Why Short-term Trips Work… And How to Make Them Better

It’s getting to be that time of year.

Airplane tickets are purchased, bags are getting packed and eager young people from youth groups or colleges are preparing for their summer missions trip.

There’s plenty of dialogue out there related to the effectiveness of these trips. Is it volunteer tourism? Do they hurt more than help? Is it just extra work for the long-term worker or does it serve the purpose of furthering God’s Kingdom?

Well, I’m sure the arguments both ways are as numerous as the locations around the world that will receive short-term workers this summer. I have studied the effects of short-term mission in Master’s level classes, received short-term teams as a long-term worker and read articles and books with dos and don’ts and points from both the yay and nay camps. But I have also been a part of several short-term trips that I think were beneficial so here are a few thoughts based on what I have learned along the way.

I’m a long-term worker because of a short-term experience.

I realize this is a selfish reason for short-term trips, but honestly I don’t think I would be an overseas worker going on four years in-country if it were not for the experiences I had in college to get my feet wet. Missionaries became real live people to me rather than just last century’s heroes from biographies. They were not perfect, they had conflict and tough situations and missed home. They modeled love for the people they were serving in a way that invited me to be part of the ongoing story being written there. Yes, I got to try interesting food, see beautiful places and take cool pictures, but those are not the things that stuck with me back on home soil. It was the sacrifice and love of the missionaries for a God deserving of worship among every people group. I don’t think we can discredit the life-changing impact these kinds of trips, when done well, can have on future long-term workers.

Preparation is super important.

Before I spent eight weeks working in Italy with a missionary family, I devoted almost two semesters to preparing to go. Along with about 25 other students, I read books about different kinds of cultures, heard stories from people who had been to these places before, worked through expectations and how to deal with when they are un-met, learned what in the world culture shock was and what to do when it happened, and had friends pick my food in the cafeteria for a week to practice flexibility and the Luke 10 principle of eating and drinking what was set before me. It is important to help those who are preparing for a short-term trip to know how to respectfully enter a new culture, whether that’s inner city Chicago or a village in India. We need to learn as much as we can from the long-term worker there before we make any plans or pack our bags. They are the experts. Which leads to the next important point…

Lean on the long-term worker.

We should find ways to partner with a long-term worker who can help us to understand the culture, what is appropriate, how to interact with the local people and what our role as the short-term worker should be. Before we decide what our schedule is going to look like, we should ask them what would be helpful. Is an English camp going to give the worker more contact with people they want to reach, or will it create so much extra work and follow-up afterward that they will feel overwhelmed? Are we asking to do something the local people should really handle? Are we teaching something or bringing in supplies that will create a dependency on outside help, or are we building a system that is sustainable for the future, whether more teams can come or not?

As a long-term worker now, I love the encouragement and fellowship that comes from time with short-term teams. They bring fresh eyes and fresh joy that can be such a boost to my weary spirit. When these teams leave room in their suitcase for items I can’t get here it ministers to my heart. So, how can short-term teams look for ways to serve and encourage the long-term worker? Let’s do this partnership well, for the sake of God’s glory.

For more on how to do short-term trips well, check out these articles. Remember, you don’t have to agree with everything I have said or what is discussed in the articles, but hopefully it gets you thinking!

What To Do About Short Term Missions

There’s Nothing Short About Short-Term Missions 

A Case for Short-Term Missions 

short-term missions 3


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