Short-term missions trips (SMT) are an escalating trend in America, with upwards of 2 million people participating each year. With this growing trend has also come more research and concern for these trips’ effectiveness and value.
Are you one of the 2+ million people planning on traveling this summer on a SMT? Here are five questions to ask yourself to make sure your time and money will be well spent.
1. Why do I want to go?
While there are many reasons to go on a SMT, it is important to know exactly why you are choosing to spend the time and money in this way.
Are your responses along the line of:
- I feel like God is putting a specific location on my heart,
- I want to see how God works in the midst of a different culture,
- I want to learn about poverty and my role in it, or
- Our church has been asked to come and support a local ministry.
Or, do they align more with these responses?
- I want to “save the world,”
- I want to get pictures with poor kids to post on social media,
- I have so much that I want to give, or
- All of my friends are going.
Take some time to think about the differences between the two responses and evaluate where you stand. Too often do we assume we are going to “save” or “fix” a community, and leave having done more harm than good.
2. Is there an existing organization already doing work where you are going to be serving?
In When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert discuss the vast cultural differences that often exist between sending cultures and receiving cultures. There are challenging dynamics that must be navigated in order for a short-term trip to actually be helpful, rather than harmful to the local community. Corbett and Fikkert make an important point that many times short-term missions groups are looking to do relief work, such as building a well or a church, when the majority of the time a community is needing long-term development solutions.
Partnering with a local, existing organization that knows the culture and its needs is the best way to serve our global neighbors.
3. What are the goals of the trip?
It is important that everyone on a short-term missions trip knows the purpose for the trip. Is it evangelism? Relief? Service? Creating clear goals for the trip (and communicating these) prepares each participant well. When each person has the same expectations and understanding of their responsibility as a participant, the goal is more likely to be achieved.
Similarly to question two, it is also important to understand what the local organization you are serving expects and is asking of you. Miscommunications on these fronts could be detrimental.
Taking the time to ask questions and outline expectations is time well spent!
4. How much does it cost?
While much of the benefit of STMs is experienced by the individuals going, it is important to weigh the costs of going versus how much you are helping. In some instances, the people you are going to serve would be much better off receiving the money you would have spent on going yourself.
5. Are you ready to see how big God is?
Whether you are driving an hour or traveling across the world, chances are God and the way people worship is going to look different in the new culture you are going to serve. And that is a good thing!
Getting to experience how God works in a different setting will challenge and expand your worldview. Your faith will be tested. You might question how you’ve been doing daily life after you see how someone else lives so differently. Pray that God uses these challenges and new ideas to grow your faith and mold you into who He has created you to be!
These questions are a simple way to dig into expectations, goals, and motivations for a STM. Although it is by no means exhaustive, this list of questions may be helpful in uncovering a perspective you hadn’t considered before. At Edify we are huge fans of those who have a heart to serve others and go out of their way to do it. We hope that you are left challenged and encouraged.