Short-term mission trips should provide a reprieve for long-term missionaries, not an added burden.
Short-term missions have received a lot of flak in recent years. And we at LiveBeyond understand where the criticism is coming from, but we have some solutions. Here are some short-term missions best practices that will help you do them the right way.
1. Find a place where you can support the efforts of long-term missionaries.
Choose an organization or church that is accomplishing the Lord’s work and join them. Do your research. There are tons of groups out there. Find one that aligns with your passions and that you feel is doing the work in a way that God would approve of, and then connect with them for the long-haul.
There are things that you can do that the mission might not be capable of, like organizing a fundraiser or hosting a supply drive in your country. Or maybe you are an expert in a particular field, like medicine, education or technical work. You could assist the long-term mission with special projects and even offer education opportunities to locals who have not had the resources to learn that skillset. We never want to do things that the indigenous people can do for themselves. If you can teach or help with specific projects, you can stimulate the efforts of the mission and the local economy.
2. Respect the established cultural norms of the mission.
Long-term missions are very conscientious about how they approach the population that they have entered. Don’t attempt to impose your culture on the indigenous population. This can undermine the years of work that long-term missionaries have put in to ensure that a mission is culturally sensitive. Even when what you are doing is well-intentioned, inserting your American cultural ideals into vastly different societies can do significant harm.
3. Work with a purpose.
We are all commissioned by God to go into all the world to preach the gospel (Matt. 28). Short-term mission trips are a way to accomplish this goal. But they should not be a vacation, even if you take vacation time off of work to do them. Mission trips should be a reprieve for the long-term missionaries now finding themselves with some assistance in fulfilling their many responsibilities.
The long-term missionaries need to remain as focused on their mission as possible, not overwhelmed by the needs of the latest team. They want you to ask questions and work alongside them. But often people find themselves in a new culture and have no idea how to handle it.
Long-term missionaries put a ton of work into making mission trips a possibility. Thank them for this by helping them in the work that the Lord set before all of you. Work with the purpose that God has put before both of you. Serve together. Serve each other. Serve Jesus.
4. Use your social media to be an advocate for the cause—don’t use your interactions with locals to improve your social media status or seek recognition.
This is tricky in the age of social media. How do we garner support for our favorite mission groups while avoiding self-glorification? Often the people that are targeted by long-term missions have been marginalized from society and oppressed to the point of debasement. Some of the people in these cultures resort to begging and even stealing out of desperation. None of us should ever do anything that will strip someone of their self-worth.
A huge part of long-term missions is restoring dignity—enabling the oppressed people to fully comprehend their worth in Jesus. Often this means job-creation opportunities, but in critical situations, that means immediate medical and nutritional support. Support of this life-giving work is worth far more than any social status.
When you are excited to share how life-changing your interaction with the long-term mission has been, focus less on selfies with locals and more on how these people’s lives are being changed. What are they receiving now that they weren’t before? Who are the people that are the instruments of God through these changes? How has Jesus changed your life and the lives of the indigenous people because of the mission work? Being a champion for a long-term mission on social media looks a lot different than self-glorification.
5. Trust in the long-term mission.
This one might be the hardest for us all because we like to understand the reasoning behind things. And there are things happening within long-term organizations that you simply will not understand because you haven’t been exposed to that culture as the long-term missionaries have. There could also be language and culture barriers preventing you from grasping the full situation.
There will also be things that long-term missionaries may not share with you because of their sensitive nature. But you need to trust that they are making the right decisions because they are the ones who have committed to the day-to-day grind of living in a foreign land. They are the ones who have invested health, well-being, time, money and more into their mission from God.
One of the fastest ways to hurt a long-term missionary is to publicly criticize the mission without attempting to understand their rationale. If there is an issue that is concerning you, bring your questions to them privately first. If something still just doesn’t quite make sense, bring 2–3 witnesses who also support the mission and its missionaries with you. Don’t criticize them from the beginning, but speak to them in love about the misgivings that you have.
Criticism and gossip can hurt the feelings of the long-term missionaries, but more importantly, they can damage the work they have put into their mission and their ability to raise financial support. Long-term missionaries are, for the most part, careful about thinking through their processes in everything they do, and they are more than happy to share their reasoning with those who care about them. Trust them to make good decisions and share with you what they can.
6. Bring life to the mission.
The purpose of mission work is to help indigenous people develop spiritually, physically and emotionally. It should not be about catering to the needs of short-term missionaries. The mission field is not a place for those who are immature in their faith. So, make sure that you are spiritually mature enough to go on a short-term mission trip.
This requires intense prayer and thoughtful consideration. Are you going for the right reasons? Are you going to get another hit of a spiritual high? Are you going to “get fed” by the resident missionaries? If that is true, you may not be going for the best reason. The mission field needs people who are strong in their faith, ready to support and build up the mission and the long-term missionaries who have dedicated their lives to the call of Jesus. Be a righteous ambassador of the Lord as you serve.
7. Stay with the mission.
Flitting around from one mission to another is not helpful to anyone, especially not the indigenous people. The key to long-term missions is sustainability. Short-term missionaries will never understand the importance of that if they simply bounce around the world from one endeavor to the next.
Mission tourism is hurtful, not just to those individual missions but to all missionaries, as mission groups develop reputations for unreliability. Committed support reassures both missionaries and the indigenous population that you care. It’s also life-changing for the short-term missionaries because it allows you to live missionally—not just going on a week-long trip but changing your lifestyle to further the cause of the needy. Living missionally is something we should all strive for, whether or not we are in the mission field. Make the mission your mission.
LiveBeyond is a faith-based, humanitarian organization bringing medical and maternal health care, clean water, education, orphan care, community development and the gospel of Jesus Christ to the oppressed in Thomazeau, Haiti.