Short-term missions is a large part of the Western church today.
With summer fast approaching, ORU missions teams are finishing final preparations for their trips and the ORU Missions and Outreach department is preparing to send out their teams to go into every man’s world.
In a recent article on “World on Campus,” a news website where college-aged students can develop and discuss their Christian worldview, Leigh Jones questioned the effectiveness of short-term mission trips.
In the article, Jones linked the effectiveness of a mission trip with the psychology behind the individual going on the mission trip.
“While experts applaud today’s emphasis on service, they say many short-term mission trips fail because they are built around the preferences of the people who go, rather than the long-term development needs of the community,” said Jones.
Jones gave an extreme example of a team who went to Guatemala to help a pastor and the pastor told them to tear down the pavilion the team before them had built because it was useless.
The issue was a lack of communication between the local pastor and the mission team.
“If not done properly, short-term missions is good for introducing people to missions, but only supplies a Band-Aid to a deeper, long-term problem,” said Vamsi Guda, ORU alumnae and previous Team New York member.
One study suggests most short-term missionaries arrive without much prior cultural or language training and then depend on the local ministers not only to host them, but deliver the missionary’s message and make it culturally relevant to the intended audience, making themselves a burden instead of a help to long-term missionaries present.
“The biggest problem to short-term missions is not being there for follow up,” said Guda. “The harm is done when there is not an effective way to follow up.”
But this does not negate the positive benefits short-term missions trips can bring.
According to one study, one of the biggest benefits of short-term missions is being an encouragement to the long-term missionaries.
“Its no secret that those that go benefit from the trip and are going to grow,” said ORU Director of Missions and Outreach Bobby Parks. “We really try to be a strategic investment to the long-term work already there. Our first priority is to serve the contact. Our biggest goal is to help the disciples of Christ that are there. We plan around leaving something with them that will last.”
The biggest thing short-term missionaries can do is prepare.
The old adage is true: when preparation meets opportunity, success is possible.
Another study suggests it is important for the missionary to do a psychological check of their motive for going on the trip.
“[We] work with contacts about 11 months in advance, and our summer teams are preparing for almost eight months prior to their going in the field,” said Parks.
Student missionaries at ORU are passionate about their convictions for going on a short-term mission trip.
“I’ve gone on short-term missions before, and the key is to just be flexible and use any opportunity God gives you to share and build relationships,” said Rachel Carroll, a member of Team South Africa. “My motive was that I wanted to use my sport to reach people, with similar interests, with the gospel. When you humble yourself to being a servant and dedicate a trip for being His hands and feet, you learn so much about God and yourself and grow in faith as well as being able to share your faith, be a light, and build some life-long friendships.”
Parks understands the issues of crossing cultural borders and echoes Jones’ article.
“We adopt the mindset to go as a learner,” said Parks. “We go to learn from them. We try to be culturally sensitive. We don’t try to teach that our cultural way is better.”
Many students preparing for their short-term mission trip this summer believe they have appropriate intentions for their prospective trips.
“We aren’t going to ‘Americanize’ them, or show them how much better we are than them because we have Jesus and that’s what they need, but to help them,” said Leah Bickers, a member of the Burkina Faso team. “How can we help them unless we find out what they truly need? Like a doctor, he won’t prescribe anything till first diagnosing what the patient really needs. In the same way, we are going to learn, learn how they do things, their strengths, and what they may need. Then we can join and partner together.
“I am not going to Burkina Faso to solve a short-term need or problem, but to play a part in a long-term solution.”