Short-Term Mission Trips

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Much has been written about going on short-term mission trips, both good and bad. I would define a short-term mission trip as less than one month. Usually, they are from one to two weeks. There are many good books written on the subject, one of the best is “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I still remember when I first read it, I was half way through and I was convinced we should never do short-term mission trips again. The second half of the book, however makes the case for why we should still do short-term mission trips, but we need to do them right.

Yesterday I met for the first time with a team of 13 youth and leaders who are going with me to Nicaragua in March during our spring break. This team is made up of youth that have attended the All Ontario Youth Convention (AOYC), and they come from throughout Ontario. The AOYC has partnered with World Renew to go on this trip. We are going back to a village in the mountains of Nicaragua to help the villagers of Las Alverez build a community center. We began that work last year when we went with our first team. So what makes this a good mission trip and others bad? 

We chose World Renew to partner with because they not only are our churches outreach organization, but they have learned to do it right. The project we are working on was the dream of the community of Las Alverez. They planned it, applied for grants, helped raise matching funds, and when we working there, they are also working with us. Too often North Americans think they know what others need, then they just go build it and present it as a gift to the people there.  With the model that World Renew uses, the need is identified by the community and they are invested in it through the entire process. The community then takes pride in the project, using it and keeping it maintained. 

Missionaries in the field can tell many stories of projects that were built or things donated that were of little use to the people that received it. Need an example, We told of a World Renew staff person visiting a village in Africa that had a shed full of books that  North Americans had collected and paid to have shipped there. The problem, no one could read the books, because nobody spoke English in the village.

Several other things are essential if you are to go on an effective mission trip. Those going, both youth and adults should be able to articulate why they want to go and how they hope to grow on the trip. It is essential that we go with the right motives. If your idea is “that we are going to fix what’s wrong down there, you probably should not be going. You probably will do more harm than good. World Renew provided our team with a day of training, which is so important. Some of what we learned was:

  • We have much to offer the people on Nicaragua: youthful energy, hard work, and recourses to help do the project. The Nicaraguan people also have much to offer us: a warm welcoming community, sharing whatever they have, and a way of life that puts people and relationships first instead of things and getting things done.
  • Never do something for someone that they can do for themselves. This is the kindest way to destroy them. Work with them, not for them
  • Only one person takes pictures on the trip, and that is done with sensitivity. How would you like it if a van full of people pulled up to your house, jumped out and started taking pictures of everything?
  • We are not bringing Jesus to Nicaragua, He is already there. We are going to work with our Christian brothers and sisters and experience God in their culture. 
  • As part of our trip we will be staying in the homes of the villagers. This takes more effort than staying in a dorm or a church, but it is an incredible way to get to know the people.

So are we going to do this trip perfect? Probably not, but by God’s grace, this trip can impact the people of Las Alverez and the youth that are going. Some would say that sending 13 people to Nicaragua is a huge waste of money, we could better spend the $30,000 or more in cash and they could do much more than our trip will accomplish. That too is a North American way of thinking, “we will send money”. Sending money is easy, but showing the people of Nicaragua that you care enough about them to take 10 days out of your life, to share with them, means so much more. The impact this trip will have on our youth will not happen if we just send money. They will gain an awareness of social justice issues and how they impact the entire world. For many of the youth, this trip will fuel their passion to serve God in this world, including in their own community when they get back home.

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Great post. Favorite line, "We are not bringing Jesus to Nicaragua, he's already there."

I work for a community development organization that works in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico. Check us out at 1MISSION.org. This post is definitely getting bookmarked as an example of how to do STMs - Thanks for writing it!

Thanks for this piece, Shane; my ambivalence about short term missions continues after having looked at that phenomena for many years.  I have a question: you mention "community" but not really "church."  Is there coordination with some local church group, or what form does the "community" take in this?  Additional information, please, and your comment about the role of the church - and our Mission also present in the country - when you go with World Renew?

Hi Lou! 

Thanks for your feedback, and for credit for the article. But, unfortunately, this was put together by Ray Heeres, and you'd have to follow the link above to his profile to have your question answered. Thanks!

Participant

Hey Lou, Sorry I was gone and missed your comment. The community I am talking about in Nicaragua is not bassed in any one church, but the local YMCA in Santa Lucia. The YMCA in Nicaragua is a Christian organization, unlike the one in North America. Any of the work we have done has been done thru them. From what I have seen of the YMCA's work, it seems a lot like Youth For Christ here in Canada, only they work with the whole community, not just teens.

 

Thanks, Ray.  Helpful information and perspective.  Allow me some commentary and reminisences....

Bsides my three-word "missiology" (Word and Deed) I have a corallary: Christ-centered, Church-based."  Hence in part my question about this.  Next, I suppose I work out of some old paradigms - I've already been retired 10 years!  When I grew up Youth for Christ (and I understand your equivalence; fine) was frowed upon for a couple of reasons - it was para-ecclesiastical, and worse, it took young people away from the churches.  OK, granted; other times, other places now. And I like when the churches can work together and if it takes a para-church group to make that happen, fine.  But I still wonder if the local churches are seeing a reinforcement of holistic growth in their ministries...which leads me to ask:

...about the last part of my response: are both CRWM and World Renew working with the YMCA on this? 

Participant

Just a coment on how Youth for Christ works in our small town of Listowel. They mostly work with unchurched youth and young mothers. As a supporting church, some of those youth some times end up coming to our church. I see them working in partnership with local churches. In Nicaragua, World Renew works closely with the YMCA, I do not believe  CRWM does, at least not the one in Santa Lucia. I do not know how or if our partership with the YMCA reinforces the local church. I hope to find out more about that when we go back next March.