Recently, I've read and heard a good bit of scrutiny of short-term mission trips. This could be because it's summertime in the US and many of my friends, or the children of my friends, are fund raising for short term trips.
Once, a fellow missionary shared with me that short-terms teams just get in the way and bog down her schedule. She saw my mouth agape and quickly followed up with a long list of all the reasons they are a blessing but, the cat was out of her proverbial bag by then.
Even Dave Ramsey, an author and financial teacher I greatly respect, referred to short-term mission trips as "A Christian Vacation".
In one of his radio bits, he balked at the way some Christians want to go help in other countries for very short amounts of time and they want YOU to pay for it. For some people, maybe that's the scheme. I can't speak for anyone going on a short-term mission trip nor can I address the motivation of his heart.
Speaking purely as a parent, I loved the fact that two of my own children got to spend time on the field in Mexico, Romania, The Dominican Republic and The Philippines. Those trips laid groundwork for the eventual moving of our own family to the field and, at the time of the short trips, we had no idea God was preparing them for it. But He knew.
What I CAN do is give you some pretty darn good compelling reasons why my family and I - missionaries to street children in The Philippines - LOVE having visits from "short termers". I'd also like to share the benefits I perceive that the "short termer" might walk away with after a visit to a developing nation. Some of these are so obvious I feel slightly stupid even typing them but if even one person wrestling with whether to COME to the filed or just send money instead decided to actually come out here, I will sleep with a smile on my face tonight.
So, here it goes . . .
From the missionary's perspective, a team or small group of short term missionaries provide:
1. A Pep Rally - Just as in every facet of life, it's easy to fall into a routine and start going through your days a little numbly. When visitors arrive at our ministry and we get to introduce them to the children, tour the areas our street kids used to live and talk about our plans for Mercy House, the fire in our hearts gets rekindled for what we are doing. We are snatched from the mundane and reminded of the great things God has tasked us with. And as much as we love seeing visitors get teary-eyed when we share the stories of our kids with them, we ourselves are choking back emotions and some of those emotions are gratefulness that we have, once again, been reminded of "the bigger picture".
2. A Chance to Teach- Anytime I'm talking to a visitor, especially a teen or young adult, I keep in the back of my mind that this could be a future missionary. I am careful with my words so as not to discourage the listener nor to imply that anything apart from sharing the saving Good News of the atoning death of Jesus is paramount here. It is easy to get "sidetracked" by meeting the felt needs of children who have lived horrible lives and to forget that, without the component of the gospel, we are wasting our time. The chance to impress that on a short-term missionary is a golden opportunity I never want to miss.
3. The Ability to Spread the Fire - short term visitors will often return to their countries of origin with a huge heart for the ministry we have here. They will tell others, they will fund raise, they will encourage their friends to come. This is vital to our sustainability. Yes, God provides but He often uses the passion of short term visitors as the vehicle for our provision. We need that.
4. Simple Friendships- It can get lonely out here on the field. Making new friends is not as easy as it was in our old lives. We welcome those lasting friendships that can be spawned by serving side by side.
And some of the Blessings we hope our visitors will receive are . . . .
1. A Cross-Cultural Experience- Everything from the food to the restrooms is different in The Philippines. It's so good for people to step out of their comfort zones and live on someone else's turf for awhile. Yes, it's hard. Yes, you make a ton of silly mistakes that leave the locals snickering at you. But, oh, the vast stores of knowledge you gain just by simply being away from all that is familiar. They are priceless.
2.A Better Understanding of True Poverty- I remember joking about being "too poor" to eat out after church on Sunday when we lived back in America. I never joke about being poor anymore. Poverty is a brutal trap and it is much different from not having extra spending money. It means not having the basics - food, clothing, clean water, medicine when you are sick, supplies needed to go to school. I learned that living here. It is our hope that short-term visitors will walk away with a better understanding of true poverty and that it is not always because the poor are lazy. The poor in The Philippines are usually VERY VERY hard working - taken advantage of by their employers sometimes - and continuing to work manual jobs in intense heat because they know it means survival for them and their families. Okay, sorry. Off the soap box. This is something so dear to my heart and, maybe if you'll come and visit us, it will become dear to yours.
3. An Opportunity to Unplug and Listen- Internet out here is spotty and slow. Visitors are not allowed to be online in our center for more than a few minutes a day to update family and friends. Those components work together to help unplug our visitors from technology. And on the field, that's a GOOD thing. It's hard to absorb what is going on around you with ear buds in your ears blasting
and youtube videos parading across your line of sight. Thankfully, there's little time for those things on a short term trip. And you might be surprised how little you miss them when you're here.
4. Doing What You Were Created For- Yes, of course you can do what you were created for - worshiping and sharing your Savior - while in your own country. And you should! Daily. But there is something about being with people from a culture other than your own that removes the barriers of fear and makes people bold. The communication barriers (although many here speak English) somehow help fear to diminish and boldness to creep in. And when you have experienced truly, verbally, boldly sharing the gospel with a soul who needs to hear about forgiveness, you are never the same. That is something you take with you no matter what country you are in and, hopefully, continue to share.
So, if you are praying about going on a short-term mission trip and feeling like it may be a waste of time and money, PLEASE consider some of the points I've brought up here - and that they are coming from a real, live missionary living in a real, live developing nation. And then write your support letters, have your car washes and bake sales, pack your bags and hop on that plane. If God allows even ONE of these points above to become a reality in your own life, I think you will find it well worth the effort.
From the missionary perspective, I know we will. So thank you, on behalf of all missionaries, for considering, for praying, for stepping out in faith and for leaving your comfort zone to come and get your "hands dirty" for awhile.
We hope to see you soon!