Short term mission trips under the spotlight

I love seeing God move in people’s lives and seeing people courageously join him in mission! However, one of the challenges I’ve heard quite a bit revolves around short-term mission opportunities. A number of people have shared with me that short-term mission experiences don’t work in identifying missionaries. They can be glorified missions tourism and do more harm than good. I’ve seen several examples that seem to support this view – trips that have been full of good intentions but which delivered poor and insensitive results.

       But I struggle, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for a short-term trip 19 years ago when I first experienced the church outside of my culture. I was 28 and helped lead a team of 56 twelve and thirteen year-olds to Juarez, Mexico. We partnered with a church there to reach out into communities where they had relationships.

       God must have been doing something with me because this trip didn’t scare me away. Instead, I found myself leading other trips with young people and building relationships with locals who identified needs and directed our efforts. The win on these trips wasn’t the work or experience – it was in the relationships that developed and in the learning that took place. Today, I need more than my two hands to count the number of teens that went on to ministry or to serve as missionaries and today can trace their journey back to these trips. In my experience, well-stewarded trips became a space where I could see Romans 12:1-2 in action.

       So, I’m not in a hurry to give up on short-term mission efforts. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water. We do need to be intentional about the experience and what can and should be accomplished. We need to feel the responsibility of being good guests and shepherding participants as God works in the lives of our short termers and transforms their minds. We need to guard against the danger of the mission trip being ‘just a trip’. We need to be realistic of what is attempted in a short time frame.

        In our story, Time For TIMO, you can read about internships – interesting efforts to provide a taste of inter-cultural mission life with SIM which are set up to try to capture the transformation I talked of above, while also honouring the mission field and people they work with. I encourage you to read it, while asking if you know of someone young or old who might ‘fit’ such an opportunity. When someone comes to mind, encourage them to email or give us a call. Who knows where they might be 19 years from now.  

Rob Reynolds