Short Term Missions (the real truth)

Usher: Look down there in the parking lot – the kids are getting back from the mission trip

Deacon: I see, I see

Usher: What do they do those trips for?

Deacon: Lots of reasons Usher, but for the most part, to tell and show the world how great we Americans are at christianity

Usher: Expound

Deacon: Well, the majority simply come back feeling good about what “they” did.  Where in the story is the community they visited and what happens when they leave?  Does this community ever hear from anyone again?

Usher: And at about $1,000 per person to travel, wouldn’t the money go a lot further if they simply gave it to the orphanages and the communities and the hospitals?

Deacon: Yep, I know for fact that all the orphanages in say Guatemala work on very tight budgets (typically funded by Americans on fixed budgets) and they typically run out of money 1/2 to 3/4 of the year and have to go begging (because so many new kids show up during the year driving the budget into the red). 

Usher: Do the churches that send these kids have any clue? 

Deacon: Yep, but they keep doing it anyway.  No adventure in sending money and no romance either.  In addition, they think so much of themselves that their misconception is that the benefit is really from them going to “help the kids”.

Usher: I know what you mean. I took a bunch of kids to an orphanage once and they couldn’t interact or relate to the fact that the kids were fine and really didn’t need their help.  In essence, the kids we took learned more about their own shortcomings than they did about missions.

Deacon: So you’re saying that they got to see that Jesus doesn’t need them to fix the world?

Usher: Quite the contrary notion huh?  Seems that the only commodity the church in America seems to have is disposable income and kids who don’t understand their own neediness.


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13 Responses to “Short Term Missions (the real truth)”

  1. Mark Says:

    What a concept! Churches spending their money wisely. Don’t see that happening.

  2. Alan Paul Says:

    While short term missions may be hip and sexy right now and may fade back into the background of American Christians’ priorities eventually, there are organizations out there that not only send folks on both short and long term missions, they also establish branch organizations in those countries and hire locals (whom they oversee as a point of accountability) trained in social work and other disciplines to run them and minister to kids year round – Guatemala being one of them. They don’t come into the countries and try to apply American principles in a foreign land. See and for 2 good examples of this.

    Full disclosure: I work for Buckner.

  3. Deacon Says:

    Deacon: Alan, thanks for the disclosure and yes, we’ve met legitimate orgs like yours.

    Usher: If missions were properly represented, then kids would learn to see the real Christ – the one who can handle any crisis situation on His own – he just gives us, his kids the opportunity to be a part of his work, and in most cases the work is ON US – it’s one of the ways he reveals himself to us – yet America has chosen to sell it, wrap it up in a pretty package of humanitarian aid to justify it & then take all the glory for it by bragging and in many cases using it to grow membership, increase tithe and so on and so forth….

  4. Alan Paul Says:


    I respectfully challenge you to give me some legitimate examples of a church or organization that does what you say they do.

    I can certainly see individuals doing this – like you said in the original post – going on mission just to make themselves feel better or look good – but I have never encountered or heard of a missions agency or church that does this.

    I am not naive about human nature, but it’s hard to believe that any church would spend thousands of dollars – in some cases (like the church I attend does) millions of dollars developing relationships and sending missions groups to faraway places just so they can brag. And I don’t see this church or any type of organization lasting long at all.

  5. Deacon Says:

    Usher: Alan, I respectfully understand your naiivety in regards to what churches do with short term missions. When you’re part of a serious organization that has worked through the pain and suffering and your calling, your assumptions are that others have accomplished the same through the same process. Understand that though your church may be 100% dead on in their objectives, most churches are follower churches. They simply read what is going on and crudely copy what others are doing. They have no passion, they have no understanding, they have little experience and they obviously don’t understand the severity of “real missions”. To them, it’s just a very cool thing to do. Short term missions act as a vacation and in some extreme cases, a break for the kids and their parents. They do not last long enough to bring reality and gravity to the situation.

