“It will Change Their Lives”
The book I recently read, Serving with Eyes Wide Open, discusses at length some of the shortcomings of short term missions (no pun intended), one of which is the false premise that our missions work will change the lives of the people we go to serve. The book highlights a lot of typical comments of short-termer’s expounding on the lofty benefits their work will be on the recipients. The comments consistently give the impression that without the help and service of the short-termer’s the people would be in utter despair, without God, poor and hopeless.
One example given is a study by Kurt VerBeek, one of the few researchers actually studying the impact of short-term missions upon the local communities. After Hurricane Mitch, a organization raised two million dollars to rebuild homes in Honduras. They used the money both by using Honduran partners who hired Honduran builders to rebuild the homes, and they mobilized 31 short-term teams from the USA. VerBeek studied and compared the impact of the Honduran builders and the short-term groups.
“Through the data collected, VerBeek found no lasting impact, positive or negative, on the Honduran families and communities whose homes were built by North Americans as compared to those who never saw a short-term mission team. In fact, in a moment of candidness, the Hondurans confided that if given the choice, they’d rather see the money raised by each team who traveled to Honduras channeled toward building twenty more homes and employing Hondurans.” -p. 57, Serving With Eyes Wide Open
The point here is not to try and make another case against Short-term missions, but rather to encourage us to again be honest and aware of both the motivation and impact of the work that we are doing. Speaking from a financial outlook, there is are far better ways to steward our resources for the good of the Body of Christ to meet the needs of people worldwide. From a gifts outlook, there are for more equipped followers of Christ (namely people indigenous to the culture) to spread the gospel, train leaders and plant churches.
God chose a stuttering Moses to lead God’s people out of Egypt, an old Abraham and Sarah to father the chosen people, and God used a carpenter to bring salvation to all people, so God might very well use a bunch of teenagers on an adventurous summer trip to further the kingdom. In the mean time, I think it would be wise for us to think long and hard about short term missions work and consider if there might be wiser options.