Having just returned from a rejuvenating and meaningful week-long service trip in Philadelphia, I feel compelled to write a brief defense of short-term mission trips.
We live in a cynical age and Christians are not immune from its influence. A quick search will turn up an entire niche industry of hyper-critical Christian writers. Everybody wants to be Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Nobody wants to be the provincial “missionary” being mocked.
Not all criticism is unfair. There are important concerns about mission trips that all of us should take seriously. There is a real danger that short-term missionaries are engaged in experience shopping. It’s fashionable to go somewhere sexy to help the poor. Ask yourself: Are you searching for a trip as a consumer or a servant?
Furthermore, all mission trips must be helpful and efficient. In some cases, it would be better to raise money to accomplish the particular tasks with local labor. This is especially true with international trips that require plane tickets and interpreters. All mission trips should make sense. It’s not about us!
Assuming the trip makes sense, short-term mission trips serve an important, redemptive purpose. Let me explain.
First, short-term mission trips strip you of your worldly identity and allow you to experience a taste of the kingdom to come. When you’re hauling soil for a raised planter bed in a vacant lot, nobody cares about your day job, your car, or your address. Jesus calls us to leave our baggage behind and follow him. If you can’t leave your possessions or family for even a week, you have a problem. Luke 14:25-27.
Second, you will be blessed by others. Those with whom you serve and those whom you serve will bless you more than you could imagine. A thankful smile and hug from someone may change your life.
Third, you will realize that service to others is better than pleasure seeking. What is a better use of your vacation time? Sure, you could sit on a beach or tour a battlefield, but to what end? Prior to a mission trip, I congratulate myself on “sacrificing” my vacation. After the trip, I thank God for his mercy because the mission trip was so much better than any pleasure-seeking vacation that I could conjure up. I made this confession to my high schoolers each of the last two years. God saves me from myself.
With proper perspective and reflection, short-term mission trips will help you grow as a Christian and will provide a real benefit to those whom you are serving. Don’t mock it until you try it.