    I’ve been idirectly/indirectly nvolved in orphanages for nearly thirty years. In the early part of this decade, I personally toured nearly every known orphanage (good, bad, protestant supporters, Catholic supporters) in or around the vicinity of GC in an effort to truly understand their needs. This included those run in office buildings, basements, private homes, etc. I have regularly communicated with the leaders and others who continue to communicate with these leaders. The answers and comments are frequent and common across the leaders of these orphanages (I have personally toured and lived and know leaders at orphanages in and around GC recently):

    1. Why do they spend more coming here to “build something” when the money alone they use for travel would support the entire budget for nearly half a year (this is only one group of travelrs – many orphanages have back-to-back groups who visit). The average cost per person to travel to GC in the summer even on a very sober and limited food budget while staying in country is $900 to $1000.
    2. Why is our pharmacy surplus all of the things we don’t need and slight in the things we need (lots and lots of band-aids, very little penicillin or Tylenol or Motrin)
    3. How come we have hundreds of stuffed animals when our population is predominantly tween to teen? Why do people get off on sending us stuff without asking us what we actually need?
    4. Why is it that groups who come seem to not know how to work? We do the work during all of the ugly weather seasons when they don’t come (times when kids are in school in the US) and we don’t have half of the issues the groups have. “They don’t really know how to work, do they” is a common response from orphanage leadership. In addition, why don’t they bring the skilled workers to do the tough stuff. We have plenty of little projects, it’s the big ones we need the budget and the help with. (The orphanage I spent my last time at a couple years ago has been hoping for help in putting a new septic system in for over 10 years – we couldn’t use paper in their toilets.)
    5. Why do we never hear from them when they leave? We get referrals from churches who have been here, but rarely do they communicate more than a few months after they’ve been here. When will they actually engage, listen and invest for the long term?
    6. Our needs for dentists, psychologists, counselors and long term caregivers is slight. Buildings and maintenance are usually the only things that get attention by the short term groups because that’s all they can do. It’s difficult at times to find work for them. It’s not difficult to find caregiving situations for them but they’re really weak in this area.
    7. Our needs change. Many of the children we keep in GC are not orphans. They are children of drug addicts, prostitutes, poor who are illiterate or those who have been abused and are brought here by someone who cares or the courts. Most mission trip churches never get to know us close enough to understand that our needs are not only physical, they are spiritual too. There is ongoing need for prayer and intercession. There is need for lawyers, facilitators, agencies and so forth to help place children who are eligible for adoption or those who need to be freed from the abandonment laws here in Guatemala. (Email me if you are not familiar with these terms)

    Summary: Short term missions are brought about by hundreds of churches in the US. I can name churches but that would not be right. “Short Term” missions are perfectly named; “Short term” thinking is what drives their thought process because human nature takes over and their idea of contribution is extremely limited to the reality of what is going on in that foreign country. They do not know the situations, the struggles, the stories. They rarely ever touch the leaders of the orphanage who are engaged in the lives of the children. These people have dedicated their entire life to these children who will never be able to return the favor. What really happens is that the orphanages won’t turn down the help, they need any and all they can get. (One in particular I know intimately simply puts a young leader in charge to “babysit” the Americans as they accomplish the mundane tasks of upkeep while the other leaders see to the more seriuos matters at hand.)

    The churches simply put a plan together, take a “bunch of stuff” and expect a joyous response during their great adventure. They hang out and have a good time for about a week or ten days and then they go back to their American way of life. These are most often people who have never experienced any major form of loss (youth leaders fit into this category as well). They’ve never involuntarily missed a meal! They do not and cannot relate to the loss these children and leaders have and will suffer. It’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the leadership who do not think missions through for what and whom it really touches. The kids return, quickly forgetting anything but “what they did” on the trip. This is the bragging I’m talking about. It’s not outright boasting, it’s just all these kids know. They don’t keep in touch with the people with whom God just put them in contact with. They simply walk away and forget all about the most important part of the trip – THE PEOPLE! It’s a true case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

    Short term missions should be months, not a week. They should involve massive amounts of training and reality checks and sobriety checks and all kinds of gut checks before people are allowed to even participate.

    But if that were the case, no one from mainstream America would go. They wouldn’t bother. It’s too tough. It’s not fun or cool or easy. It requires sacrifice. It doesn’t fit into the mainstream American way (taste and see and experience as much as possible of everythingn you can possibly imagine before you die.) “That’s too dangerous for little Kristen or Johnny and I’m not going to stand for it!” is not an uncommon response.

