Short-term mission trips catch a lot of heat in the eyes of some. There are entire books, seminars and humorous satirical YouTube videos dedicated to illustrating the possible damaging effects of short-term mission trips. As someone who has gone on a handful of short-term mission trips with the plan of continuing to participate in these trips, I have done a great deal of searching, asking and praying about the risks and benefits of these opportunities.
In each of these answer-searching quests, I have come out with the same conclusion to the question, “Are short-term mission trips helpful or hurtful?” It depends. In my unofficial opinion, the outcome of a mission trip depends on the mindset and goals of the participants. If you are embarking on a mission trip to enlighten another culture on why ours is the best, this is not helpful. If your attitude and heart have a “my way is the only way” attitude, this is not helpful.
However, if you are entering into this journey in an act of obedience to what you discern is God’s call for you, this is good. If you are entering into the trip with an open mind and heart, ready to hear, see, taste and experience the richness of another culture, this is also a good sign. Short-term mission trips are much less about you making a profound impact on a certain place, but rather about that place (and God) making a profound impact on you and your heart.
I do not want you to read this and think I am saying a mission trip is all about you. I have many opinions on how short-term trips should be executed and the type of work that probably isn’t helpful. That is for another article, the main focus here is the attitude of the participant. The attitude should absolutely be a selfless, serving and giving one. I do not believe we should ever enter a trip with a, “What can you do for me” mindset, but the opposite mindset can be one resembling a savior complex. The kind of helpful attitude I am proposing is one that sees, feels, asks questions and responds to the expressed needs and concerns of a culture rather than an attitude of giving which already assumes we know what is best.
My point is that a short-term mission trip is an act of learning and growing through an experience, not an opportunity to revolutionize the place you are working. Short-term mission trips are not about you changing the world, but about how seeing the world changes you. My short-term mission trips changed me in two significant ways.
It changed my perspective on my little world.
My mission trips, mainly to Honduras, broadened my entire view of the world. It was the furthest I had ever been from home and the culture was radically different. My significantly impaired view of how the world around me worked was radically changed. If you are embarking on a mission trip to another culture, be prepared to have your mind, opinions and perspective altered. In the process of helping people who seem to have so little, you realize how much you have. You also realize what you are seriously lacking as well. These trips made me realize I have far too much ‘stuff,’ and not nearly enough gratitude, patience, and compassion.
My eyes were opened to the devastation in the world around me.
I grew up hearing “there are kids in Africa who don’t have food” and similar mantras from adults that were trying persuade me to eat my vegetables. Cognitively, I knew the world around me did not live as well as I did, but this knowledge met emotions and wrecked my heart when I experienced it firsthand. Read all the statistics and watch all of the heart-wrenching ‘sponsor a child’ commercials you want. Nothing will open your eyes to the poverty felt by so many until you get your hands dirty with the soil of another country. These realities will not mean much until after that poverty statistic you hear about has a name and is sitting on your lap.
If you are considering a short-term mission trip, I would recommend the experience to anyone seeking to experience God and how he is working all over the world. Be prepared to be changed, forever and for good. The impact of these trips stayed in my heart long after the schoolyard dirt washed off of my feet.