Clash of the Titans LXXX: Short-Term Mission Trips

April 22, 2008, 12:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, Job, Josh J  | 3 Comments

In this corner, opposing short-term missions, is Job!

And in this corner, in favor of the trips, is Josh!

Dear _______ ,

Hi! Some of you are my family, some of you know me from church, and some of you are friends of my parents, whom I assume must have some money. Don\’t you just love the Northeast this time of year? Or whatever part of the country you might live in? I just love it when the snow melts and the growing grass seems to scream, “Time for a short-term mission trip!”

That\’s right — while our youth group leader isn\’t sure yet where he feels “led” to take the youth group on our annual summer mission trip to any non-American place that\’ll have us, we\’ve been told to raise $3000 anyway. So I\’m writing you! Won\’t you please donate $100 so I can spend a day traveling to Honduras or somewhere, a day to recover from jet lag, four days to hammer away on a roof or something, another day to sight-see, and then a day flying home?

I\’ll take pictures!

While I am already knee-deep in college planning and other social trappings that will ensure a life lived here in the States, I think it best not to invest myself completely in a summer job that will expose me (and the Gospel) to my unbelieving contemporaries. Instead, I want to spend a week or two struggling with the language somewhere visually stunning and, quite possibly, way more Christian than my own country! Viva wherever!

I\’ll be going with 20-25 other young people and in addition to our iPods, we’ll also be taking our petty dramas and romances. Yeah, Shannon is going but she\’s being really weird lately. We, like, never play foosball anymore on Wednesday nights. I think Tyler may have told her how I kissed Esther. OMG! Hopefully we can work it out over a pile of rubbish.

Look, it\’s just $100, but it’ll look like a million bucks on a college application. So whaddya say?

What’s that? I live mere miles from inner cities choked with poverty and crime, places where Satan has laid easy claim? I have friends in school who don\’t even know I\’m a Christian? (My art teacher does — she goes to my church!) My understanding of theological matters is at best elementary, while my concept of missions will soon be forever shaped by gross excess and lack of commitment, in an appallingly poor nation we will leave to flap in the wind? And — worst of all — I only stand to (maybe) accomplish temporary physical gain, while learning to accept that as reasonable proxy for the eternal and spiritual?

Well… How ’bout $50 then?

My first question when I received this assignment was how exactly we were defining short-term mission trips. Since Job was involved, I should have known the answer would be “narrowly and cynically.”

So, if the question is whether I think it’s a good idea to take weeklong trips, masquerading as vacations, to areas so distant as to be a financial burden, by large groups of people with questionable spiritual maturity, then I guess not. But what we’re looking at here is an error in execution, not a wholesale indictment of short-term missions.

Let me start by conceding that I don’t believe ministry is ideally accomplished in the short term, that it takes commitment and often immersion to make real Gospel connections. But many people have ministries almost entirely defined by the short term, including the apostle Paul, and — in a way — Job’s own pope-whuppin’ hero, Billy Graham. One man plants, another waters, you know the drill.

And who said a missions trip has to be to the other side of the world? Job correctly recognizes that there are fields to be harvested right in our backyard, and yet he still frames this debate in caricature. Having personally led student-based mission teams all over the northeast United States, I can assure you that not every effort fits that mold.

Ultimately, I think short-term missions should have a few goals in mind. Energizing existing ministries with extra manpower and new perspective is obvious. So is the idea of encouraging both the visiting team and the host church, by shrinking the world and expanding the body of believers.

But what is also okay is to concede that sometimes the visitors will be the ones most blessed and convicted, challenged to go back boldly to the need at home, while not forgetting the world of need they’ve witnessed firsthand.

You might even be able to get that all done in a week.

What did you do with your spring break?

Which side are you on?
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Comments

3 Comments to “Clash of the Titans LXXX: Short-Term Mission Trips”

  1. Chloe on April 23rd, 2008 9:21 am

    I’m with Job. My church went on a lot of short-term mission trips, the most memorable being Ireland. They painted for about a week and a half, then spent the other week and a half sight-seeing in Belfast and Dublin. Mind you, a good half of this trip was paid for by our church district, and the rest by donations.

    Putting that point aside, it’s hard to deny that short-term mission trips are simply not sustainable development.

  2. Dsweetgoober on April 23rd, 2008 5:24 pm

    I’m with Josh. I Watched one of my teens, a normal self-absorbed teen ager, hold a dying infant in Haiti—distressed to the point of tears because he could do nothing but comfort the little boy who was barely larger than his hand—and I knew that he would never be the same when he got back to his safe little middle class world. He ended up going to a Christian College, not in his plans before, and having a heart broken for Jesus and ready to serve.

  3. Steve on April 23rd, 2008 10:21 pm

    I would have written Job’s side, had the schedule required it, but my vote was with Josh. I agree with both sides, really — on one hand, blessing comes whenever the Gospel is preached, while on the other, sometimes there are more effective ways to spend missions money. In the end, I think that in this Clash, Josh made the more compelling argument.

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