    So what do short term missions accomplish for the local American church? Alan, you know I’m frank, so here is what short term missions are all about for churches who treat them flippantly and without respect – marketing. Intents don’t have to be conscious, obvious or blatant, but the results are the same. They bring in people who otherwise might not even come to church (over half of the children on my latest trip are nowhere to be found in the lives of our existing church body relationships), another form of attraction. They can be the hope of those in these churches of former missionaries who have a heart for their children or their youth to see missions and to hopefully see more missionaries born (rarely is this the case and it doesn’t work even if that’s the intent). And finally, they are the hope of the church that if it gives to the mission field, the poor, that somehow God will bless them. More scripture out of context.

    Missions is serious stuff. It’s a lifetime engagement, not a week or a few months. We are not all missionaries and we are not all cut out for such types of hardship and suffering. Short term missions are a way for those who feel the call to work out their salvation and their calling. That is all they should be used for. Not a marketing/attraction tool for churches to grow their membership rolls. Not for vacations of youth groups. Not as a guilt-lessening mechanism for the church leadership. Not to make “well-rounded” people out of our youth. In my dictionary, “well-rounded” is synonymous with lukewarm, jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none, unfocused, generalist, non-committed.

    Please, if you are a church and thinking about this, don’t use short-term missions for these reasons. The value of short term missions is not for the children in the orphanages! It’s for your youth! But if you don’t do it for the right reasons and with the right preparation and within the will of God, then everyone can and will lose! God does and is totally capable of taking care of every soul on the face of the earth without our help! Seek help in putting together a strategy and only use short term missions to raise up great leaders, especially those who are thinking seriously about missions as a way of life. Short term missions should be a boot camp for future missionaries.

    Rant over….(please email me with further questions – just to keep the personal stuff off the blog)

  6. Lionel Woods Says:

    I was going to write something on short term mission fund raising but thought people would be relly offended!

  7. Deacon Says:

    Usher: Hey Lionel, I talked with Deak and he’s got no problem – bring it on! The “church that man built” needs to hear it….

    Deacon: Thanks Usher, I’ll speak for myself next time, thank you very much..Lionel – bring it on!

  8. Frankie G Says:

    this is GREAT!!!!! i always thought that i had a negative attitude… lol my EX PASTOR used to say that i was a trouble maker, was selfish, (for writing a check to the missionary) rather than spending three thousand dollars to go to africa for 5 days…

    ahhh, the modern church


    Frankie G

  9. Adam Says:

    But if they don’t go at all, how will they know any of this? Video from the trip? This website? Isn’t the modern church guilty of sending money only and not going? We can’t make blanket assumptions that marketing is the driving impetus. Doubtless that is the case in many instances but even if it is, I know enough people that I honestly believe are going in order to lift Christ’s Name to someone by serving them…if the Name of Christ be exalted then He can also use that, right? Further, I personally know 2 young people in my church who are going back to of these places they only spent a week for a 2 year full-time commitment. Sure, only 2, that’s terrible statistics but 2 is more than zero.

    I agree that it is a fad and there are better ways to use money, but it can be still used by God for good, and I believe there are those who have Godly intentions.

  10. Amy Says:

    This is a VERY cynical view on short-term missions. I agree that many short-term trips are done incorrectly. But this throws the baby out with the bathwater. You say, “Short term missions should be months, not a week. They should involve massive amounts of training and reality checks and sobriety checks and all kinds of gut checks before people are allowed to even participate. But if that were the case, no one from mainstream America would go. They wouldn’t bother. It’s too tough.” You are dead wrong in saying that “no one” would go. I work for an organization that regularly sends out short-term missionaries for one to two years. Each applicant goes through a rigorous screening and training process, facing months of “gut checks.” These missionaries go out and experience what God is doing around the world. They may not have ever missed a meal before or known the real pain you speak of. But that’s why they go there and not just throw money at the problem–to live with the people and grow to love and understand them, not just create dependence on foreign funds.

  11. Alan Paul Says:

    Good grief! I forgot to come back to check your answer to my question last week… I guess I should have visited here last week and maybe read one or 2 paragraphs a day… I haven’t read it all, but I will and respond if necessary… going to bed…

  12. Deacon Says:

    Usher: Hey Deak, Amy brings up something very interesting – she says “no one from Amercan mainstream would go” – Who asked them to go?

    Deacon: Americans cannot accept things that don’t line up with their thinking – so they manipulate it into what it is they want….

    Usher: Yeah, like making mission trips into vacations or a week at camp – let’s all go and then we can notch our belts when we get back and say “been there done that”

  13. Amy Says:

    You didn’t address my points.

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