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Why short-term mission trips work

Not all short-term missions (STMs) work.  That they have a greater impact on participants than the people they go to help is a given.  But beyond that, the impact is often not what it should be – STMs are often too short, too soft, or too superficial.    But for those prepa…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Not all short-term missions (STMs) work.  That they have a greater impact on participants than the people they go to help is a given.  But beyond that, the impact is often not what it should be – STMs are often too short, too soft, or too superficial. 
But for those prepared to meet the felt needs they encounter in the harsh places they visit, an STM can be transformative and can result in any number of “Aha!” experiences. Here are six ways they can impact you:

Change your worldview 
We in America are notoriously provincial. We think our way is the only way, simply because we’ve never experienced any other ways. STMs expose us to new ways of doing life and to those who, though different, don’t seem so strange.

Reveal your narcissism
We sing “It’s All About You,” but we live “it’s all about me.”  Our little worlds need a dramatic overhaul that can only come as the pettiness of our concerns is juxtaposed with the needs of others.

Teach you how to minister
Most American Christians know precious little about how to listen to the heart of a hurting person and how to pray for them. Most of us need more experience. When Jesus talks about “loving one another,” he’s talking about ministering to the places where we hurt.

Reveal your materialism
Do you really need all the toys that cram your closets and garages? Do you need to shop as much as you do? It’s a problem in the west.  To reach our destinies, we need more simplicity, not stuff.

Connect you to your maker
How often in life do we find our world spinning so fast that we can no longer hear ourselves think, much less God whisper our name?  We need to get off the merry-go-round of life and engage with God’s priorities more often than we do.

Grow your faith
Good STMs will throw you into the deep end, forcing you to the end of your comfort zone and resources, to a place where you’re forced to depend on God in new ways. This dependence is the posture God is waiting for in order to grow our faith.

I have a provocative question: How is this current version of you that you’ve become working for you? Living in the west can be toxic to your faith. Living in proximity to so many cultural poisons can infect your soul without you even realizing it. That discontent you feel may be your spirit inside suffocating and crying out for the kind of release that an STM can bring.
If your world is feeling claustrophobic and your faith is stagnating, chances are you need the kind of life-changing experience that Jesus gave his disciples when he began activating them on the first recorded STM experiences (read Luke 9 & 10). They came back with stories about how this power that they’d seen in Jesus had become their own and they were ecstatic. Maybe that’s what he wants for you too.

Comments (6)

  • YES, we want this for our family. We filled out the paperwork and are getting our passports this week to go to Swaziland as a family for a STM early this next summer. Seth, thank you so much for praying for us and truly caring about us while we have been waiting during the process. We also are so glad you continue to share truth through your blogs and they have deeply impacted us. In fact, our kids need to hear this blog, so we will be adding it to our family devotional tomorrow.

    Andy and I see quite a bit of narcissism and materialism in our own lives, and the lives of our kids, so we are praying that by going on the STM that it could be a start to God changing our hearts and giving us a greater dependence on Himself. I pray that God opens our eyes and hearts up more to his kingdom. My prayer is not only that we could plant seeds of hope with the people while we are there, but that we would be so deeply changed as a family. We are believing God to provide the funds to go as we go foward with support raising. A few weeks back you wrote a blog about support raising that was so helpful.

    Tonight after our family looked up verses on loving and serving the fatherless and orphans and after we finished praying about this STM to Swaziland our kids had questions that revealed such self-focus and entertainment-oriented lives. They have all three desired to go on this missions trip, so it is not that, but they were just being honest about their struggles. It really broke my heart and was tough for me to hear some of the stuff coming out of their mouths, but honestly we as parents have hearts much the same. It is so easy to talk the gospel, but when it comes down to it we don’t live like Jesus in our daily lives as much as we desire. As humbling as it is to have our hearts revealed, I must admit I am thankful for the conviction from the Holy Spirit and it is really only God that can change our hearts. So, we are praying that God uses this trip and other things to bring a broken spirit because I believe in his word, that he lives in those that are broken and contrite. We are excited to be taking this baby step-of-faith and we trust He will be the potter and we are the clay.

    We are joining you in praying for the people in Nsoko and trusting God to completely provide! It is so amazing what God has done there already! Also, thanks to Karen for all the videos, they have really been a blessing to see. Leah looked so pretty on the video of the Valentine’s dance.

  • Seth, thank you so much for addressing things that have been weighing on my heart since we got back just over 2 weeks ago.

    This to me is not only affirmation as to why we should go, but why we feel the way we do when we return.

    I am so grateful to have worked with your good people in Swaziland, and to have met you on the road as you came in and we were heading out of beautiful Swaziland.

    My next STM can’t come soon enough.

  • #7 (Optional) – Find your passion!
    After two STM’s to various countries in Africa, I have told a lot of people that the bigger impact was on us, not the people we served. Once we got home, we could not stop thinking about the things we saw and the people we met. Although my wife and I did not experience the same level of excitement about everything, we found a shared passion! It was so exciting for me to find a passion, something that has drawn my mind away from day-to-day work constantly. Enough so that we have totally changed our direction and are preparing to go into missions full-time.

    I love reading your blog because it keeps me close to the mission field every day while we wait for God’s timing to lead us to our field.

  • I’m going on another STM over spring break. I’ve been looking forward to it since we left last year. You’re not helping to contain my excitement. 🙂

  • I couldn’t agree more! Thanks Seth for putting into words all that I’ve come to learn about STM’s. It’s really hard to combat all the articles that say why mission trips are not worth it and costly especially in the current US recession. Isn’t it wonderful that God’s economy is so much bigger?! The long-term benefits of participating on a STM far outweigh the current monetary cost.

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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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