What Makes Short-Term Missions So Valuable

How do you justify the exorbitant price tag of a short-term mission trip? When 80% or more of what’s raised goes towards flight and lodging?

That money directly invested towards fighting poverty or training and supporting the local pastors would have a much greater impact than our spending a week smiling, holding kids, doing crafts and playing sports.

In light of that, is it worth it to do short-term missions?

I still say yes. First, the significance and impact of us being there is greater than we realize. We are relational beings, and we bring love, hope, respect and dignity with us that even a blank check cannot provide.

Second, something happens to us that cannot be replicated here. It is hard to explain what this is or how it works, so let’s turn to the Chronicles of Narnia for help.

In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe four children from our world find themselves in the land of Narnia and play a small role in saving Narnia. (Aslan, a lion, is the Christ-figure in these stories, and he is the one who actually saves Narnia.) The four children are crowned Kings and Queens and reign for many years. They grow up in Narnia.

Then one day they stumble back into our world and discover no time has passed here, and they are once again children.

In the second book, Prince Caspian, the four children are pulled back into Narnia to help save the country again. The more time they spend there, the more they become who they once were. The very air of Narnia has a magical effect on them, and they are becoming Kings and Queens again.

At the end of this book Aslan tells the two oldest children, Peter and Susan, they will not be coming back to Narnia.

In the third book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the two younger children, Edmund and Lucy, return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace and have more adventures.

As this story ends, Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy they will not be returning to Narnia. They are upset mainly because they think this means they will never see Aslan again. But he says this is not so.

Edmund asks, “Are you there too, Sir?”

“I am,” replies Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

This is the simple reason why short-term mission trips are worth every penny and more. Something happens to us while we are there. Our eyes are opened wider to God, to His world, and His heart for the world. It is not just so we can have a great week we will never forget, but so we can be different here.

So we may know God better here.

  • http://gravatar.com/scs0582 Sherry

    i struggle with the same question when I consider the cost of the short-term mission trip, and I agree with your summation. However, I believe we could take it a step further. What if those who go on the trip, use their new knowledge and compassion to raise money to send back? We work to raise money before ever going to a new place. When we return, our love for that place and it’s people has grown. How about raising the same amount of money–through hard work and sacrifice-to send back to the place where we gained so much? -Sherry

  • http://friendedbychrist.wordpress.com Tim.Bo.Dough

    That is a great idea, Sherry!

  • Linda Bordeaux

    Amen! You are so right, and I love your analogy with Aslan’s pronouncements to the children!

  • http://friendedbychrist.wordpress.com Tim.Bo.Dough

    Thanks, Mom!

  • Kesher International Missions

    Tim – Great insight! I have never heard that analogy before in regards to short-term mission trips.

  • Richard Ganton

    Sorry but your justification doesn’t wash. Research being done shows that Short Term missions is taking money away from long term missions so that the North American effort in the Great Commission is being weakened. The people going on short term missions are not raising more money for long term missions. In fact the drop in money for long term missions in America is about equal to the amount being spent on Short Term Missions. Fewer people are becoming long term missionaries. Short Term Missions is not contributing more people to participate in Long Term Missions. Research is also showing that the life changing experience that people have on a short term missions isn’t long lasting. It may provide a little different view of the world and of God but research shows that it does not result in long term changes.
    Short Term Missions are a side show distraction that is weakening the American church. The experiences that people gain on a short term missions trip could easily be gained by getting involved in a local long term outreach that would get them into the habit of giving and reaching out. Short Term Missions do not engender spiritual habits. They are just a short spiritual high that in most cases does not have a long term effect, either on the receivers or the goers.

    • http://friendedbychrist.wordpress.com Tim

      Richard, I can’t argue with what your saying. Those are issues I have with short-term missions as well. And these issues should be part of the conversation for any teams thinking of going. But I also know, through my experience as a high school student and that of many others, that these short trips can be life-changing. One week can and does change the course of an entire life. And I also believe if done right, groups that leave after a week can still have a significant impact through the coordination and follow-up ministry done by the long term ministry.
      Many of the negative factors you described might be the discouraging norm, but there are also exceptions. I would rather continue to tweak the short-term mission experience and make it the best it can be so it complements long-term missions, than throw it out completely.
      I also think our vision should be “glocal,” local and global, and I agree our tendency is to neglect local, but it also seems the pendulum is swinging back that way.