with the local church, keep our group sizes to a minimum, come without an agenda, listen to our hosts, and have right expectations about the work we will accomplish, short term trips can be mutually beneficial and encouraging. This new paradigm will only be realized if we take on Christ’s attitude of humility and love for the church.
These issues important for long-term missionaries also! In fact, because we will be living in Cambodia for years, these issues will be far more important. Unlike many short-term teams, however, we have been through four years of intense training in bibllical studies, church planting methodologies, and linguistic analysis that will aid us in our efforts. As we keep our eyes focussed on God and His work in Cambodia we would love to welcome short term teams in the distant future if we are able to. We hope to see you on one of them!