Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Do short term mission trips help or hurt? Part 1

It seems that is a big question being debated right now.  I just finished reading When Helping Hurts:  How to eliminate poverty without hurting the poor...and yourself.  It was a very thought provoking book.  I'd highly recommend it for anyone involved in serving the poor, in ministry, or active in short term missions.  The book addresses how often times the people going to work with the poor in the world leave more damage than good.  A great example was given by an African pastor after an American missions team had just left.  He likened hosting American mission teams to a fun dance between an elephant and a mouse.  The mouse ends up squashed to death by the big elephant, but the elephant doesn't even realize he squashed the mouse.  He didn't mean to, he was just large and exuberant.  I can see several personal experiences of mine that illustrate this.  In Haiti, the ladies at the orphanage cooked nice meals for us, while the children ate gruel.  Of course, we paid for it, but I felt like they were servants--when it was WE who were there to serve them, supposedly.
When I was in Nicarauga with a missions pastor whom I greatly respect, he talked to us about how much damage some teams do when they come.  The fly in, shower the street children with candy, make crafts, leave clothes and food, and then in a week are gone.  The local ministries, who are often quite poor themselves, have no arsenal like candy, crafts, sports equipment, clothes and food.  Pretty soon, the locals are depending upon other teams to come bring gifts. 

Or, consider economic travesties.  My first international mission trip was to a very poor city in Mexico.  I was a 19yr old college student.  About 40 or so students traveled to paint and roof a tiny church that was under construction.  Would it not have made more logical sense to take the money each student spent on travelling, and then hire unemployed local men to do the construction.  A job would do those men and their families wonders.  Instead, we all flew in, worked in mass for 4 days, flew out.  If the average mission trip member spends 2000.00 on a 1 or 2 week trip, and the average team has 10 people--that is 20,000!  How much more beneficial to give 20,000 to an established, committed ministry that is already working long-term in the poverty-stricken area?

The pros?  I honestly think the pros are for us.  I'm very very pro international mission trip experience.  I'm convinced that stupid things like newer cars, huge savings, huge piles of clothing, expensive vacations every year, and such would not hold the tight grip on many people's hearts and dollars if they experienced true poverty first-hand.  How enriching and eye-opening to serve orphaned children with no shoes and no clean water.  What an enormous blessing to see how God can use ME to meet someone's needs.  Rick Warren says "Being unable to help thousands of hurting people never excuses me from helping the one next to me."

Of course, Jesus clearly said GO.  He didn't say to serve and love the poor only if it will really benefit the economic situation.  Like me dear e-friend Sunny, after her trip to Nicarauga said "I get it now."  Profound isn't Sunny?

Pastor Rick Warren tweeted:  God commands us to "Go to every nation and make disciples". What part of GO do you not understand?

I'm truly interested in hearing what you guys think?  Leave a comment or email me.  This is Part 1 and next I'd like to hit on positive suggestions the book offers.


  1. I have seen both sides to this also. We are commanded to go, but not to change the world to become like us. Starving children in _______, (you fill in the blank) don't NEED candy and toys from America. What they NEED is clean drinking water,daily provisions of food and to be told about the Good News of Jesus. Their parents need jobs to learn to provide for their families. If they are true orphans, then there are additional needs. I think we as Americans think our way of life is best, but I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting in a non-airconditioned building, in another country having a worship service with my brothers and sisters in Christ (who won't make in one year what we make in one week) thinking how privaledged these people are to live here and have such a simple life. And YES--I know their life is not simple, not really, but compared to all the junk that we waste time on here in America--it is simple.

    I'm not sure there is a easy answer to your question. I think we have to be careful of what our goal in going is. It has to be to share the love of Jesus. I also believe in helping others to help themselves. Ask--is what I'm doing helping the people to be able to help themselves in the long run?

  2. Oh.My.Goodness. What a great post, and fantastic comment from Julie as well. Woosh...wish I had hours and could respond in full what I think but then that would involve a very long comment :). I totally agree with Julie and with you, Libby...although at first my heart was kind of racing with thoughts of where in the world you were going with this. I see and have seen personally the negative effects that short term "mission trips" could seemingly have on impoverished nations. BUT.....the short of it is this: God commands it, we should do it. AND (there really is no need for an "and" in that all we really need to hear is the command and we are to answer a resounding "yes" despite what the perceived negatives might be)....short term missions result in a)people answering God's call on their lives and trusting Him for their lives by seeing God's hand work through His people b)people feel called to life time missions through short term mission trips c)many times people realize their call to care for the orphan (I know people personally that this has impacted greatly..us being only one :) d) some great, great work can happen for the local community you are serving despite some of the perceived negatives...things that could possibly have never happened without that short term mission trip (I think of medical missions who literally have saved lives....I have a specific example)

    I think I could come up with a whole lot more but I digress...this is your blog!! Bring it sister.....give us the positive suggestions....I am waiting on pins and needles. PS: My goal is to go every year back to Nic :) :) So I kind of have a leaning towards short term mission trips at the very least. (that's my full disclosure :)