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Are short-term missions worth what they cost?

WASTED DOLLARS AND DAMAGE can result from poorly planned trips, missionaries say, but careful, focused efforts can transform lives for the better.

Mostmissionaries have a “don’t point your camera at that” story.

AnAmerican, overwhelmed by an exotic new country, tries to capture every momentin megapixels and, despite warnings, snaps a photo of a sacred burial ritual —or worse, a large man with a gun.

“Manyvisitors will not do what missionaries or national hosts advise them to do,”said Linda Benskin, a former missionary to the West African nation of Ghana.

Shehas nothing against short-term missions. In fact, she and her husband, Richard,became full-time missionaries because of their experience on such a trip.

Butthey’ve also seen their ministry damaged by short-term workers who wear clothesthat local people see as indecent, give gifts that are extravagant in a ThirdWorld country and make promises they can’t keep, she said.

AsSpring Break and summer approach, thousands of church members are packing theirbags — and cameras — for mission trips. Tina Samuel, a junior at LipscombUniversity, Nashville, Tenn., will lead six people on a medical mission toIndia in May.

Samuel,who grew up in an Indian home, offers culture briefings in the team’s weeklymeetings.

“It’swhen people are ignorant of the differences that there is a greater chance ofoffending the people in India,” she said


AtiLevai thought Christianity was practiced only at Christmas and Easter until heencountered a group of young people “living out the reality of Christ’s love,”said his wife, Ruth.

Nowhe is a minister in his native Hungary, and will host a dozen students fromPepperdine University, Malibu, Calif., on a Spring Break campaign.

Innearby Serbia and Montenegro, the Belgrade church will host a team from Let’sStart Talking, a Texas-based ministry that teaches English using the Bible. Theteams “make a bridge between the church and non-believers,” said church memberDrasko Djenovic.

That’snot always the case, said Scott Raab, a missionary in Belgium.

“Wehad two years of difficult groups,” he said. As a result he and othermissionaries in the area opted not to host short-term teams this year.

Inthe past campaigners worked during the week and went sightseeing on weekends,missing the opportunity to interact with churh members. “This meant that thechurch, in the long run, had no connection to the contacts made during thecampaign,” Raab said.

Thoughmost teams work hard, “quite often the hands-on work they do would be done moreeffectively, and certainly less expensively, by nationals living at home,” saidRoger McCown, a former missionary to Guatemala who ministers for the BrentwoodOaks church, Austin, Texas.

Suchtrips have numerous benefits, but their cost raises concerns for the sendingchurches, “which already suffer from a lack of dollars for evangelisticmissions,” McCown said.


The700-member Brentwood Oaks church has set aside about one-sixth of its annualmission budget for short-term projects. The church made the decision only afterits leaders made certain that its long-term mission efforts had adequate funding,McCown said.

Thechurch also takes a “value added” approach to short-term work, sending teams toaccomplish tasks that could not easily be done by people in the field.

Thehigh costs of short-term work demand “intentionality while on the field and preparationbefore arriving on the field,” said Gary Green, who coordinates the World WideWitness Program at Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas, with WimonWalker.

Theministry will send 65 students to 18 locations around the globe this summer towork closely with churches and missionaries, Green said. The student interns’training revolves around what Green said are the two keys to success inshort-term missions — relationships with locals and mentoring from themissionary.

Severalministries, including Let’s Start Talking and World Wide Youth Camps, aredesigned specifically for short-term work. Jeremiah’s Hope, a ministry fororphans in Ukraine, built short-term missions into its work, said missionaryAndrew Kelly.

Visitsfrom young people outside Ukraine encourage the orphans, Kelly said, and theyalso “seem to help us Americans step back and put things in focus.”


Fourmission trips to Jamaica have made it easier to talk about Christ in the grocerystore at home, said Dave Culbreath. He’s leading a Spring Break team fromLipscomb University to work with the Morant Bay church on construction projectsand door-knocking evangelism.

“Everyday is a mission opportunity, no matter where we are,” he said.

Short-termmissions also plant seeds that yield fruit years later, said Dale Hartman,minister for the Eastside church, Midwest City, Okla., who has helpedcoordinate campaign groups for Australia.

Evenif short-term workers don’t become missionaries, “who knows which of these kidswill be elders, or elders’ wives?” he said.

KenGrimm said that someone else’s short-term work sparked his long-term ministry.Grimm, who has worked in India and Sudan in recent months, struggled for manyyears to find full-time support.

Decadesearlier a young Christian named Dave Johnson had participated in a short-termmission trip. Johnson, now an elder for the Westminster, Md., church, “becameone of the catalysts God used to put me where I am now,” Grimm said.

GraceNyanga has worked with several short-term mission teams in his native Uganda.During a recent visit to the United States to raise money for a Ugandan Bibleschool, Nyanga encountered one of the former campaigners — now a member of hisown church’s missions committee.

Themost successful campaigners are “willing to look silly, eat strange things” andstill ask, “What can we do?” Raab said. “Young people who really think ofothers because they know Jesus are an immense force for God’s kingdom, whereverthey go.”

March 1, 2006

  • Feedback
    I enjoyed reading the blog on the mission team serving in the Kingston area of Jamaica last March 2010. Ironically enough my mission team was in the Montego Bay area about the same time. We flew out on March 15, 2010. Our next trip is Dec. 8-15. We serve the people of Jamaica by providing free medical examination, free eyeglasses.e go to schools, church, even street clinics. I am a pastor, I partner with a doctor. originally we were traveling to Jamaica twice per year. But due to the huge medical and spiritual needs, we are now traveling there (4) time per year. We would love to communicate with the other Church. My blog www.harrisonhunter.com or heritagefwbc.com My e-mail [email protected] God is Love harrison Hunter
    Marvin-Harrison Hunter
    Gilbert, Arizona
    October, 15 2010

Filed under: Partners

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