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Short-term missions as vacation

I’m at our leadership training center in Mijas, Spain this morning. What a great place to launch people to bring the kingdom of God around the world.  Along those lines, I saw this good article in the Christan Post about short-term missions. STMs are a good place to start, but not a good p…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I’m at our leadership training center in Mijas, Spain this morning. What a great place to launch people to bring the kingdom of God around the world.  Along those lines, I saw this good article in the Christan Post about short-term missions. STMs are a good place to start, but not a good place to finish. More of us need to be going, but then we need to be asking the question we ask here in Spain, “What’s next?”

U.S. Christians Embrace Vacation-Mission Trip

of all ages are fueling a growing trend in U.S. missions where families
and individuals use their vacation time to go on short-term mission
trips, which some dub “vacations with a purpose.”

Many of the participants are young adult students who make the trip
during spring break or summer vacation. Another large segment of
volunteers are retirees who offer their professional skills to support
missionaries overseas.

It is estimated that millions of American
Christians participate in short-term mission trips each year, with some
1.6 million believers contributing in labor worth about $6 billion,
according to Wycliffe Associates, a mission group that organizes
volunteers to support the work of Bible translators.

Bruce Smith,
president and chief executive officer of Wycliffe Associates, in a
recent update said the ministry is completing a new Volunteer
Mobilization Center in Orlando that will be used to prepare thousands
of volunteers heading out on short-term missions.

“Designed and
built primarily by volunteers, the center will service a growing tide
of American’s seeking to use their free time more productively,” Smith
said in a statement.

The ministry devotes $10 million a year in
recruiting, training and sending volunteers overseas to help Bible
translators associated with its sister ministry, Wycliffe Bible
Translators. The ministry sends about 1,500 Wycliffe Associate
short-term volunteers to mission fields each year.

By no means is
short-term mission a new concept, but it has gained great attention in
recent years because of its phenomenal growth in popularity.

show that in 1965 there were only about 540 individuals from North
America involved in short-term mission, according to Roger Peterson,
president of STEM International (Short Term Evangelical Missions), in
his essay “What’s Happening in Short-term Mission?”

In 1989, the
number was estimated at 120,000 by a Fuller School of World Mission
doctoral student. Three years later, it more than doubled to 250,000.
In 2003, the number was estimated to be at least one million and by
2004 data suggest the number had ballooned to as high as four million.

Doug Cutchins, co-author of the book Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others,
explained that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought greater
interest to this type of short-term, purpose-driven vacation.

2004, it was the tsunami disaster that devastated parts of Indonesia
and Thailand that sparked huge participation in this type of
service-oriented tourism.

But some mission leaders have raised
concerns about the effectiveness of short-term missions to the purpose
of advancing God’s kingdom.

Preeminent missiologist Dr. Ralph D. Winter,
founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, said short-termers do not
have much impact on missions, but can benefit personally in faith from
the experience.

Last year, Winter listed short-term missions as
one of the 12 past mistakes made by Western mission agencies that Asian
missiologists should avoid during a presentation at the Asian Society
of Missiology conference in Bangkok.

He specifically criticized
churches that send every family in the congregation overseas for a
two-week project. Winter called it a “marvelous idea” to educate people
about foreign lands, but “incredibly expensive” and “very questionable”
in its contribution to the cause of missions.

Nearly 2 million short-termers leave the United States each year
compared to 35,000 long-term missionaries. It costs at least five times
more overall to send a short-termer than a long-term missionary –
financial support that Winter suggested would be better invested in a
long-term missionary.

Winter resisted calling short-term mission a bad thing, but rather urged balance.


Comments (10)

  • hmmm.

    I have to believe that short term missions will have an incredible impact around the world. I bet the biggest impact is here in the US though. ?

    As for money better being spent somewhere else in long term missions, probably true. But does that money actually then go to long term? (or does it go to a resort? a bmw?)

    I would bet that for each person who spends way too much money to do a week long mission trip, that person then effects the world view of everyone around them. That short termer also probably changes the way they use money/give money for the rest of their life?

    Short term missions seem to me to be a great investment and strategy.

  • I guess I feel just a little qualified to speak to this. My husband and I lead teams to Nicaragua each year from our church which sends out 8-10 teams each year. We have watched two things happen with regularity over the years we have been doing this.

    One: The teams themselves are greatly impacted. They turn their personal spiritual focus towards God’s desires for their lives not just in the week they are gone but rather all years long. This results in the selfless pursuit of other avenues of impact here at home. The most powerful change in our teams is the bonding that happens between the team members who become a community of believers bent on supporting and growing in love with each other…this is an amazing witness of the indwelling power of the Lord in our lives.

