short-term missions trips

[I saw a bulletin in the church we attended one Sunday concerning the deadline to sign up for a missions trip to a majority-world country. While missions trips are fairly common, I think I was just in a pensive mood, and this one sparked some reflection.]

Are these kinds of mission trips like bring your kid to work day? You go and see if missions work abroad is for you? What do we do when we go and visit? Is it visiting? Why are we going? How did the current structure come about and who is it serving?

I myself have gone on a mission trip to Nicaragua, and it really was a great experience to be exposed to conditions and the faith down there, but unless you're exposed to it all the time, it fades too quickly in the background of the noisy society that we live in, as it has for me. There is a system that's being supported and propped up here, airline tickets bought, equipment purchased... and are we really transformed, or is it more a form of philanthropic tourism?

I don’t know if I believe that we are all called to move to majority-world countries and work there, although I believe that there are some who have that placed on them. There are actual missionaries that go because they must, they go because of a piercing clarity for that call on their lives. Is our money better spent supporting those folks and the work that they are doing? Should these short-term mission trips be more selective of people, targeting only those that think they might have a calling to this type of lifestyle as a way for them to get exposure to it? I read recently in the newsletter for some missionaries abroad that a $150 donation they received managed to pay for 2 months of rent for a community of 6 families. That’s not even a tenth of what it usually costs to send a single person on a short-term missions trip. That same family could have their rent paid for the next two years for the cost of a single person going overseas on one of these trips. I have to wonder about the trade-off we’re making here.

I have more questions than answers, but our current system doesn’t feel quite right to me. I always like to think, if we were struggling financially, how would we as the body of Christ do things differently? It is an interesting thought exercise that helps to strip away some of the American prosperity mindset from our application of the Christian faith and see what remains. It’s like a lifeboat exercise for employees at work, but with our Christian rituals. If we were poor would we still celebrate communion? Yes. Would we build huge church buildings? No. Interesting. Would we still baptize? Yes. Would we need to live more by faith? Yes. Without large buildings would we need to meet in each other’s homes more? Yes.

Would we send folks on short-term mission trips? I don’t think so.