By Tiana Murray; adapted from Global City Missions
Short term missions has been on the rise in recent years, primarily
among younger generations. Seemingly every youth, college, and young
adult group takes at least one a year, if not more. Both local and
global missions is at the forefront of Christian culture-- from the
inner city ghetto to India-- and Christians are signing up in droves for
a week-or-two experience on the field.
This sounds positive, and for good reason. The increased concern for
those who do not know the Lord and the ability to think outside of one's
own bubble are certainly admirable, but there is a danger in the
short-term missions trend.
I remember being in India for an internship and seeing this danger
first-hand. I was there for several months working with a local church
plant in the slums of Calcutta, and mid-way through my internship we had
a high school group come through to help. As excited as I was by their
arrival, within a few days I wanted to put them on the next plane back
home. They were culturally insensitive, obnoxious, and unaware of their
surroundings (in short, they were the stereotype many other cultures
have regarding Americans). They took no interest in working alongside of
the local church, but rather in doing their own thing. They didn't try
to speak the language or learn the local customs. Several times, they
took students out of VBS to take pictures with them in the hallways. I
was furious by their lack of understanding. But more than anything, I
was furious because I knew they were going to go back to their nice
hotel that night and debrief about "how much God was doing" and "what an
amazing day of ministry" they had had, when in reality they had
offended more people than they had shown Christ to. I knew because I had
been in groups like that all too often.
The short term missions trend can be dangerous when it is not done in
unison with an established, long-term church or missions movement. It is
dangerous when missions becomes more about a fun or dangerous
experience rather than a lifestyle of commitment that spreads the
Kingdom of God. It is dangerous when we bring our American bubble with
us rather than present the Gospel in a way that makes sense culturally.
It is dangerous when it becomes about taking pictures of the little
brown babies to put on facebook rather than truly making disciples of
Short term mission trips are helpful when, as Global City Missions says,
there is a "disciple-making movement and abundant Gospel sowing, [when]
they serve compassionately and verbally scatter the seeds of the Gospel
with cultural sensitivity. Abundant Gospel sowing through these
volunteers multiplies the opportunities to find that one gateway person
who is a doorway for the Gospel into a new community of people." In
short, mission trips are helpful when the focus remains on God, when the
culture is respected and worked within, and when hearts of compassion,
service, and boldness spread the Kingdom message in a way that opens
doors that have remained closed for too long.
The prayer we must pray is one for workers. As Luke 10:2 says, "The
harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Pray, therefore, to the
Lord of the harvest to send out more workers." Long term workers who
will be there after the short-term trip is over are needed to see that
discipleship and indigenous church growth is sustained. Short term
workers, with hearts of service and cultural awareness, are needed to
come alongside of local churches and complement their ongoing ministry.
People of all nations are waiting to hear the good news. May God move
the hearts of His people to serve in whatever capacity they can to bring
His Kingdom to the city.