WSJ: Short term missions...Vacationaries?

Interesting article here. I have no comment, but let me know what you think.

[...] Short-term mission trips to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia have become very popular in the past few years. They are a keystone strategy of evangelical pastor Rick Warren's plans to help Rwanda. These trips, like Christian missionary endeavors overall, encompass a wide variety of activities, from evangelization and "church planting" to health care and economic development. The billion-dollar question, however, is whether they're worth the cost. Are short-term missions the best way to achieve the goals of Christians? Critics argue that sightseeing often takes up too much of the itinerary, leading some to call short-termers "vacationaries."

It's hard to judge the fairness of this characterization, since almost no one runs the numbers. Estimates of how much churches spend on short-term missions go as high as $4 billion a year, according to the Capital Research Center. The literature is sparse, most of it focusing on the spiritual aspects, for the missionaries themselves. And these aspects are sometimes oversold.

Calvin College sociologist Kurt Ver Beek surveyed U.S. missionaries who built homes in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. After coming down from a post-trip "high," the short-termers did not evince much change in their lives. Only 16% reported "significant positive impact," including in prayer, friendships and financial giving. Then Mr. Ver Beek surveyed those whose homes were rebuilt by missionaries and those whose homes were rebuilt by local nongovernmental organizations. He found that there was "little or no difference" in the spiritual response of the beneficiaries.

The economic impact of the Honduras trips seems in line with similar missionary stints: Teams spent $30,000 to build a home, according to Mr. Ver Beek, that would have cost $2,000 to build with local labor. With these kinds of spiritual and economic results, the effectiveness of short-termers in the work of Christian missions is questionable. [...]

Comments

John Stringer said…
Short Term? I am so fed up with it. Our churches have the impression they do 'mission' while the impact on the mission field is mostly that it wasts the precious time of longterm missio's... @#$%^&*

O yes I can also be balanced and mention some advantages. But is that mission??????
Don said…
Not to worry, Abu Daoud. Depending on how the election breaks in the U.S., many Evangelicals may find their short-term foreign missions turning into long-term ones (as in Acts 8:4.)
Rob said…
HAving been a missionary for 18 months, I can defintely say that it takes time for the mission to have the right effect on you. A few months is a vacation, no matter how 'difficult' the circumstances.

Some may wonder why the effect on the missionary matters. I wouldposit that that is the hwole point. All the missionaries in the world are not going to convert everyone, nor are they going to adequately aid everyone (as in building homes). The mission is more important for it's impact on the missionaries than it is for the people it serves. We go not to 'save' people or to 'help' people, but rather to save ourselves and because the Lord instructed us to do so.
Abu Daoud said…
Hi all,

there is also the question of resources. You can build two houses for $60,000 or you can fund a missionary family for an entire year in many parts of the world. The final section is quite good regarding language and customs.

Also, when short term teams are sent that is one or two weeks out of the missionary's regular life schedule--not to mention the planning time.

But still, good things can come of it...
John Stringer said…
Hi Rob; I appreciate what you learned during those 18 months but I assumed 18 months was also still shortterm...
Rob said…
-I assumed 18 months was also still shortterm...-

In my area, there were people who had been there ten years or more, and also those who came for the summer, came for one year, two years. I could see the difference.
Abu Daoud said…
I would say 18 months is medium term, though I know some who say that anything less than three years is short-term, but that does not seem factual to me. I mean, these days people arrive in a new place with a good bit of knowledge about it because of globalization. One can do something in three years or even 18 months. It does not compare to one or two weeks, which is the topic of this article.
John Stringer said…
well, if you go as a surgeon to a mission hospital, then you can be very effective within days. But if you are to communicate the gospel, issues like language learning and getting a grasp of culture - that takes years.
Anonymous said…
i lived in romania for quite awhile, studying as well as doing missions with a local romanian church. i watched the church groups from america come and go, come and go, with all the teens/adults really learning from the experience being, "wow, there is like, totally another country outside the US!" and getting some photos of dracula's castle...GRRRR. and yes, sight-seeing did take up the majority of their 2 week to month-long visits.
Nancy Shuman said…
I work with a missionary organization that is finding 80% of new missionary candidates have been on one or more short term ministry teams. We try to stay away from "dive bomb evangelism" and counteract any we-are-bringing-Jesus-with-us mentality. (He's already there, thank you very much.) I'm weighing the positives and negatives, and actually looking for opinions on this very subject at http://unsolvedministries.blogspot.com. Care to comment?

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