Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Saying no to short-term missions

Sri Lankan Vinoth Ramachandra has written an incisive post on problems with short-term missions:
Here is a staggering statistic that I came across recently. Robert Wuthnow, the eminent sociologist of religion at Princeton University has estimated that up to 1.6 million American Christians take part in overseas “mission trips” each year, with churches spending at least $2.4 billion per year on such trips. What is unsurprising is that many of these 1-3 week “mission trips” are to the Caribbean and Central America, with luxury resorts such as the Bahamas reporting one “short-term missionary” for every 15 residents. One would expect Mexico, which receives the most American “mission teams” every year, to be the most Christian nation on earth. . . .

. . .whenever my wife and I receive a request from some Western (or rich Asian) church to find someone in Sri Lanka or India willing to host a team of young people who want to undertake a “mission trip”. We don’t doubt the sincerity of those who want to practise neighbour love or share the gospel with people in other lands. But good intentions, history reminds us, often do not translate into good outcomes. But those who are enthusiastic about such “mission trips” usually don’t have the patience to study history.

It is customary for the leaders of such teams to inform us that such an “exposure” is absolutely vital for these (relatively affluent) kids to discover the world and become (it is hoped) missionaries in the long term. “Mission”, in this way of thinking, is what one does elsewhere, not in one’s own neighbourhood or nation. It baffles us why such Christian kids cannot learn about the world by doing what I, and several millions of their non-Christian peers, have done over decades: simply travelling as tourists and exploring the countries we visit, learning about the history and culture as we do so. Moreover, in America, Europe and Australia, there are millions of people today from every religion, culture and nation to be found in almost every major city: why not stay and learn about “mission” from the local churches that are working among such people?
On the other hand, Eddie Arthur, who shared the link to Mr. Ramachandra's article, shares thoughts in support of short-term missions. As a Christian in a wealthy country who have myself engaged in a short-term mission, I've always had a nagging feeling that short-term missions often seem too much about taking a foreign trip and feeling good about one's spirituality and too little about spreading the good news effectively.


Blogger x said...

The best results come from kids who participate in YWAM visits to YWAM sites since they are mentored in humble service and a christ centered message to the local people. My kids have all gone and it has had profound impacts.

3:04 PM, May 22, 2010  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...


3:18 PM, May 22, 2010  

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