I went on my first mission trip when I was fifteen years old. I am twenty-six now, so by no means would I call myself an expert on this topic. However, through my time working as the Campus Missions Pastor for Southeastern University (SEU) and a professor teaching on long-term sustainability and poverty alleviation, I have been given the opportunity to continually do missions work. I have supervised more than 150 short-term trips in my role at SEU the last few years and have about 60 lined up in the next few months. As of today I have been on 25 short-term trips and traveled to about 32 nations.
Through the years, I have heard countless arguments FOR and AGAINST short-term mission trips and there is definitely validity to both sides of the argument. However, there are generally six misconceptions I often hear about short-term mission trips.
Short-term mission trips hurt more than they help.
This just doesn’t seem like a fair statement. If I can show you one mission trip that helped then you can no longer use this blanket statement. Sure, there are trips that hurt the ministry more than help it, but it is all about how the trip was designed. Here are just three benefits of a list that could go on for a long time:
- Building projects can exponentially grow the ministry a missionary has if they are having trouble finding time and money to complete those projects themselves. This typically also opens doors for conversations with locals working along-side a team.
- I often hear missionaries share that they feel isolated while oversees. Healthy teams are extremely refreshing to missionaries because they get to connect with people from their own culture. These trips boost their resolve and help retain long-term missionaries for greater periods of time.
- Groups from other cultures are effective at grabbing the attention of locals. This makes sharing the Gospel and building equity with the area happen faster than if just one missionary were doing so. For this to be done well, the missionary should have the group collect information from those they meet in order to connect them to the local church on a long-term basis.
Instead of paying for a trip, couldn’t we have just sent the money as aid?
This is one of my favorites – in theory it sounds awesome. People say, “Instead of raising $10,000 to send 12 people to a country to do relief work, couldn’t we just send $10,000 and hire locals?”
First, this method does not help refresh the missionary and the most important aspect of missions – building relationships – gets left out. Secondly, if you sent letters saying, “I was going to go to El Salvador… but I thought it would be a waste of money so instead I am raising $800 to send to El Salvador,” I do not think people would donate. Most people you solicit funds from don’t donate because they want to invest in your trip, they want to invest in YOU.
I am too [young, old, busy, poor, rich] to go.
- Young: Unless you are younger than maybe 13, there are definitely organizations that take teens and some that take pre-teens. Family trips can always be organized too.
- Old: I recently went on a trip that had a woman in her 70’s. It isn’t too late – just find a trip that fits within your physical requirements. If your mobility is limited or you are extremely ill, then this might be a good excuse, but I would encourage you to try.
- Busy: For spreading the Gospel? I am sure you can make some time.
- Poor: Raise the money. I don’t mean to be cliché but God can provide – work hard in fundraising.
- Rich: You can’t afford the time away? Switch your vacation this year for a mission trip. If you don’t vacation, go on a short (4-5 days) trip and be sure to have Wi-Fi so you can stay up to date on work each night.
I can’t afford to go.
Yes you can. I have seen some of the poorest people share the craziest testimonies of how their funds came in. I have never seen someone truly work hard to raise money for a trip and fall short. I am not saying it doesn’t happen – but in the 150+ trips that I have administered, I haven’t seen it. If you work hard, the funds come (and you can find some pretty inexpensive mission trips too).
Short-term mission trips are only for people “called” to missions.
Actually, you are right about this one! Unfortunately for this misconception (but really fortunate for you), if you claim to follow Christ then you are called to go out into all the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
I have to go far away for missions.
Not necessarily, you can do it locally – or even in other parts of the country you live in. Mission work doesn’t HAVE to be to another country. But please don’t use this as a cop-out from doing international mission work. I would encourage you to go overseas because being in a new place and culture (especially if you can’t speak the language) does very powerful things in both your heart and the heart of those you will meet.
I think long-term missionaries are the coolest people ever. They work really hard to see that the unreached are hearing the Gospel. They are amazing. I also believe that people have different callings and I do not believe we are all called to do long-term missions. We are each called to live out and share the Gospel throughout our daily lives. I wouldn’t expect everyone to travel to another country for missions for their whole life, and that is ok.
So why do short-term missions? The reason you should experience international missions is because it will cause you to understand missions in a way that can only be experienced. At SEU, I like to say that we want our students to go on a mission trip, not so they care about missions for their four years in college, but for the next 40 years of their life. We can hear about something all our lives, but when we experience something, then it becomes real. So go on a mission trip! If you don’t know where to start, I invite you to come with us!