The Problem With Short Term Missions – Tim Whitaker

First off my apologies for not posting not as regular as I’d like.  Rob, Kyle, and myself (Tim) have all been crazy busy with life.


This past week I was a chaperone for a missions trip to Arizona with the high school that I attended called New Jersey United Christian Academy.  I took a group of 11 high schoolers to an Indian reservation where we helped fix buildings in the morning followed by running a children’s Vacation Bible School in the afternoon.  It was quite an experience in many ways that I won’t go in to on here because this blog is not about personal experiences and stories, but about the issues behind the personal experiences and stories.  It was a great trip though, full of adventure, and amazing scenery.  The Grand Canyon for instance, is absolutely jaw dropping and wonderful with it’s enormity.  There was no doubt many moments where our whole group stood there saying “God you are amazing”.



But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  I’m here to talk about the problem I encountered with the idea known as a “Short Term Mission Trip”.  Because there is a problem we encounter with doing week long trips to foreign lands.  But before we go there, first, a few disclaimers


1. Short term trips are not bad, do not assume that by problem, I mean worthless, bad, or pointless


2.  I’m talking more about short term missions trips in the U.S, as opposed to short term trips around the U.S



I have several problems with short term missions trips.  The first problem to me, is that there is not enough time.  What do I mean? Well I mean that one or two weeks of reaching the area your’re in is simply not enough time to effectively change that environment permanently.  What do I mean?  I mean that too often times (and this is related to the trip last week) we go in to a very depressed area where people are struggling with years and years of abuse, poverty, and loneliness.  We then attempt to go in to the area, throw our program on for 1-2 hours a day and then become discouraged when the people we are trying to reach don’t change in that week.  When we think about it though, it makes sense that of course people are not going to be changed in a week, or two weeks.  We are coming in with our agenda (to share Jesus with them, usually through some kind of program), and when our agenda doesn’t work we say “I don’t get it”.  Let’s keep in mind that it takes more than a prayer to save someone, it takes the radical love of Jesus to truly transform the broken condition.  But who is the hands and feet of Jesus? His church is.  We are called to be Jesus to the broken.  The problem is that in many cases it takes time, conversation, trust, love, patience, kindess, and more time to break through the layers of walls that people  put up. This simply can not be accomplished in a week.


The kids that we worked with were extremely broken and abused.  It was clear they were desperate to be held.  The girls wanted to know they were safe, the boys wanted to know that they were brave men who didn’t need to prove themselves.  These kids had major issues that they wanted fix.  They wanted hope off of the desolate reservation they lived on.  But we couldn’t give that to all of them in a week.  It’s ironic though, because the main reason we came to the reservation was to do a kids program.  That was the main point of the trip.  Out of the 268 hours we were there, only 15 hours were spent with the kids. Just in that week alone we got 15 hours of time with them.  But let’s look at the bigger picture.


Let’s say the average age was 9 years old.  The kids we worked with were all Arizona natives.  That means that out of the 115,776 hours they have been alive, we got 15 of those hours to change their life.  It’s an up hill battle that leads no where.


The second problem I have with short term mission trips is that it creates a separation of what is a mission field and what is not a mission field.  To the group going on a short terms missions trip, that week creates almost a super high effect.  Students are immersed in “spiritual” things throughout the week.  Devotions, worship, studying the word to teach, prayer, it’s all the students are dunked in for an entire week.  Is this bad? OF COURSE NOT! The PROBLEM, is when that’s the only week of the year the people on the trip are immersed in that environment.  See, it’s easy when you get back home to fall back in to your old routine.  “Oh, well that was a great spiritual time, back to how my life was”.  That is a common mindset we have when we come home from short term missions.  This, as we know is a ridiculous mindset to have, but it happens because we are so focused on going somewhere ELSE to do “missions”.


This brings me to my third and final point.  The idea of “mission trips” in general implies that we can only do missions work in places other than where we live.  This is completely absurd and is a toxic mindset that promotes complacency in our lives.  In fact I’m SURE that there are MANY professing Christians where we were in Arizona, but because no one has stepped up, we were sent for a week to do a kids program.  Was it because we are super awesome at doing Vacation Bible Schools? (trust me it’s not). It’s because they can’t find people to do it.  What a travesty that most Americans claim to be “Little Christs” (Christians) but there is a lack of people willing to be involved in the lives of the broken.  Missions work needs to be a fruit of our life everywhere we go, wether it’s in our backyard, or in another state, country, or continent.  Instead our church culture has unintentionally created missions programs that are concerned only with sending people to places other than where they live.


If we as the church started to step up in our own neighborhoods, and took on the radical idea that “missions work” is not a once a year spiritual high, but a commitment to seeing our neighborhoods changed by the love of Christ, I think things would look different.


Are short term mission trips bad? No, absolutely not.  But when that is our supplement for a mission lifestyle, then yes it is absolutely detrimental to our faith because then our faith becomes only a part of our life, not our entire life.


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