    Two: Over the years the area that we’ve gone to minister to has grown to love and trust us. They know we are the “REAL DEAL.” They have seen our “sweat evangelism,” heard our message, and they have witnessed the way we work together. This change doesn’t come because we affect them in one week. This change comes because we come again and again proving ourselves to be people who truly do care about them personally. This past year we saw 15 formerly unwilling to cooperate pastors bond together to host a city wide crusade where 1000’s of people were saved and delivered. That is not just Christians going on a “vacation.” That is God moving in the hearts and lives of both nationals and us.

    Guess I had more to say than I thought but the bottom line is like anything else we attempt in service to the Lord. We take away more than we commit. Give your time and your heart and reap so much more than that.

  • I gotta concur with them above. If you are going with a heart to serve God, then your seed will not return void. God uses anything we give Him.

    Debating how effective short-term mission trips are is probably the waste here. It is another dividing factor we in our humaness bring up. Calling a short-term mission trips ineffective only deflates the sails of those seeking to serve God in this manner. I would love to see more longer term missions happening, but if this is how someone can serve isn’t it better than nothing?

    Like Scott said these short-term missions have lasting impact on the people you go to serve, the people who serve, and the people who support those who go.

  • It’s true, Mary. I was just in Nicaragua and heard the testimony from our long-term missionaries. They said that your team’s outreach on the Granada square was the biggest outpouring of the Spirit they’ve seen in three years.

  • The debate is absolutely worth having. As we’ve already pointed out — and as Winter himself notes — we have limited resources. This kind of discourse will sharpen our focus and keep us on task. Waste is all too real from what we hear in the “industry” so to speak: Teams painting fences that were just painted, roofing buildings that were just shingled, doing work that locals desperately needed to put food on their family’s table, at times creating dependency among the people we go to serve . . . .

    Winter’s assessment is a bit over the top in my opinion (though he is the foremost living missiologist by all accounts). Nonetheless we need to be challenged by posts like this from time to time, and be willing to take a hard look at ourselves and our churches. I fear we Americans are much too easy on ourselves, and when we hear something we don’t like we stick to the status quo.

  • Mary L’s an example of short-term trips done right but I’m convinced that those kind are in the minority. Most Americans have little genuine interest in the places they go and return just as ignorant as before. Tough truth.

    Yes, of course short-term trips can do some limited good overseas but, then again, they can also be “enablers” preventing people from long-term service. In other words, short-term trips can be a way some people can have the best of both worlds – pursuing the American Dream (which I contend is NOT compatible with the Kingdom of God) while getting a “missions fix.” You can’t have it both ways.

  • I’m Greg’s wife (above) and the short-term missions coordinator for our ministry in Mexico. For six years now I have hosted and run teams through both here and Nicaragua. I have to say that the ONLY way I have seen it to be effective is when there is a commitment on behalf of the church in the US to return and serve. Right now we are working with a church in NC that has made a 5 year commitment to come here, to serve our needs, to listen to the Mexicans and do what they want, instead of coming down with their own agendas. It is a partnership, a symbiotic relationship, where the US church is committed to seeing things through and are able to see the fruit from their labors – but most importantly are able to form relationships, which is of the utmost importance in Latino culture.
    I’m not saying that a short-term trip isn’t effective, but to maximize fruit, it’s best to come back and tend to the seeds and saplings.

  • From this un-initiated novice: it sounds like a GREAT IDEA for those of us who want to try missionary work, but are currently unable to …that is, if we first find employment, and then merit vacation leave! 🙁

    I like the idea of a church ministering in one area over and over, getting to know the people there and what they really need.

  • I think short term missions can be positive or negative, but I have also heard testimonies of long term missionaries doing plenty of damage as well. If we focus on obeying God’s word, He can use us to love and serve at home and around the world in most any time frame.

    I also want to comment on the economic aspect of missions. Consider for a moment the possibility that God’s economy is not limited. If this is the case, the added cost associated with short term missions becomes no concern. If we live and think only in the world’s system and economy, the limits and lack are evident. But God’s Word tells us not to worry about our provisions. He gives us what we need in abundance for the work He calls us to do. If we believe this wholeheartedly, it frees us up to give more, and trust Him to provide even when we may be suffering for a time. God created and knows all the resources in the universe. I think the limits and lack exist because of our fears, lack of belief and disobedience. Thankfully He is gracious.

    I feel a large number of us in the body of Christ have already been given plenty of resources. If we all gave a large portion of our abundance, we could take care of most of the hungry, curable sicknesses, orphans, etc. I am excited by the growing number of short term missionaries. I think it is a movement by Holy Spirit to get us involved, build His kingdom and love the world.

    A small group of us just started an on-line community to support and relate with orphans in Swaziland, and short term travels are part of our work in addition to the full time missionaries working there. We plan to focus on building relationships with a specific group of orphans and people through letters and visits. Who knows, some of us may get called to go full time. We will see. For now, we feel we are beginning to obey His Word and call supporting long term missionaries, but becoming short term missionaries ourselves.

    Thanks for sharing the article.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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