Let me be 100% clear. I do not hate short term mission trips. Yet I think there are some reasons why we as the servants of Christ should be wary of them. I personally have been on three different short term mission trips in my life ever since I was in 7th grade up through high school. Each mission trip was to Mexico with my church and I loved every single one of them. I enjoyed the long van rides, and the long flights and bonding with my team members. I enjoyed the work aspect to; being a part of building what is the American equivalent to a garden shed for a family of four. It was a time for me to grow closer to my friends and to do something which I considered to be altruistic.
Yet even as a kid things seemed a little odd to me about the whole process of mission trips. I wondered what the missionaries who lived there in the parts of Mexico that we visited did after we left. They would not return back to the states after a week and a half of long labor. I remember the feeling of eating a Big Mac in the once returning to the states and beginning to comprehend what “privilege” was. Even the process of fundraising for these trips was strange to me. I always understood money to be a major source of stress for my parents and I remember praying for my dad before bed every night that he would be able to make money. My dad was and still currently is self employed and I still don’t understand how he ever made enough money to keep a family of four afloat. Writing letters asking for donations from family friends felt very uncomfortable for me. My letters were full of Christianese and writing that did not feel authentic to me, it felt like I was creating a rouse just so I could receive money to go and have a good time on the trips.
But that really is what short term missions trips are about. I believe it is important for us to recognize first and foremost that short term mission trips are all about personal growth more than they are service. If you want to benefit the most people possible it’s almost an all-or-nothing affair. If you are going to serve a people group, do what any missionary would do and go immerse yourself in the culture and stay there. Plant your roots and do nothing but serve.
Or, if you do not feel like you are called to live such a drastic lifestyle, donate money to those already serving as missionaries. My youth pastor my junior year of high school canceled our annual summer trip to Mexico. He instead created a week long affair called
“Youth Service” where we participated in projects for out local Nashville community. This was extremely helpful for me in understanding how I love as a Christian. My youth pastor’s logic was simple: “If you can’t serve the people in your own backyard, what makes you think that you can go over seas and serve.”
All this is to not discourage people from going on short term mission trips. What you are doing is beneficial to those you are serving, but you have to realize the action of going over seas to serve is meant more for you. It is a chance to understand how other cultures live their life, and is meant to make you reflect on how you live your own.
So go out and love and serve, but always question your reasons and the practicality of what you are doing.