It is the end of summer and for the most part, the end of short-term mission trips. During the summer months when we work in Central America our flights are full of well meaning Americans in matching t-shirts full of zeal and smiles.
Short-term missions remain the least interesting form of ministry. It is as dangerous to Christianity as it is helpful. Also known as parachute ministry, youth drop in on the poor, take selfies with children of color, post it on Facebook, and then talk about how it changed their life. This is followed up with photos from two days of vacation leisure in the country. It cost thousands of dollars to send one kid into a third world country, making this the most inefficient use of ministry dollars. In addition, it is not their parents paying the cost of their mission-vacation, it’s the body of believers with good intention.
William Deresiewics says it best in his book “Excellent Sheep” when he writes,
“Service is now a flock of middle-class messiahs, descending in all their virtue, with a great deal of self satisfaction, every once in a while, when they remember to think about it, upon the miserable and helpless. Like leadership is a form of self aggrandizement.”
Of course, Guiana is much more exotic than South Chicago. But South Chicago is in as great a need, if not more.
We support individuals for short-term missions each year, but we look for certain characteristics in the individuals and purposes. As a supporter I am also extremely critical of what I see.
If you went on a short-term mission trip this summer I hope you will now do the following so that your efforts lead to “discipleship” which is the ultimate goal of these efforts. If you are not doing these things...you are the problem.
Start talking about the individuals you encountered, not about your experience.
For most people, short-term missions are usually their first foray into international travel. International travel is exciting, but we didn’t send you on vacation. Share with us about the individuals you encountered, their names, their stories, and their need. Tell us how the effort of your team provided solutions for them, and then what we can all do to help them in this moment. This trip was a little about you, but mostly about other. Elevate the “others”, not yourself. Sure, when you go on vacation post your photos, but if you are on short-term missions share stories about the lives of others.
Communicate frequently with those you encountered
Once you encounter an individual you have a responsibility to serve them. Get their information and find a way to communicate. Even in the darkest of places there are ways to communicate. The written letter remains the greatest and most meaningful form of distant communication. Take responsibility for developing a relationship over a lifetime. If you are not interested in developing lifelong relationships of service, please, do not go on a mission trip. “Drop in” American Christianity is ugly and unchristian.
Return to the same place and people
Turn your short-term mission into lifelong missions. Don’t go on your church mission trip if there is no long-term plan and commitment to a specific place and people and do not go if your plan is to only go once or twice. Commit to returning year after year so you have the opportunity for “real” relationships and to truly disciple. There should be no “short-term” in your plans.
Support those you served financially for life
So you raised money for your incredibly expensive plane ticket. Now send and raise money to send directly to the people you encountered. If you don’t have the money to do this long term, you need to find some other form of ministry. The $1,300.00 for your plane ticket is at or more than an annual salary for the majority of the places you go. You can have a much greater impact by supporting programs on site, then sending yourself. Commit to consent giving.
If you did not sacrifice anything, you've done little to nothing.
Serving others is at the core of Christianity. We brought service to the poor into the world and we should be the front line leaders continuing to do so.
Choose carefully and prayerfully and with long term intentions your short-term ministry plans.